Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Farewell Belgium?

Belgium, that quaint, quintessentially most European of nations, home to tasty waffles and craft-brewed beers, may be on the verge of something ugly – a divorce.

Once unthinkable, the talk of a split within the country is being discussed more and more as the country moves into its sixth month without a government. Since elections in June, Belgium’s political parties have been unable to form a government.

The trouble stems from historic tensions between the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders and the southern, French-speaking region Wallonia. Flanders wants increased regional autonomy, a move opposed in the poorer region of Wallonia, which fears it will lose out on tax revenues and other national subsidies on which it relies.

To make matters more complicated, none of the ten political parties that would be in the Belgian parliament is a national one - each are regional parties representing either Flanders or Wallonia. So far the parties have been unwilling to reach a compromise that would allow a national government to form.

Belgium’s king has requested the former prime minister lead crisis talks on forming a government. Ironically, if Belgium does split, it may be due in part to a television broadcast . In December of last year, French-language television station RTBF ran a fictional report that Flanders unilaterally declared independence. The two-hour broadcast fooled thousands of viewers who called both the station and local politicians, shocked by the news. RTBF said it performed the fake newscast to prompt debate on regional issues. It seems to have worked.
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