If tiny Belgium splits in two, the European Union has a signal warning at its doorstep: Unresponsive government’s fissures eventually turn into major breaches and perhaps even bring about the state’s destruction. Unless, that is, it starts responding to the will of the people. That is true even in a 177-year-old federation which has figured in Western history’s major episodes since the days of Metternich.
Three months have passed since Belgium’s elections, and no government has formed. About 60 percent of Belgians are Dutch-speaking Flemings, concentrated in the wealthier north (Flanders), while about 30 percent are French-speaking Walloons, mostly in the poorer, more socialistic south. As our Europe Watch columnist, Paul Belien, explained Wednesday in this section, for decades a deliberate “frenchification” of Belgium has been underway, buttressed by the country’s underrepresentative political arrangements which hand a de facto veto over policy to the minority Parti Socialiste, Wallonia‘s largest party. Francophone political figures have admitted that French-speaking North African immigrants were admitted without background investigations in support of “frenchification.” Meanwhile, the Flemish are hit squarely in the pocketbook.
Taxation and underrepresentation are the essential watchwords. Capitalistic and Dutch-speaking Wallonia generates about 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). With the top income-tax rate at 50 percent and the nation’s public outlays constituting a staggering 46 percent of GDP, it is not hard to see who benefits from tax-and-spend Eurosocialism and who is hurt by it.
As Mr. Belien succinctly put it: “All this would not have been possible if Belgium had been a democracy. Belgium’s Constitution stipulates, however, that no major decisions can be taken without a majority in both parts of the country and that the government should consist of 50 percent Flemings and 50 percent Walloons. In practice this means that 20 percent of the population (i.e. half of the Walloons) can veto every decision. This has made the Parti Socialiste (PS), the largest party in Wallonia, the power broker in the country.” He also pointed out that, “three months after the elections, Flemish politicians are openly suggesting that one should fill the vacuum left by the absence of a federal government by having the Flemish regional parliament unilaterally declare Flemish sovereignty. Last week, even the Economist wrote that it is “time to abolish Belgium.”
It is Belgium’s business whether it chooses to split in two, and certainly any observer who sympathizes with the right to self-determination would see Flanders’ point. It seemingly cannot escape from the harmful policies of its central government. A split would likely send Flanders packing to join the Netherlands, while Wallonia would be pressed not to join France. What becomes of the bilingual capital, Brussels, is a devilish problem with no easy solution.
Let us hope for the European Union’s sake that Brussels’ E.U. leaders learn the right lessons here. Sooner or later, the will of the people must be respected. A government which aims to herd people for its own selfish purposes, or for the purposes of an overempowered minority, risks eventual destruction. As a courageous band on the other side of the pond once put it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.”