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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