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Belgium: Time to Move Forward

Working on common features. Photo: Everjean/flickr

No more caretaker government, demands the King of Belgium. After almost one year of failed attempts to reach an agreement between the French and Dutch-speaking parties, King Albert II has officially asked Elio di Rupo, a French-speaking socialist, to lead a government.

For too long both communities have been struggling over the country’s institutional set up. Several negotiators attempted to break the deadlock, but without success. Now everyone, including the King, is tired of the impasse and Elio di Rupo will receive a second chance to break the cycle.

Last year he failed to create a government coalition, but his role will be slightly different this time. Until now the King had only appointed politicians to find a consensus for a new government, the so-called “preformateurs”. Now he actually asked Elio di Rupo to  form his own government and become Prime Minister. A new strategy that triggers a paradoxical feeling: either the situation will soon be solved, or things will get really desperate.

Even if Elio di Rupo succeeds, the real problem will yet have to be solved. The separatist Flemish Nationalist party, which won the largest share of votes in last year’s general elections, will not simply give up on achieving more autonomy. They argue that they are tired of subsidizing the poorest part of the country, French-speaking Wallonia. A state reform appears inevitable.

At least in this point the Flemish and Elio di Rupo seem to agree:  there’s an urgent need to bring more self-rule to the regions in Belgium. This measure might prevent a secession of the country and avoid tremendous costs for both sides. But for how long?

An agreement that reshapes the political institutions will not guarantee harmony between citizens. We still have two peoples cohabiting the same country, and the divorce between the French and the Dutch-speaking communities is likely to continue. A more decentralized Federal State might be part of the solution, but unless the population develops a common sense of citizenship and solidarity, the Flemish-Walloon conflict may be far from a resolution.

Institutional reforms have been tried in the past. More than a new state, the population needs a reason to believe in a future together. National identity must be reinforced. Only if Flemish and Walloons overcome differences and build upon their common features can Belgium finally triumph over the difficulties that are dividing the country in two. This is a rough mission, and it should not rely entirely on politicians. Society in general has a saying too.

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