Bye Bye 2010, Bye Bye Belgium

Another mighty fine post by Dr. Arf!

Over the past year, I’ve been more of a mainstay here on this blog as a guest than the previous three
combined. Or it at least feels that way. I recall the good Dr. Fil encouraging me to shed some light on the
political impasse here in Belgium, which enabled new elections followed by an even bigger impasse. Six
months post- election and we’re still not any closer to any kind of federal government.


Walloons keep demanding money from Flanders for Brussels, a shitload of money (half a billion) with
absolutely no strings attached. Flemings say this will not do, not even if hell, like Belgium these days,
freezes over and is covered in snow. We’re experiencing the longest snow period in this country’s
history (17 days and counting), while the political Big Chill is also breaking records. Honestly, I as well
as the real political analysts round these parts have stopped counting the days. Well, the federal
elections were on June 13th and we’re now December 19th. Six months and a bit, that’s close enough.
Meanwhile, it’s all about the money. As stated above, Wallonian politicians want more of it, their
Flemish counterparts won’t give it without written promises about a new state reform, a solution to
the B-H-V problem (which hasn’t even come close to being discussed) and more importantly, a new and
improved responsible federal financing law.

All the while, this political instability has made Belgium a target for stock market speculants, the next
domino piece in the European puzzle set to teeter on the edge of falling over after Greece, Spain,
Portugal and Ireland. The EU has just agreed on an emergency fund to give a signal to aforementioned
speculants, but to my mind, you may just as well signal a pack of great white sharks that there’s a big
school of succulent tuna up ahead, making for a feeding frenzy free for all. Since there is no governing
agreement, there also isn’t any budget for 2011, which is a really pressing matter, because the federal
government needs to do some necessary cutting in the next couple of years to maintain the three
percent Maastricht Criterion, which states that EU member states’ government deficits shouldn’t exceed
three percent of its GDP. (Oddly enough, I happened to be in Maastricht the day this treaty was signed,
although the reason for being there eludes me now. Oh, the sands of time…)

A valid question here would be why the incumbent resigning government – which I’m certain could
apply for a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the longest acting resigning
government – couldn’t just go on taking care of business while the ‘victors’ (ha!) continue to battle
it out. The reason is that this is unconstitutional and doing so could set a dangerous precedent for
future elections, when resigning governments could use the transitional time to quickly pass laws and
amendments they otherwise couldn’t. And besides, this would need to be voted on, even if it were a
measure to be used only under special circumstances (like now), and a resigning government cannot put
up new laws and amendments for voting even if they wanted. So much for that theory…

All the while the public dissent concerning Belgian politics and more so Belgian politicians is growing,
but alas not to the point where a strong public signal is considered, but rather to a dangerous sense of
indifference which has set in. Also growing is a sense of tedium and fatigue, among both politicians and
constituents. Just about everyone is sick and tired of being sick and tired of this whole mess. Meanwhile,
our fellow countries wonder why we don’t hurry up, but like Prof. Carl Devos, political analyst, says, so

much time has been wasted already due to egomania and childish playground behaviour, that hurrying
up just for the sake of hurrying up because the neighbours want us to is a bad thing. As tiresome as this
whole political manure heap has become, he urges to apply a ‘festina lente’ approach, if this [freak]
show must go on for much longer. Prof. Devos also called for a Christmas truce, not unlike the truce
during the trench wars in WW I, to give the politicians a breather, gather momentum and start afresh
after New Year. He is of course wise enough to admit that this isn’t a guarantee to succeed after half a
year of failure and missed opportunities, but he is not wrong to say politicians are people too and hence
need just as much a breather now and then as us Regular Joes and Janes in order to continue.

Yes, in many cases this has been a year of records here in Belgium. The biggest victory ever for a
nationalist party, the longest governmental negotiations (another one for the Guinness Book), the
longest acting resigning government, the longest snow period at the end of the year, the most catholic
priests being officially accused of pedophilia and the biggest resulting load of cases against them being
blundered into legal purgatory by the courts… And all the while, I’m growing more and more pessimistic
about the chances of survival of this disjointed nation. Negotiations have become a staring contest
where neither party wants to be the first to blink and if they do they will cry havoc, leave the negotiating
table for good and we’ll be faced with another round of elections come early 2011, the result of which
will be more of the same, but even more stagnant. Federal politics in Belgium have as much leg room as
Al Capone in his cement shoes on the riverbed the Mafia dumped him into.

And to leave you with something non governmental, but every bit as cynical : at the start of this week, I
watched the president of Citibank Belgium defend the bank’s announcement they would only cater their
full services to clients with a minimum of 250.000 Euros on their accounts. Everyone else would just get
the absolute basics. He didn’t see what the fuss was all about, after all “People who can afford it fly first
class, and this is just as acceptable”. Of course it is, if you conveniently forget it was people with much
less than that who bailed those mofos out with their hard earned tax money when they put just about
the entire world into economic crisis. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades…

I’ll try to set aside my cynicism for a second and wish my good friend P and all you readers of his most
excellent blog good holidays. See you on the other side of 2010.


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Repent! Repent! The End Is Nigh! (or something…)

again, a very fine guest post by dr. Arf

Bart de Wever, leader of N-VA (source)

So, last time I posted, N-VA had won the national elections in Flanders, Vlaams Belang was the biggest loser of them all and is now back to where it belongs : in the margins of the political landscape, rotting from within and all the other traditional parties goth either a big smack upside the head (Open VLD, CD&V) or saw their margins thin out even more, albeit less significantly (SPa, Groen). Meanwhile, in Wallonia, PS won back their lost ground from MR – FDF, while the other parties held their respective ground.

So what did this mean? Those who read the blog and my update, already knew that both winning parties would have to work together to come up with a new government team. However, that N-VA won in the north and PS in the south made one thing very clear : both regions chose a very different political style, therefore illustrating the big difference between the two. N-VA is a right wing political party, while PS, obviously, is left wing. While they dance around the centre of the political spectrum, especially N-VA does so on the fringes with a very ultra liberal economical and social program, which is diametrically opposed to that of the socialist parties on both side of the language border.

N-VA has three immediate problems :

1) The mass of voters that made them the biggest party in Flanders aren’t all ultra liberals, nor are they die hard nationalists. What most voters wanted, was to send a signal to the political south that a) no, they’re not going to budge when it comes to ceding territory around Brussels and b) that they’re sick and tired of the whole B-H-V question being run aground by delaying tactics and (politically) unrealistic demands. Those 28 percent didn’t turn nationalist over night and any N-VA politician thinking otherwise is fooling himself. They were given a mandate to try and realize their party program, though, which some voters may now regret not having read it entirely.

2) N-VA isn’t the biggest party in Belgium, only in Flanders. Percentage wise, PS remains the biggest party in this country, gaining more than 30 percent in Wallonia. While this is still well below the political hegemony of the days of yore, it’s still obvious that they, too, have been given a mandate to realize their political program which is, as we said, diametrically opposed to that of N-VA. Their big score also means they have the right to the prime ministership, but we’ll get to that later.

3) N-VA winning may have been a joyous moment for the party, it also means they will have to compromise in the formation talks in order to come to a government. The question most if not all political commentators have posed before and after the election is : is N-VA ready, willing and able to do so? One can imagine this wouldn’t sit well with all the nationalist hardliners who have been with the party ever since it was still called Volksunie.

N-VA actually has a fourth problem : that of the Wallonian perception. While the Wallonian press was rather cautious (well, for their doing anyway) right after the elections, we’re now well over three months into the new political reality and knives and swords have been whetted and the first mediatic skirmishes have already taken place. “Why?” might you ask? Well, this calls for an overview of these past months…

At first, N-VA’s Bart Dewever and PS’s Elio Di Rupo – who’s chomping at the bit to become PM – agreed that Dewever would clear the path for Di Rupo by holding talks with just about everyone who’s relevant in the political world : party chairmen- and women, unions, employer organizations and other lobbyists. Three weeks in, I almost feared he would invite the janitor of the federal parliament to see what he had to say.
After this round of talks, Dewever needed some time to come to the conclusion that there were ‘convergences’ which would allow to build a governing team with the following parties : N-VA, PS, SPa, Groen, CD&V, CDH and Ecolo. This would mean a ‘mirror’ cabinet, with all parties having their respective sister parties across the language border joining, except for N-VA, which of course has no sister party in Wallonia. However, said Dewever, this would not be easy and plenty of work still had to be done.

Di Rupo was then upgraded to the status of ‘informateur’ for another round of information talks with the respective parties. Flash forward to another couple of weeks later, and Di Rupo virtually says the same as Dewever did. The message between the lines is clear : there still no ground gained, enough to start formation talks. Di Rupo then visits King Albert II, our country’s ever loyal referee, who – pardon my French – is shitting his pants at the prospect of losing his kingdom and appoints Di Rupo to a heretofore non- existing status : that of ‘preformateur’. Needless to say, this caused many hilarity and sarcasm within the world of political commenting, as well as the political opposition. Basic message : Di Rupo is incapable to getting a governing team together.

Unfortunately, this is the case and while at first a before unseen rule of discretion is upheld by all parties involved, cracks eventually start to show when it becomes apparent that N-VA isn’t going to budge over certain points, like the financing law which divides the federal income between the regions. According to Di Rupo, it was agreed that this would not be on the table during this formation, but N-VA claimed that Wallonian demands made it inevitable to keep it off the table.

While it might come as a shock to most Wallonians, it actually makes sense to definitely arrange this financing law, which is so complex that it’s actually costing the federal government money. But the Wallonian politicians fear that it will end the money stream from Flanders which they have been dependent on ever since their heavy industry collapsed that touching this law is the same as strangling them financially. Which is incorrect, but neither the politicians, nor the media down south are prepared to even consider this.
Instead, the preformation talks were blown up again and all of a sudden, Wallonian politicians are starting to talk ‘nationalist’ speak’. Several PS politicians said their constituents should ready themselves for a separation. Where before there didn’t seem to be one, there was now a ‘Plan B’ on their minds : separating from Flanders, taking Brussels along into something called ‘Wallonian Belgium’. Some ‘rattachists’ even would like to see Wallonia and Brussels added to France, which I’m sure Sarkozy would like as much as he likes Roma gypsies.

So, with our Wallonian brethren now chiming in about separation, is this a feasible scenario? Several political commentators seem to think it’s bull. And theoretically, they would be right. There are so many political intricacies making it impossible for either region to secede, like Brussels and its financing and statute. In all likelihood, Brussels would not want to go along with any of the two regions, because it likes being what it is, a sort of unofficial European Washington D.C. Brussels has the most to lose in this scenario, not in the least its status as European Capital.

However, your Dr. ARF doesn’t think in theories, as he’s some sort of amateur history buff and he agrees that in order to see the future, one should often look to the past. Therefore, I say that it could be highly likely that a breakup scenario could happen, because theoretical logic might not even come into play. Case in point : World War I. Up until a few days before it began, there was absolutely nothing that indicated an armed conflict was going to take place. Every party involved still believed diplomacy would prevail. However, a few minor events decided otherwise and millions died because some people didn’t choose to follow the logical course of action. The devil is in the details. You, as Slovenes, know all too well how fast a political disagreement can escalate into armed conflict.

While I’m not saying it will be necessarily so, I just am pointing out that Belgium breaking up – be it through sheer political means or civil war – is definitely a feasible scenario, in spite of all the theoretical naysayers.
Going on four months now, the preformation talks have stalled, Dewever and Di Rupo are trying to rebuild their political trust in each other and we still are nowhere nearer a federal government than we are to a national budget for next year. Social security wise, things are brewing like an underground lava flow about to burst and this Autumn is promising to be littered with strikes and protest marches. Who again said ‘Nil Volentibus Arduum’ after he won the elections?*

*N-VA’s Bart Dewever

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And The Loser Is… Belgium

(another mighty fine post by dr. Arf)

Vlaams Belang in action (source)

Wednesday, June 9th. D- Day rememberance is well behind everyone and it kind of went unchecked over here in Belgium, because a different kind of war is being waged here at the moment : the national election. Now, I shouldn’t say ‘national’, because while there is still such a thing as a Belgian nation, it isn’t unified as you all know, and this while the national motto is ‘Unity makes power’. That power, though, has been seriously weakened over the past three years. It seems like only yesterday that one Yves Leterme won the 2007 federal election (that’s the proper name for this election) with 800.000 votes and the bold statement that ‘five minutes of political courage’ would suffice to split the electorate of Brussel – Halle – Vilvoorde, which entails the Belgo- European capital and its surrounding suburbs on Flemish regional ground but is inhabited by a majority of Francophones who are represented by francophone politicians who would like nothing more than to take another bite out of the Flemish region purely for electoral gain. Old news for those who have read my guest blogs here, I’m sure.

Just like it is old news that after three years of nothing much except saving the banks with tax payer’s money – no doubt a great feat in these times of economic crisis – this federal government was terminated when Open VLD president Alexander De Croo felt that three years of talk was cheap enough and pulled the plug. He was branded everything from a fool to a traitor by the other majority parties and even some politicians in his own ranks when that happened.

Curiously, though, we’re now in the home stretch of the election campaign and while there have been a few references to De Croo’s so called irresponsibility (which, of course, made him responsible for these elections), it’s hardly come up at all. Why? Well, there is a party called N-VA that has a party president called Bart De Wever, who makes no secret of the party’s wish to secede Flanders from Wallonia and thus to terminate the Belgian federal state, which, according to De Wever, is highly inefficient and brings this land to a standstill. However, De Wever repeatedly stated that while the final goal is secession, he sees this as an evolutionary process, rather than a revolutionary process. And the man and his party are booking great successes in every poll leading up to the elections, which are taking place when you read this (provided you read it on Sunday, of course). Which, of course makes all the traditional parties go apeshit, not in the least those south of the language border and makes them say the silliest things or try the most underhanded tactics to try and thwart N-VA’s success in Flanders.

On Flemish side, everything from ridiculing De Wever and N-VA to labour unions and former politicians ‘advising’ not to vote for the party and the man has been tried. It even seemed like a new ‘cordon’ sanitaire’, like the one placed around extreme right nationalist party Vlaams Belang, was being put in place. Undoubtedly, some politicians in other parties were wishing – although not out loud – that this would happen. Here’s why it didn’t : firstly, De Wever has successfully managed to come across as a competent politician and a consequent one to boot. The man also has a certain charm because he doesn’t pretend to be anything more or less than he is and he’s rather good at being himself. He’s also blessed with a rather sharp wit and a dry sense of humor that is certainly appreciated among the Flemish populace. Third : N-VA has been a loyal partner in the Flemish government, even if they were resigned to govern with left wing socialist party SP.a. Furthermore, N-VA’s message to cut deeply into the pockets of the unemployed by limiting the duration of eligibility for unemployment benefits hits home with the traditionally hard working Flemings, even if the majority of these Flemings don’t necessarily want the secession of Flanders. And lastly, unlike the Vlaams Belang, N-VA is indeed a democratic party. Having a nationalist agenda doesn’t change that.
This entire scare mongering against N-VA apparently seemed to worry the international economic markets, who, ever ready to make a profit from someone else’s recession, are poised to speculate against the Belgian National Debt. This is merely economical logic, because if Belgium falls apart in two states, who will pay off the Belgian National Debt? Our journalists reported in their blogs that they were overrun with mails and calls from their foreign colleagues, who wanted to know what was going on. One even spoke of a Serbian colleague who – recent history in mind – wanted to know if the Belgians could avoid civil war. This prompted N-VA to announce and international press conference to appease the international markets and explain that these were just scare tactics from mainly the francophone politicians and media, as foreign journalists apparently read the francophone press more than they do the Flemish.

One Flemish political commentator even wryly remarked in his blog post that he thought that CDH’s party leader Joèlle ‘Madame Non’ Milquet was on the payroll of N-VA’s PR department, as she made a lot of crass comments about how the language border, established in 1966, was a sociological mistake and that Brussel was 90% francophone anyway, so a demand for a ‘corridor’ to connect the capital to Wallonia seemed ‘like the natural thing to do’, therefore treading flat out on the territoriality of both regions and enraging even those Flemings who aren’t nationalist at all. I can only imagine the very large smile on De Wever’s face when she made that comment. My take on it is that Milquet seems as imbalanced as a certain Slovene politician was made out to be by his former Croatian colleague, not in the least because she makes this election all about the Brusselian francophones and not about the Wallonians in general, who are, according to independent press south of the language border(most newspapers are working out of Brussel and hence have a francophone staff and stance) are sick and tired of their own politicians. Having a Wallonian guitar player in my band, I can only attest to that statement. Which Is good news for the Parti Socialiste, as all the political ground gained by CDH and liberal MR/FDF will almost assuredly be ceded back to them after Sunday. The downside is that even the PS refuses to tell its constituents that there are massive budget cuts on the horizon and keeps promising higher unemployment benefits and pensions while there is no money. It is more important, it seems, to fend off the spectre of Flemish nationalism and make these elections about Francophonia, as the Brussels Capital Region is now called.

Not that the Flemish political parties lagged behind in trying to scare the voter into not voting for N-VA, as I’ve already established. But only in this final week they seemed to find their feet to counter N-VA’s popularity, by addressing several economic issues in their party programme. To have any chance of winning, they should have done this from the start, on either side of the language border. As it stands, though, N-VA stands to gain a lot of votes and thus seats in parliament, which puts the ball in their court if they win the election. Traditionally, it’s the winning party who provides the prime minister, but De Wever already said he would not become prime minister, if it meant he had to make too much concessions. A smart move, as this means he and his party could once again claim being consequent when negotiations fail once again (and that is a definite possibility) and we’ll gear up for another election, which is bound to piss off the voters even more than they already are now throughout this kingdom. If N-VA play their cards right, they might not only win the current election this time around, but also the next one, which would put them another step closer to the Belgian dissolution scenario they adhere to.

However, De Wever can’t help himself sometimes and just last Monday he said to be in favour of the termination of Brussels as a region, which made all other parties (excluding the Vlaams Belang, of course) go apeshit and then some. His mathematical logic for doing so is near perfect : Brussels as a region is governed by a parliament with no less than 900+ officials, has 16 municipalities that are all governed by their own mayors and their cabinets who mostly care for nothing but their own interests and hence are called ‘baronies’, has no less than SIX police zones that have NO coordinated policies (one frequently recurring example is that when trailing a suspect, police cars need to switch radio frequencies as they transit from one zone into the other) and lastly, if not for ‘solidarity’ from the regions – but mostly from Flanders, as it also pays ‘solidarity’ contributions to Wallonia, which in turn donates some of that cash to Brussels – Brussels would be so bankrupt, it would be classified as a third world state being in debt the way it is. Keep that in mind whenever you visit Brussels again. Unfortunately, no politician, neither Wallonian nor francophone (and there is huge a difference between the two) is even willing to consider this, just as they aren’t willing to consider righting these severe wrongs to the benefit of everyone living and working in Brussels. I know this seems like I’m down with the nationalists, but unfortunately for those who think otherwise, I don’t ignore plain facts in order to be considered politically correct by any francophone who should happen to read this. Nevertheless, if De Wever would have wanted to play the election game strategically, this was a wrong move, as other parties were given fuel to counter argue the ‘peaceful dissolution’ policy he said to be favouring.

Friday, June 11th, one month before the Flemish National Holiday. So, where does this all lead to? Most political commentators still predict a giant win for N-VA, as Bart De Wever has won all televised debates so far, which is no mean feat when you’re up against six other party presidents in Flanders. The man is just an excellent debater, as he once again managed to show in the final debate on commercial TV station VTM earlier this evening. He may have been wavering (pun intended) in the past week when attacked on N-VA’s economic standpoints, but he didn’t budge. Given the bashing the Christian democrats got in Holland two days ago at that country’s national election, people are assuming this could be the case for CD&V as well. While the liberal VVD won the elections in Holland, there is a lot of ambiguity about its Flemish pendant, Open VLD. Not even the presence of VVD party leader Mark Rutte at the Open VLD party congress yesterday can help predict whether the party will gain or lose votes. SP.a has not been able to weigh in on the election debates until the last week, which may work for them, since it’ll be fresh in the voters’ memories, or work against them because it’s a matter of too little, too late. Green party Groen! will most likely consolidate its percentage from last year’s regional elections, but won’t in all likelihood gain more than a few percentiles. Something which is being overlooked, but I find very important is that extreme right party Vlaams Belang has done a fine job destroying itself from within over the past few years and is on its way down. For more than twenty years the party leadership has remained in the hands of Filip Dewinter and Gerolf Annemans, which created a lot of dissent within the party bureau with those who wanted the VB to run a different course. I have to say this pleases me, even though I am aware that this party is down – and severely down, now it is fighting against a democratic alternative when it comes to Flemish nationalist issues in N-VA – but not out (yet). Nevertheless, their core business of sewing hatred and racism by attacking muslims and Islam in general, the – admittingly – lax Belgian immigration laws and their traditional outcry for a police state (yawn) went largely unheard this campaign, something which a true democrat can only be pleased about. An economic and constitutional crisis can sometimes be a blessing in disguise…

In the south, the PS will most likely reestablish its monopoly position, backed by a strong Ecolo, the Wallonian green party. MR/FDF will probably do well in the B-H-V region, but I suspect they will get punished for their bad government and immobilism of the past three years in the rest of Wallonia, as well as making it all about B-H-V without taking the rest of the region into account. CDH stands to go the same route.

Of course, these are all just guesses. While my suspicion against politics, politicians and political parties prompts me to keep an eye on what they’re doing to this country and its people, I am not a professional political commentator and as such, I can only give my own opinion based on whatever political instinct I’ve cultivated over the years. But I am rather certain that N-VA will take a huge leap forward, even if other parties and journalists will want to minimize their result if they won’t gain as much as the polls predict and will speak of a ‘victory defeat’ if such is the case. Whether this will be to this party’s advantage or not remains to be seen. There already have been rumours abounding about secret negotiations between N-VA, CD&V and the PS, in order to install a federal government which mirrors those of the two regions. Bart De Wever even admitted as much last night. As I’m writing this, only 24 hours remain until the voting stations open their doors. I don’t think we’ve had such an interesting election campaign for as long as I can remember and its results might, eh, result in me and my fellow countrymen waking up in a different country 48 hours from now. It’s either that, or more of the same for the next four years. Just before turning in this piece, I read a chronology of the current political problems concerning B-H-V by Prof. Dave Sinardet (a Fleming, in spite of his French sounding last name), who pointed out that this election is in fact the end result of several political parties on either side of the language border putting their own party political interests above the greater good by blocking negotiations whenever it suited them best. In short, he says the responsibility for the current situation lies largely with them. While I believe there is also an underlying ‘francophone’ issue concerning B-H-V that has been going on for over forty years and the responsibility thereof lies mostly with the Wallonian parties who refuse to respect the territorial boundaries for purely political gain, Sinardet’s analysis is by and large a correct one, as is his assessment that the polarization between Flemings and Francophones only increases due to this political scheming. And if this kind of scheming and the resulting immobilism will continue over the formation talks and, say, the next year or so, that much dreaded split of this country, the nightmare scenario for every Francophone politician and much of the Flemish ones, might get even nearer than it is today. If I wanted to keep Belgium in existence (I’m neither saying I would or wouldn’t), I don’t think I wouldn’t want that on my conscience, but then, I’m not a politician and it is crystal clear that several politicians on either side have not learned that lesson and they maybe never will. For now, let’s see what the voter has to say…

The End of Belgium, Part II

A guest post by dr. Arf, naturally.

Like the Good Doctor reminded me today, Belgium hasn’t let anyone down and stayed true to its tradition of creating crisis and instability in this little country. I’ve been saying it before and I say it again : Belgium is only a country in name anymore and, as was once again evidenced in the past three years, the water between the respective regions is proving to get increasingly deeper, up to the point where it’s ocean sized. And in my somber estimates, we’re not far from that point. Sit back and have a drink nearby, this is a long one, because the matter is complicated and requires some explanation. My sincere apologies…


I already attempted to explain the problems situated in the region around Brussel, which is Flemish territory, but over the past fifty years got increasingly inhabited by francophones. Now, I must say there is a significant difference between francophone Brusselians and Walloons. Our Wallonian brethren and sisters probably are scratching their heads just as much as their Flemish counterparts about this issue, but one thing is for sure : everyone has become sick and tired of the whole thing.

A quick recap of what it is about: an electoral district was created, called Brussel – Halle – Vilvoorde. Constitutionally, it is however illegal, because the Halle – Vilvoorde part is Flemish territory, meaning that Wallonian politicians have no legal right to campaign for votes there. The problem, of course, then becomes that there are too many votes to be gained from H – V for the Brussel Capital Region, and this of course doesn’t sit well with said parties, especially the Wallonian Liberals of MR and their cartel partner, the FDF, which in itself was established to claim the rights – rightfully or wrongly – of the francophones in the Flemish region around Brussels way back when. Their current president, Olivier Maingain has been walking around with a box of matches and a can of gasoline for the past three years, demanding that H-V should be added to Brussel, giving nothing in return and even demanding more money and the official appointment of three francophone mayors elected in the last municipal elections, who refuse to abide by Flemish constitutional law and therefore aren’t eligible to govern their respective municipalities. This, in turn, is of course fuel on the fire of moderate Flemish Nationalist party NV-A (not related to the Viet Cong, I assure you), for whom the division of B-H-V can only happen unconditionally. And even the other Flemish political parties don’t really feel like giving too much concessions anymore.

So, we had federal elections in June of 2007 and the winning party, Flemish Christian Democrats CD&V and their front man, prime minister Yves Leterme won the elections – with then cartel partner NV-A – on the promise of taking ?five minutes of political courage’ to divide B-H-V. It won Yves 800.000 preferential votes that immediately became the political millstone around his neck, as none of the Walloon politicians wanted to negotiate with him. You can read all about that in my previous series. Fact of the matter is that, ever since, there has been negotiation after negotiation, for three years straight, because the Walloon politicians simply refused to budge and neither did the Flemish. CD&V and NV-A parted ways not even a year after the elections because CD&V in the end didn’t prove to have the political courage to take those five minutes to divide B-H-V unilaterally together with all other Flemish parties. NV-A has since then become a major player, gaining a lot of votes in the last regional elections of 2008, not in the least because party leader Bart Dewever is an old school politician who knows his dossiers, is an apt historian and has a no nonsense attitude, telling it like it is and presenting himself the way he is unapologetically. He also has a dry and cynical sense of humor which seems to be appreciated by many a Fleming. In that sense, he and his party are the Wallonian parties’ worst enemy and that the politicians who landed this country in this mess some twenty odd years ago when Belgium became a federal state, on the idle hope that both regions would continue to understand each other. However, give a region its own constitutional powers and gradually transfer most of the governmental authorities that used to be in the hands of the federal parliament to them, and they will turn onto themselves, watching and reading only their own news bulletins, expanding on their own culture and becoming more and more ignorant about that of their neighbours and becoming more ignorant about each other to the point where Belgium has de facto become a divided entity, with few common ground to rally together. The common ground, in this case, consists almost uniquely of tennis players Justine Henin (Walloon), Yanina Wickmayer and Kim Clijsters (both Flemish). And maybe, just maybe, our blundering national football (soccer) team. And that, my friends, is it.

So what happened last Thursday? Well, after Herman van Rompuy, our beloved European President – if you count out UKIP EMP Nigel Farage, of course – took office, Yves Leterme returned as Belgium’s PM for a third time. It was agreed that former PM and European heavyweight Jean-Luc Dehaene, also of CS&V signature, would work out a plan to divide B-H-V that everyone could live with from December till Easter. Dehaene, who’s big on discretion as well as body mass index, wasn’t seen or heard, unless to say that this deadline was extended until the end of the Easter holidays. At that time, freshly elected Flemish Liberal Democrat party Open-VLD party leader Alexander De Croo – a coalition partner in the government – is alleged to have said that this deadline had to be respected and the B-H-V negotiations should by then have ?landed’, or they would leave the government. This was reiterated at the start of this week, when it became apparent that the Wallonian parties didn’t think Dehaene’s propositions went far enough and the latter exited in a huff of anger about their conduct during the negotiations, not in the least that of Olivier Maingain. The deadline came, and uncharacteristically true to their word, Open-VLD left the government, effectively putting this land in a federal crisis, causing the federal government to fall. De Croo alleged that it was apparent that the Walloons were just playing their tired old tactics of not wanting to negotiate, then saying the negotiations that DID take place were a basis for… negotiations to commence, and he would be right. However, all the other parties in the ?negotiations that were no negotiations according to the Wallonian parties’ came out saying that there was a basis to continue, at least until next Thursday, after which the Flemish parties would attempt to unilaterally vote the division of B-H-V. They further said that Open-VLD had agreed with that before concluding the negotiations, which was categorically denied by De Croo. Meanwhile, PM Leterme went to the king for the fifth time in three years to offer his government’s resignation, which the king said he’d take under advisement, and invited Federal Assembly president Patrick Dewael (Open-VLD) and asked him to put a stop to parliamentary proceedings for the day, in order to let everyone calm down, because it was apparent from early on that both CD&V and Open-VLD would try to put the vote to divide B-H-V on the agenda. The chaos which ensued in the Belgian parliament was something I watched with open mouth, while extreme right nationalist party Vlaams Belang took it upon themselves to sing the Flemish ?national’ anthem De Vlaamse Leeuw ? (The Flemish Lion), which is always guaranteed to disconcert the Walloons. It’s no wonder that, of course, this became the ?hot item’ on the Wallonian news as well as the newspapers down south. I’m sorry to say, but the Wallonian press and politicians just can’t seem to get their priorities straight. VB singing in the parliament scares them more than the fact they themselves have a big hand in helping to succeed what they fear most – the constitutional split of Belgium – while gangsters with Kalashnikovs raiding a jeweler and having a shootout in the midst of Brussel is considered a ?fait divers’. Nothing going on there, it happens in London and Paris too, so it’s not a big deal. I have to say ?quoi?!’ (yes, that is where Ljubljanchans get their ?kva’ from, thanks to Napoleon).

Back to the topic at hand, that same evening, Alexander de Croo was summoned by the king as well and afterwards went on record saying that he was more than willing to continue negotiations, if and only if the Wallonian parties would agree to set the deadline to next Thursday (that was implied, not said out right) and they would adhere to the propositions that Dehaene had made with no further additions. He also went on to defend his party’s governmental exit by saying that it was meant only as a strong signal to the Walloons that their philandering would not be acceptable anymore after three years of stalling. Other Flemish parties alleged that Open-VLD had made this move to score in the – constitutionally illegal – new elections that would undoubtedly follow this crisis and that they never constructively participated in the current government anyway, which of course was denied. My take on it is, that both grounds are true, with the one facilitating the other.

So, what will happen next? No one knows. The king appointed MR spearhead and vice PM Didier Reynders as negotiator to see if there’s still a basis for talks. Next Thursday, when the parliament reconvenes, it is however suspected that if talks fail, both CD&V and Open-VLD will put the ?division’ vote on the agenda, with the Walloons blocking it by filibustering and using what’s called an ?alarm bell procedure’, to take the vote off the table. As it stands, the Flemish parties could still unilaterally vote for the division, as they have done before. In any case, MR-FDF, in lieu with the other Wallonian parties, succeeded in making the Wallonian nightmare scenario, the end of constitutional Belgium, come dangerously close by their hardline demands and handing Open-VLD a way out of the government. Why? Well, if there will be new – and, again, illegal – elections, all political commentators agree that at the time of the new formation negotiations, the Wallonian politicians will find even less desire in their Flemish counterparts to come to a consensus, because it is becoming apparent that, while being sick and tired of the antics of their political representatives, theFlemish constituents will give their votes to those parties who will promise to make the division of B-H-V happen without any or at least the least amount of concessions. NV-A will have a field day. At least one Wallonian party – the Christian democrat CDH – sees that this would be a nightmare scenario and yesterday came out saying by way of party leader Joëlle ?Madame Non’ Milquet that the expansion of Brussel is not a must.

The only way this country will get a lifeline, is if both sides back down a bit, the Flemish accept that some concessions are unavoidable and the Walloons relent their unwillingness to negotiate and refrain from increasing their demands, knowing they will never get them. By which time the government can actually do what it is elected to : working on a solution for the economic crisis and improving people’s lives, none of which it apparently had the time or will to occupy itself with in the past three years. So far, we’ve had three years of nothing and have become the laughing stock of Europe to boot. But as it stands, the constitutional split of Belgium, as far as I can see, isn’t a question of ?if’ anymore, but of ?how soon’ and ?how’. With Flanders being tired of putting up with Wallonian demands about everything from land concessions to money transfers to prop up their badly managed economy (which is said to be on the rise, but so far, I’m not seeing it, while the long bankrupt Brussel Captial Region is still run on Flemish money, by the way) and Wallonia increasingly viewing the whole of Flanders as extreme separatist and making increasingly irresponsible political moves and demands as a result of that fear, we seem to go ?himmelhoch jauchzend zum Ende’. What this potentially could lead to, is something many a Slovene can testify of.

How Europe Got A Belgian Council President (Guest Post By Dr. Arf)

Another marvelous guest post by Dr. Arf.

So, by now all us Europeans are living in a different European entity. Because, even if some of our Head Honchos will be jittery about calling a spade a spade, we now have a European president. Woo- hoo, break out the champagne, throw huge, lavish parties with people madly dancing, drinking and fornicating in the streets into the night for a fortnight. Or should we?

Because, my fellow Europeans, we didn’t get no Obama as EU president. While there is a cautious ?yes we can’ (if we stick together) attitude, my country’s now ex- Prime Minister and your EU Prez, Herman (not Herbert, you foolish English tabloids) Van Rompuy isn’t particularly know for his talent to rally people for the cause like his American counterpart still can, even with some lost feathers near the end of his term’s first year.

The new EU Prez (source)

No, good old Herman is the greyest mouse you could possibly have for the job and expresses himself in haiku (this is the first and last time I will refer to that, and don’t expect me to write one on his behalf, thankyouverymuch). If you’ve been following the European news for the last couple of days, you will have heard several terms come back about Herman. ?Aloof’, ?boring’, ?consensus builder’ and so on… You will get my own take on Hermie, but let’s just start at the beginning, which was roughly two weeks ago. Being a Belgian native, I witnessed firsthand how this Union got its Belgian Prez.

With the election of the seat about three weeks away, there were rumours – I had to find out through the BBC’s excellent comedy panel show ?Have I Got News For You’ – about a number of people who were named as candidates : Dr. Fil’s second home native EU bobo Jacques Santer, Holland’s very own adult Harry Potter clone and PM Jan-Peter Balkenende and The Man Who Is President Of So Many Foundations And Institutions He Hardly Knows Which Ones, Only That He’s Filthy Rich Because Of It, the UK’s former Labour PM, Tony Blair.

I admit, the latter’s a rather lengthy moniker, but it is all too true. Blair even prides himself in being the spokesperson for British supermarket chain ASDA in… Palestine! Anyway, to cut a long, money grabbing story short : all of this was sufficient reason for many a EU country to veto Blair’s candidacy, no matter how much Gordon ?I think the whole UK wants to lynch me’ Brown put his foot down and backed the guy he shoehorned out of Downing St. No. 10 against all odds. (Cue Phil Collins song) Brown would eventually drop Blair’s candidacy in exchange for the EU socialists getting a British Foreign Affairs Minister in Cathernie Ashton. All’s well that ends well…

Anyway, there they were; all major candidates in a row. Oh yeah, there were some others too and almost as an afterthought, Van Rompuy’s name was mentioned as one of them. Cut to a week later and our local journos (on Flemish TV, that is, since I live in The North) came out with the news that their well informed sources within the EU Parliament had told them Hermie was a strong candidate, opposed by no one. When asked, our PM said nothing at first and a week later only that he wasn’t asked and that he didn’t intend to run. But IF asked, he would.

However, this ?no opposition’ claim wasn’t really all that true. Aside from other ?informed sources’ who contradicted that there was consensus about Van Rompuy, there was clear opposition… from the UK tabloid press. And the further in the week and the stronger the rumours about our PM’s impending leap up the political ladder, the fiercer the rumours got. The conservative Daily Telegraph, not particularly known for getting their facts straight but rather for their, eh, conservative stance at all cost, even named him ?Herbert’. All rather silly and all rather out of proportion, unless you know that almost all UK news media is siding with the Tories in the UK right now and they are already campaigning for next year’s national elections. The Tories are fierce – pointy teeth and all – Eurosceptics (anti- European more like it). Then again, political Britain just wants the EU’s benefits and none of the responsibilities and the difference between Labour and the Tories is as thick as a teen’s pubic hair.

Meanwhile, last week, when PM Van Rompuy’s candidacy rumours were getting beyond the point of ignoring, a new problem surfaced in the media : if Herman – the guy who managed to build a consensus between politicians from both North and South on a national level and got a – albeit flimsy – grip on Belgium’s economic crisis – was going to run Europe, who would be running the country? One name popped up : Mr. ?800.000 Votes Can’t Be Wrong’, Yves Leterme. And the mere mention of the man prompted francophone newspaper Le Soir to literally impose its veto on Leterme as Belgium’s PM, merely because they don’t like his style and they, or rather, editor in chief Béatrice Delvaux (who managed to utter the ?faux pas’ “I believe that Leterme” before correcting ?I’ into ?the paper’ on national TV, thereby exposing her private agenda as well as the fact she used her newspaper for it) came out, guns blazing and knives sharpened. Even the francophone politicians felt that this was a bridge too far. ?We use the media for our agenda, not the other way around’ was the message when a francophone politician said that ?Le Soir is not making policy in this country’. As it stands and as I’m writing this, a mere few hours after Van Rompuy’s acceptance speech, this issue is only now starting to become the hot potato which could land this country in another crisis, at a time it needs it the least.

One last fait divers about Hermie’s run up to the presidency : those pesky British tabloids, in their usual fashion – tits on Page3, filth and smut in the rest of the paper – ran increasingly negative stories about Van Rompuy. His sister – a very red socialist (ex- communist party PvdA) politician of her own – allegedly said he was a clown, hadn’t spoken to him in over a year, and so on. Which wasn’t true. The red nose was a campaign stunt of PvdA, and they had spoken just a week ago, she countered only hours ago on a talk show. So where did the British press get all this misinformation from? You’ll never believe it : a BELGIAN lobby firm, represented by a nephew of ex- PM and former EU Chairman hopeful Guy Verhofstadt. While Verhofstadt himself was probably not behind this vicious attack, his nephew had no qualms about feeding these stories, even when untrue, to the British public ?because that’s what the media wants to run’. Can I come out and say in no uncertain terms that such morally challenged ratbags (I’ll keep it civilised) like these should be sentenced to a life of forced labour without the possibility of parole, while being prison bitch to a 300 pound serial rapist with severe halitosis (sorry, couldn’t help myself in the end)?

So, my EU friends, now he’s been elected unanimously, what can you expect of your president, Herman Van Rompuy? Well, he IS a consensus builder, and when it’s being said that ?if he can hold a country like Belgium together, he’ll certainly be able to do the same with the 27 EU countries’, you should take that seriously, because he will do his darndest to put all the noses in the same direction. It’s also said he’s an EU nobody, politically speaking. Do NOT make the mistake to think Van Rompuy won’t know what he wants and he’ll be a harmless puppet to the likes of Angela ?I was in the sauna on the other side of the Wall’ Merkel and Nicholas ?I singlehandedly tore down the Berlin Wall’ Sarkozy. Some EU bobos will undoubtedly have felt this way when casting their votes and they will be sadly mistaken. Yes, he IS aloof and he only speaks when he feels it matters. No flamboyance there, but do not mistake him for a sock puppet.

What else? Well, he is a catholic and a conservative. Not necessarily negative treats, even though that makes him my political opposite. However, he’s also an intellectual who several times spoke out against what he calls ?direct democracy’; aka the will of the people via binding referenda. His reasoning was that constituents could not be trusted with this power, hence they needed elected representatives like him, who would decide what was best for them. This was many years ago, but it stayed with me because it incensed me to no end. If people do not know how to wield democracy, it is, in my opinion, not the task of the elected representatives to make up their minds for them, but to teach them how to wield that power effectively. Not so for Van Rompuy, and I was sorely disappointed when not a single journalist drove this issue home when he was about to take over as PM from Leterme. The fact that he was a consensus builder and didn’t really want the job took precedence over that.

In closing : no matter what his qualities may be, Herman Van Rompuy is very much a politician’s politician, and that, too, will have been a reason why he was elected by his peers (!) as EU Council president for the next two and a half years. The only hope I have for this presidency is that Herman Van Rompuy will learn as much about direct democracy as he will be teaching us about intereuropean consensus. Time will tell…

— dr. Arf