When we came across this op-ed in the New York Sun arguing for Belgium’s dissolution (and, yes, we read the Sun, dammit. Ira Stoll = awesome), we thought it looked a bit familiar. Then it hit us we read nearly the same opinion piece in last week’s Economist.
The Sun‘s piece mentions and quotes the Economist‘s op-ed, but what seemed really odd is that both articles:
We dissect the case after the jump.
Who needs Belgium? Not, apparently, the Belgians, who have had no government since elections on June 10, in which voters split on ethno-linguistic lines between French-speaking Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings. The Belgians do not seem to care that their state is falling apart before their eyes. Even in a Europe riven by secessionist movements, Belgium takes the prize for the most fissiparous country of them all.
A recent glance at the Low Countries revealed that, nearly three months after its latest general election, Belgium was still without a new government. It may have acquired one by now. But, if so, will anyone notice? And, if not, will anyone mind? Even the Belgians appear indifferent. And what they think of the government they may well think of the country. If Belgium did not already exist, would anyone nowadays take the trouble to invent it?
When the Napoleonic wars ended at Waterloo, now in Belgium, the United Netherlands emerged still ruling over the entire Low Countries. The Dutch kings preached religious freedom, but practiced discrimination against the Catholic Flemings and Walloons. In 1830 the July revolution in France spread to Brussels, where the French tricolors were raised, independence declared, and French troops intervened. The British Foreign Secretary, Palmerston, decided both to prevent a new European conflagration and to stop France from annexing the southern half of the Netherlands.
When it was created in 1831, it served more than one purpose. It relieved its people of various discriminatory practices imposed on them by their Dutch rulers. And it suited Britain and France to have a new, neutral state rather than a source of instability that might, so soon after the Napoleonic wars, set off more turbulence in Europe.
Today, Belgium is a microcosm of the E.U.: bureaucratic, undemocratic, corporatist. As the author Paul Belien argued in his book “A Throne in Brussels,” the “Belgianisation of Europe” is already far advanced. If the European Union is to be given back to its constituent peoples, Belgium might be a good place to start. The break-up of Belgium need not create instability: 2007 is not 1831. Europe has nothing to fear from a free vote of the Walloons and Flemings, both of whom might choose to accede to France and the Netherlands respectively. Wiser counsel would no doubt urge the Walloons and Flemings to prefer the protection of some kind of arrangement with either the British or the Americans and their freedoms. In any event, democracy — not realpolitik — should decide Belgium’s destiny. Let us hope that Europe, too, has an opportunity to vote before its future is determined from above.
No doubt more good things can come out of the swathe of territory once occupied by a tribe known to the Romans as the Belgae. For that, though, they do not need Belgium: they can emerge just as readily from two or three new mini-states, or perhaps from an enlarged France and Netherlands. Brussels can devote itself to becoming the bureaucratic capital of Europe. It no longer enjoys the heady atmosphere of liberty that swirled outside its opera house in 1830, intoxicating the demonstrators whose protests set the Belgians on the road to independence. The air today is more fetid. With freedom now taken for granted, the old animosities are ill suppressed. Rancour is ever-present and the country has become a freak of nature, a state in which power is so devolved that government is an abhorred vacuum. In short, Belgium has served its purpose. A praline divorce is in order.
Also, that Paul Belien book A Throne In Brussels? It turns out to be a Euroskeptic conspiracy screed. Awesome.