Category Archives: Politics

Le plat pays mais pas le mien


It is easy to be nostalgic – to think back of earlier times when “everything was better”. But somehow I can’t help but think things wére better before. At least, before, Belgian politicians were capable of forming a government. Of making compromises.

Tomorrow, hopefully, 10,000s of people will flood Brussels to ask for… well… something. A government. An agreement. Progress. Light at the end of the tunnel. Almost 23,000 people have RSVPd “yes” on the Facebook page of the event (another 25,000 voted “maybe”) – for an improvised demonstration organized by students in the middle of an exam period this is, to Belgian standards, quite impressive. Whether this will actually change something, is an open question, though judging on the past 223 days I’m guessing: not much.

Because it has been 223 days. 223 days ago, we had federal elections. 223 days ago, the north and the south of the country each chose their winner. Unfortunately, their colors couldn’t have been more opposite: left in the south, right in the north. To make things easier, this government will need to reform part of the constitution and thus needs a 2/3 majority, resulting in no less than 7 parties involved in negotiations. We are quick to judge the US and its 2-party system, but having 14+ parties (only counting the ones that get a voice in tv debates) isn’t exactly the solution either.

So what is going on?

Do you really want to know?

I suggest you take a course – because I sure as hell don’t have a clue.

Belgian catfight.

The north wants more responsibilities for the regional governments. The south wants things to stay the way they are.
The south wants more money for Brussels. The north thinks Brussels should generate its own income.
The north wants to tackle some unconstitutional election issues. The south wants to go along if there are compensations (since this will likely result in less votes for southern parties).
The south wants more rights for French-speaking people who live in the Dutch-speaking north (get their administration letters in French etc). The north feels they should just adapt and learn Dutch. Somehow, everything is brought down to the difference in language.

And (a small, very small) part of the north is sick of the south and wants to solve it all through independency. Unfortunately, it is their party that (for other reasons) won the elections. In other words: any compromise that all parties agree on will be necessarily a defeat for this party because it is not independency.

What I find most amazing is that when polls are held to measure current voting behavior (once in a while the option of new elections is mentioned), the same parties win. Worse: they increase their influence. Because people appreciate that, for once, the politicians try to keep their full electoral promise instead of compromising – an art Belgian politicians have perfected in the past. That meanwhile unemployment is rising, an increasing amount of people end up in debt, our social security system creaks under the rising cost of medical expenses for the elderly, environmental issues aren’t dealt with, speculation on the future of Belgium causes interest rates to skyrocket, … is rather unimportant. Politicians are standing their grounds. And nobody moves.

But now, finally, after 223 days, after breaking the European record government formation (207 days, sometime in the 70s, the Netherlands) and well on our way to break the world record (249 days, last year, … Iraq (!)), the lethargic Belgians have woken up from their sleep and decided to stand up. Call out for movement. For action. I hope tomorrow’s demonstration will bring many people to our capital. I hope it will be peaceful, and serene. And by all means – I hope it will help.

Nil Volentibus Arduum


“Nil volentibus arduum” – nothing is impossible if you really want it -, with these words (not coincidently sharing the acronym with the name of his party), Bart De Wever claimed his electoral victory last June. 83 days later, it appears that the quote doesn’t apply to the formation of a stable federal government.

Now we aren’t panicking just yet: in 2007 it took Yves Leterme 192 days to form a federal government. An interim-government, that was, just so the most urgent matters could be actually dealt with. So 83 days is really just peanuts. And for those wondering how come a country without a government doesn’t end up in chaos, let me give you a brief introduction to my home country, Belgium.

Geograpical overview of the regions and communities. Each of these have their own government.

It’s not really big – 30,528 square kilometres and a population of nearly 11 million people. In the north (Flanders), they speak Dutch*, in the south (Wallonia) they speak French, in the east they speak German and Brussels is a bilingual enclave in the Dutch-speaking part. This may seem a little bit complicated to organize government meetings and such, but really, there is an easy solution for that: just give everyone their own government. And thus there is a Flemish government, a Wallon government, a Brussels government, a Dutch government (though this is fused with the Flemish one), a French government, and a German government. And then a federal government for the whole country, to keep things together. This is no joke: 6 governments we have in this tiny weeny country of mine. It may look like a complicated situation (okay, it is), but the result is that there are enough governing powers left to keep our world turning even in the absence of a federal government.

So what’s up with that federal government? Well, elections were last June, and on the Flemish side NV-A won. This right-wing party basically wants an independent Flanders, i.e. the end of Belgium. On the French side PS was the winner, a left-wing party. Now if you say “win”, it’s not the American type of “win”, where the 2-party system inherently leads to 1 winner and 1 loser. Nono, we have several parties (I believe last June I had some 13 to choose from). Thus, a winner has maybe 20-25% – in one half of the country, since elections are split (also). Therefore, NV-A and PS cannot form a government on their own. Come in SP.A (the Flemish counterpart of PS), CD&V and CDH (the christian democrats), and Groen! and Ecolo (the green parties from either side). 7 political parties, from right wing over center to pretty socialist and left, have to form a government which is capable of sorting the federal finances (in short, taxes flow to the partial governments, leaving the federal government with nothing to actually work with), solving issues with the borders of the capital region (where the number of French speaking people in Flemish communities often largely exceeds the number of Dutch-speaking people), deal with the economic crisis and save A LOT of money while doing so. Oh, and change the constitution, to be able to do all of the above. I understand this can’t be easy, but hey, we’re grown ups, surely we can work something out?

They were optimistic, all 7 of them, before summer. We would have a government by September. It would be a historical government, and all those long-lasting conflicts from before I was born would be resolved. And it must be said – the climate in which negotiations took place was MUCH better than it was 3 years ago.

But 83 days later, negotiations have failed.
There is no viable alternative.

“Je suis désolée, Elio”, Bart De Wever said to the president of the PS, Elio Di Rupo.

Not just you, Bart, not just you.

The lion on the left is representative of Flanders, the rooster on the right of Wallonia.

* Some people insist on calling it Flemish. It is like saying American is a different language from British. Please.

ADDENMDUM 22/9: here’s a nice little video (in English) explaining on the regions and communities. It might help you to understand that… well, it’s too complicated to understand.