Monday 27 August 2007

Belgium: Eu founder and 28th Member?

An editorial in Le Monde places Belgium at the precipice. Attempts to form a coalition government after the general election of June 10th have exposed the widening rift between Belgium's French and Flemish speaking populations. The divide is geographic, cultural, political, and economic. The northern half of the country speak Flemish, a form of Dutch, while the Southern half speak French. The Flemish part is more populous and by far the richer. Perhaps in line with increasing regionalisation in other European countries (France, Spain, UK) the two halves in Belgium have grown apart over the last 3 decades. A fairly unitary state 30 years ago has evolved gradually into its current Federal form. Divorce in slow motion?

The trouble now is that the Flemish want to push this even further, but the Francophones are resisting, fearing that they will lose out by being further cut off from the more prosperous north. According to Le Monde, a compromise may still be reached, but the window of opportunity may eventually close, leading to a breakup "à la tchécoslovaque". Make no mistake, concludes the editorial, but Albert II's Kingdom is on the brink.

The fly in the ointment for the Belgians is Brussels, or is that vice versa? If Belgium did break up, what about the EU Capital, Brussels? It lies inside the Flemish region, but is predominantly French speaking. Which side could claim it?

It certainly would be an embarrassment for the Eu if one if its founder members and home to its capital, simply falls apart. It's not exactly the way the Eu planned to welcome its 28th member.

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