Comment on the Belgian political stalemate.
The categorical “No” opposed by the NVA (Flemish nationalist Party) to the draft proposals of Mr Di Rupo (President of the socialist Party charged with forming a government) has the immense merit of clarity. In so doing, the NVA is performing a valuable service to the country because it avoids reaching a lopsided compromise (based on economic and financial necessity) in which divergences in interpretation of the agreements were bound to appear very rapidly – in particular in institutional matters – whatever their tenor. One must therefore recognise the coherence of the NVA’s position with regard to the proposals.
Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the June 2010 elections the NVA put forward its ambition to reach a comprehensive agreement based on two “non negotiable” axes:
- Immediate and significant reforms on institutional arrangements whose “confederal” character should open the way for a progressive evolution towards the full independence of Flanders.
- The integration, in due course, of Flanders as a fully fledged Member of the EU.
One should indeed recall that the Flemish and European flags served as backdrop to the “victory” speech of Bart De Wever (NVA President) on election night.
It is therefore totally understandable that the proposals of Mr. Di Rupo were rejected because their indisputable “federalist” character left no opening to “confederalism”, the required prerequisite for any future evolution to full independence, advocated by a minority of Flemings.
Mr Di Rupo was also being totally coherent in securing durably the “federal” character of the country, as the only institutional structure compatible with Belgium’s European undertakings. The apparent European “commitment” of the NVA should be denounced as a very clever “red herring”, aimed at reassuring and anesthetising Flemish public opinion, put forward to obfuscate the dire consequences of separatism.
It is indeed high time to question the NVA on its concept of Europe and to call its bluff. Based on the party’s public demands for regional autonomy within Belgium, one can conclude that its ideology is based on a “Europe of Nations”, similar to the stance of the French National Front or other populist parties in Finland, Austria, Holland, Denmark, Italy etc., which seem, unfortunately, to find widespread and growing electoral support.
However, within the scope of the ambient financial crisis (wherein Belgium is fairing relatively well, so far), it is the outcome of the confrontation between, on one hand, the advocates of greater solidarity in Europe, leading progressively to deeper fiscal harmonisation and allowing for a measure of fiscal transfers and, on the other hand, those favouring an inward looking nationalistic approach, that the future of the EU will be determined. If the former gain the upper hand, Europe has every chance to exit the crisis and take its rightful place in the concert of major economic powers alongside the USA, China, Japan, India, Russia and Brazil. The alternative is the inexorable further decline of the old continent.
It is exactly the same debate in Belgium between nationalists and federalists. Mr. De Wever would be incoherent if he were to defend different approaches at Belgian and European level. One should realise that a lack of solidarity at European level will lead to the implosion of EMU and the disintegration of the EU which, regardless of the outcome of Belgian negotiation, will be catastrophic for all, even for those who, like Germany, appear to be more sheltered from the turbulence.
The Flemish elector (and taxpayer) should realise that a vote for a “confederalist” program as a stepping stone for separatism must lead – in the words of NVA leaders – to Flanders discovering on its doorstep a country with weak finances, susceptible of being excluded from the Eurozone, provided that it has survived in the interval. The consequences for the Flemish economy would be devastating.
It is now firmly established that concluding a durable agreement with the NVA has become impossible. It is therefore quite appropriate that the other parties settle down to find solutions in response to the expectations of the great majority of Belgian citizens. The possibility of a breakthrough depends on the decision of the CDN&V to join the seven parties that have shown themselves willing to negotiate on the basis of the detailed proposals of Mr. Di Rupo.
A European federalism represents the best chance of exiting the financial crisis; the same conclusion can be applied to Belgium.
Brussels, 17th July 2011
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret); Member of the Thomas More Institute.
Tel: +32 (02) 6475310 +33 (04) 94732015 Mob: +32 (0497) 549259