EU Strategy & Geopolitics

Since the crisis this week-end, the split of Belgium received further credits and some in Wallonia are effectively elaborating on their future without Flanders.

The wheel of fortune turns. Now, Flanders appears to be afraid…

Read background on Belgian politics for dummies… and EU-afficionados

According to a recent survey by Dedicated Research, Flanders is afraid of its demands, its consequences. Flanders is afraid of the “Dare you!” that may reply Walloons and inhabitants of Brussels. In fact, Flanders is afraid of itself, this ambition they pursue since the birth of Belgium.

There were many frustrations to channel. Fifty years ago, a French-speaking minister could have been offended that one asks to speak Flemish at the government. During decades, leaders of Belgium would only speak one language, the one of the middle-class families living in Antwerp, Arlon, Ghent or Liege. The French-speaking middle-class that made the prosperity of the country… up to the Sixties.

And yesterday’s poor became today’s rich. And the Flemish movement ended up mixing its social and cultural objectives.

Here comes the innovation compared with similar situations (and diligent observers) in Quebec, Padania, Catalonia and the Basque Country. Who could have predicted that the rest of the country could be fine to not share that new economic wealth? In Brussels, the concept of EU district is making some noise. And if you stroll in Wallonia, you will hear them shouting “don’t fear the split!” Those words do cause a real wave of panic in the North.

All things considered, Flanders could loose more with independence than with autonomy. Belgium is a world-opener label, home of the European capital Brussels and the business card to Flemish entrepreneur’s successes. Taking the Flemish nationalist programme at face value bears the risk of returning to Flanders former domain, at the margin of political influence and European leadership.

That is why Flanders is afraid; afraid to be taken seriously.

David Mekkaoui (07SEP10)
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  1. “Flanders could lose more with independence than with autonomy” Flemish nationalists know that (one thing they are not is stupid), and that’s exactly why they have been pushing for more and more autonomy, making negotiations linger and committing a seemingly endless list of tasteless acts in the periphery of Brussels and in Flanders in genera (Gordel, refusing to put elected mayors in office, singing the Flemish anthem at every…Belgian election and interrupting debates at the Federal parliament, unilaterally separating BHV, taking off the Belgian flag in front of official buildings…) aimed “against” French-speaking belgians and anything “Belgian” in general. The rationale behind that was : no one will act or refuse what we demand (see the Peeters circulaire, and the “5 points” adopted by the Flemish government) because we can always use the threath of declaring our independence. Well, guess what: I hear a lot of French-speakers (in Brussels especially) saying Brussels (and Walloonia) should pre-empt and declare itself independent from Flanders! It will be difficult economically, but french-speakers (count me among them) have had more than enough of this kind of actions. It’s a shame that we have to get to this point but one can only look back at history and see that Flanders has been turning its back on Belgium as it got richer, after greatly benefiting from Belgium for a couple of centuries…

  2. mbewane, thanks for your comment.

    You are quite right Flemish nationalists know autonomy is better than independence. And they are indeed playing though negotiations to get the least. However, it seems they had not anticipated how far they could go.

    Playing a game for the north while appearing credible and threatening to the south is a tough balance. If it confirms the north is now feeling threatened while the south is fine throwing the dice, that will draw a whole new picture.

    And that is why French speaking politicians spread the idea of preparing independence, to frighten Flanders and disqualify nationalists.


    David Mekkaoui (08SEP10)

  3. Thank you for your answer, it is quite ironic that Flanders would now be afraid of what they have been asking for and organizing activities, pressure groups (TAK) and taking political measures for years now. Recent winners of elections in Flanders have been champions of the Flemish cause (Leterme, De Wever, Dewinter to a certain extent), those who have pushed the flemish-nationalist agenda. Those who haven’t have fell behind (sp.A, Groen!, Open Vld). And Leterme fell when he failed to translate that at a federal level, which must be why De Wever suggested Di Rupo as Prime Minister.

    In French there is a saying: “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre”, which is basicaly wanting something and keeping the money you need to buy it. In this case, keeping the advantages of Belgium without bearing the costs of full independence: autonomy and the “Copernician Revolution” by Kris Peeters. That is (and has been, at least since Leterme 2007) the prevailing sentiment among many French-speakers, that Flanders is pushing to get more out of Belgium (lest we forget the jobs occupied by Flemish in Brussels…who pay taxes in Flanders, which constitutes a money transfer seldom spoken about) until pushing it to the brink of separation, and using a “verroting” strategy in politics (letting the situation “rotten”, until it can be proven that Belgium does not work anymore or doesn’t have any sort of “added value”, dixit Leterme). But I believe they never thought it would actually work and that French-speakers would be ready to move on too. It is also quite strange that so many Flemish would vote for N-VA and later say that they are not for the separation of Belgium, when the N-VA is precisely a nationalistic party. Again, “le beurre et l’argent du beurre”…hence, the question in this weekend’s edition of Le Soir: “Que veulent les Flamands?” (“What do the Flemish want?”).

  4. Interesting view, although being a Belgian French speaking (please don’t call me Walloon), it is not what I hear from back home, my friends and family don’t feel it is the interest of anyone, Flemish or Walloons, to split. The common joke is that if the country split, we’ll try to get refugee status in Brussels or in another country to avoid being called “Walloon”. There is not such a thing as Walloon identity, except as fanfared by the French speaking politicians in reply of the Flemish counter-part.
    My father recalled that he had never heard of the word “Walloon” when growing up in the French speaking countryside of Belgium. We are Belgians. Stop playing political cheap talks.
    And if we recall correctly Belgium’s history, we can see how artificial the line between the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking South has been drawn. Historically, most of the population spoke various dialects, which were a mix of French, Dutch, German and English. The elite spoke French. The reverse process that you mention “yesterday’s poor became today’s rich” is partly true. But again, here isn’t it more a issue of elite’s sharing of power and wealth’s distribution than identity or languages?

  5. Nathalie – Thanks for your input in the debate.

    It is good to have your view as Belgian French speaking citizen (not Walloon – point taken!). You are right the community feeling is more granular in the south than in the north, not weaker though.

    Language yesterday or agenda today, elite are often and globally disconnected from Main Street. That is up to professional media and now social media to bridge them back in.

    Belgian electors seek a strong country, not an independent community. That is said!


    David Mekkaoui (07JAN11)

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