Excerpt: Belgium

Europe’s divided centre


Of all countries, it is Belgium, the unofficial capital of a
united Europe, that is faced with growing concerns that
the nation could break apart. After the parliamentary
election held in July 2007 Belgium remained without
a government for over six months, because squabbling
among the parties prevented them from reaching agreement
on a coalition capable of leading the country. The
positions held by the two main camps seemed practically
unbridgeable. Excepting the Brussels-Capital region,
which is home to nearly one million people, the situation
must be seen as a reflection of the old division of the
country into two parts: Belgium is home to 6.1 million
Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Flanders, the Flemings,
and 3.4 million French-speaking inhabitants of Wallonia,
the Walloons. For years, more and more powers have
been devolved to the regions, and now there appears
to be little left that holds the two national communities
together. In the last election 25 per cent of the Flemish
electorate, who are generally fed up with subsidies provided
to Wallonia, an economically weak region, voted
for a party intent on splitting Belgium up. Another 30 per
cent voted for a coalition of parties that seeks far greater
autonomy for Flanders that it has at present.


Belgium’s linguistic boundary is centuries old. It runs
along an old Roman military road leading directly from
Cologne in Germany to Boulogne-sur-Mer in France, a
small town near the port city of Calais. And it not only
separates the Flemings in the north from the Walloons
in the south, it also demarcates a number of different
landscapes: Flanders, with its flat countryside, from the
Ardennes, a hilly, wooded landscape.




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