Belgium elections: Beginning of the end of a nation?
Will Bart De Wever's Flemish party victory in Sunday's Belgium elections mark a north-south split that leads to an independent nation of Flanders?
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Whether De Wever will want to govern is another question. He could cede the prime minister spot to Mr. Di Rupo, which would leave him free to move to “devolve” federal powers such as justice, health, and social spending between Flanders and Wallonia.Skip to next paragraph
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De Wever modulated his separatist message during the campaign, starting with a strong call to separate, but ending last week saying, ''We do not want a revolution…We do not want to declare Flanders independent overnight. But we do believe in gradual evolution.”
After the election he said being prime minister was not as important as speeding the cause of Flemish autonomy. "The job of prime minister for me is not important, the key is to get a deal. If it helps the Francophones to trust us, I'm happy to make that sacrifice," he told a crowd of reporters.
Belgian tensions have long centered on language, but are spreading to social attitudes and spending. Dutch and French language are separate in the north and south for everything from license plates, schools, shop and road signs, to public events. Political parties are not national, but Flemish or Walloon, and north and south vote separately; yesterday’s vote was basically two elections for one government.
Walloons can irritate the Flemish for thinking of Belgium in a proprietary French historical construct, given a 180-year history dominated by French speakers. Currently the wealthier Flemish are chafing over subsidizing social security in the south, which has greater unemployment and lower income levels.
There are 6.5 million Dutch speakers, 4 million French speakers, and a German speaking minority in the state.
Jean-Michel de Waele, political scientist at the Free University of Brussels, says “extremists on both sides” are responsible for creating a politics of division.
French will take Walloons
Recent polls in France show two out of every three members of the French public would agree to absorb Wallonia as part of France. Meanwhile, a recent survey in Flanders by the Luxembourg broadcasting group RTL found that 32 percent want independence immediately, 17 percent would accept a "confederation" with Wallonia that is independence in all but name, and 25 percent want greater autonomy in Belgium.
French minister for Europe Pierre Lellouche said after the vote he hoped Belgium would not split along linguistic lines, and used the example of French-speaking Quebec in Canada as a model. "Has the point of no return been passed? I think not, I hope not," Mr. Lellouche told French radio. "Everyone needs Belgium to be unified, even if the separate regions assert themselves."
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