Some of you might remeber me teasing Dr. Arf about continuation of his legendary series. He promised to do something about it and he delivered a day later. It was me who forgot to publish his post in – well – post-election frenzy. I’m trully sorry.
Here it is, Dr. Arf’s eight installment of Belgium Explained To Slovenes (And Whoever Else) In Ten Easy Lessons!!!
LESSON VIII : YOUR VERY OWN EU BANANA MONARCHY
A quick recap
When I posted last, we – that is the nation called Belgium – were on the verge of having a government that reflected the results of the national election held on June 10th, 2007. Yves Leterme, being the clear winner, and his christian democratic party CD&V’s kartel with Flemish nationalist party NV-A, up to that point had succeeded in creating a jumble of a government with Flemish and Walloon liberals (the latter sporting their own francophone nationalist kartel partner in FDF and their Maximo Lidér and political pyromaniac Olivier Maingain) and christian democrats (headed by ?Madame Non’ Joëlle Milquet). After some intestinal and political blood letting, Leterme finally succeeded in installing a formed government around Easter. And not much else. Virtually nothing else, actually.
Where are we now?
The obvious question you’re asking yourselves now is “Why?”, possibly followed by “How is this even possible [in a country that is supposed to be a shining example of peaceful coexistence of two cultures within the EU framework]?”. And you’re not wrong if you shake your head to such a blatant display of political unwillingness to actually govern the country when consumer confidence is at an all time low and economy is in serious regress. Sometimes you wish you just had a corrupt PM to deal with instead of this mess…
Remember, the main focus of the winning parties was state reform, giving more executive power to the regional governments. This would weaken the position of the national government, creating a so called confederal system. The Walloon politicians, long time beneficiaries of Flemish ?financial solidarity’ went into a panic frenzy at the mere suggestion. Consequently sabotaging any negotiations by demanding the impossible – and banking conveniently on the fact NV-A would never agree to these demands, providing them with the perfect scapegoat to keep the sabotage process going – and at the same time turning down any demands made on the Flemish side (where the same game is being played; all’s fair in war and politics), these negotiations went nowhere. State reform was put on the back burner to allow the government to at least put on its game face, pretending to actually govern the country… which it didn’t. War hawk defence minister De Crem (CD&V) sent four (yes, FOUR) F-16 jet fighters to support the U.S. peace winning effort (sic) in Afghanistan and will send logistical forces for the fighters in the form of ground troops. And the finance minister, MR’s head honcho Didier Reynders managed to downplay the rather sizable hole in the budget. And then they went on a holiday, leaving the problem of the state reform in the hands of three royally appointed negotiators.
For some reason, these negotiators were all selected from the francophone political world, up to and including the German speaking minority, represented by their PM Karl-Heinz Lambertz, who took the opportunity to step into the media limelight on behalf of his own community, but did not come up with a solution. Neither did the other Wise Men From The South. Neither gold nor incense or myrrh and certainly no definite proposals to effectively get out of the stalemate. Just rehashed statements, diametrically opposing the agreements made between the representatives on both sides of a regional task force; the next effort for a political deus ex machina to save state reform negotiations, instigated by Flemish PM Kris Peeters (CD&V). To add insult to injury, the aforementioned Didier Reynders, who also happens to be vice PM and god in the deepest of his private thoughts (not quite a stretch for a liberal politician, as you might imagine), said last Friday that a state reform negotiation wouldn’t happen anyway until after the regional election of 2009.
This hardly came as a surprise, since Reynders had made public he was starting to campaign for these elections two weeks ago, thus effectively undermining any decision making power this non-government still had between now and those elections. Not surprisingly, NV-A cried havoc over the weekend and decided by unanimous vote that they had lost their confidence in this government and any attempts at state reform negotiations at their party congress yesterday. It seems September 21st wasn’t only the official day the leaves can start falling; façades are crumbling as well. SP.A, whom so far remained dead silent, licking their wounds while their party leaders were attending the Democratic Convention in the U.S. to see Barack Obama accepting his nomination to run (a delegation of the Flemish liberals VLD were also attending), called for the only NV-A minister in the Flemish government, Geert Bourgeois, to resign, possibly opening the way for them to step from opposition back into power regionally after having suffered a severe defeat nationally last year.
And the outcome is…
Geert Bourgeois did resign today, saying that if the trust in the government isn’t there anymore, the kartel is dead as well, which sent CD&V into a tailspin. They would lose their majority hold both nationally as well as regionally, so understandably they’re saying the kartel isn’t over just yet and they’ll get together with NV-A on Tuesday to pick up the political pieces. Both Flemish and Walloon liberals are shouting out their joy about NV-A ?showing its true colours’, as are the French socialists, but is this really a day of joy? Has the main opposing factor really gone? I’m quite certain this is not the case. FDF is still putting gasoline on the fire by demanding the Flemish suburbs of Brussel to become part of the capital (read : claiming the Flemish region surrounding Brussels as francophone in principle) and not splitting up the electoral region Brussel – Halle – Vilvoorde (which means francophone politicians can’t campaign and get votes in these Flemish suburbs anymore), as mandated by the Belgian Supreme Court, since not splitting the electoral region is unconstitutional. Of course, losing such an electorate potential by splitting the region is a severe blow to the Walloon politicians, not to mention it undermines any claims for usurping the suburbs into the largely francophone Brussel. It’s a political hot potato they are willing to keep dishing up and blatantly ignoring the country’s constitution for.
To my mind, if politicians want their constituents to adhere to the law, they should lead by example. Clearly, when their political power is at stake, they’re willing to ignore that, not surprisingly. When push comes to shove, there is no respect for either the constitution or that part of the Belgian people and their territory that is not their own. So to my mind, it’s not just NV-A who’s been throwing a spanner in the works all this time, well over fifteen months now. The end result of all this political manvoeuvering is a further disintegration of the Belgian nation and constituents on both sides of the language barrier who are growing tired of it all. In the words of the late Jim Morrison : the future’s uncertain and the end is always near…