The Curious Case of Belgium: A Headless State

Bilingual signs in Brussels.Image via Wikipedia
Belgium has been "headless", i.e. without a government for over a year: a world record, even beating Iraq at it!

Why is that? We all know the problems between the Flemish (Dutch speaking) and Walloons (French speaking). We all know this has been going on for as long as Belgium has existed.

The political parties can't get their act together and nominate a government, so the country carries on with a caretaker government, with good old Leterme at the helm. Regularly, there's an effort to put together a government, and just as regularly it fails. The Flemish won't hear about it: they're fed up with government funds - resulting from their tax payments, because they are the richer taxpayers - going to the Walloons, who are the poorer ones.

What is so very curious about the situation is this: the country is doing fine, thank you, without any government in power. It's doing fine financially and economically (at least it's no worse than most Euro-zone countries and considerably better than the PIIGS). It's even managing to participate in the international community: not only has it joined the Battle for Libya, but it has just confirmed its commitment.

So does Belgium need a government at all?

Good question!

First, it says a lot about the kind of political class we are saddled with: they are not actually the people governing us. The state bureaucracy is - the much decried bureaucracy. Is there something good about it, after all?

Two, governing people with any effectiveness means moving closer to them. Down to their level. The Flemish want to be governed by the Flemish and no one else. Same for the Walloons and come to think of it, that parochial attitude is true everywhere in Europe: in Italy, the Lumbards want to govern Padania and have nothing to do with Rome; in Spain, the Basques prefer to throw bombs rather than listen to Madrid; in France, Brittany has historically felt independant etc etc

Third, in a European context where the EU is still making progress - the Euro crisis notwithstanding -, it is not clear what the role and place of State Governments are, or will be.

For example, if Europe comes closer together on major foreign policy issues, including on such matters as war, then one of the major roles of European governments will disappear. No doubt that is why Lady Ashton is having such a difficult time in becoming a European Foreign Affairs Minister: nobody wants that! But it is written in the EU constitution and sooner or later it will come to pass.

So is Belgium in government limbo because a government is not needed?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland, British politicianLady AshtonImage via Wikipedia

Regions of BelgiumImage via Wikipedia
Enhanced by Zemanta