Connect to share and comment

Belgium: a kingdom in crisis

Political impasse deepens as mediator between French- and Flemish-speakers resigns.

In return for joining a government in the nation that he calls the “sick man” of Europe, De Wever demands major concessions from the country’s French-speakers.

He wants to cut the transfer of funds from prosperous Flanders to the francophone region of Wallonia and the capital Brussels, which is officially bilingual, but mainly French-speaking. The Flemish nationalists also want their own justice system and social security system. They seek to roll back language rights enjoyed by a large French-speaking minority that lives in Flemish suburbs of the capital.

Ruled for centuries as part of the Spanish, Austrian, French or Dutch empires, Belgium emerged as an independent nation in 1830. Initially united against outside rule, the 6 million Dutch-speakers of Flanders and the 4 million Francophones of Wallonia and Brussels have grown steadily apart.

From political parties to bus networks, schools and universities to road maintenance, most aspects of national life are divided along linguistic lines.

In tough economic times, De Wever’s party has exploited long-standing dissatisfaction among Flemish voters over the flow of federal funding to the poorer French-speaking regions.

The country's imminent breakup is, however, not certain. If they want to divorce, the Flemings and Walloons will have to decide what to do about Brussels. The capital is surrounded by Flemish territory and plays a vital role in the Flemish economy, but its inhabitants are overwhelmingly French-speakers with little taste for integration into an independent Flanders.

Until a solution is found for the future of the city, which calls itself the capital of Europe, the Belgians will be tied together and King Albert II will be forced to continue his search for a politician who can govern the kingdom.