Friday, September 10, 2010

Belgian Unity Still Possible, Analyst Argues

A Belgian political scientist has insisted that Belgium need not fear separation just yet. Jean Faniel, a professor at Brussels Free University, insisted in today's EurActiv that a way out is still possible, outlining a strategy for workable coalition talks  and dismissing as hasty some of the rhetoric surrounding a potential split. 

"Three months since the elections and despite the recent collapse of government talks, Flemish and Francophone parties can still be brought together, Faniel argues.
"Having the two Assembly and Senate presidents from the Socialist and Flemish N-VA [nationalist] parties means that the election winners are forced to work hand in hand," said the researcher at the ULB's Centre for Research and Socio-political studies (CRISP).
"In this way, we retain representatives from all seven parties in the negotiations," he stressed, rather than "starting from zero again".
The analyst pointed out that significant progress had already been made on the transfer of competences to 'federal' authorities, covering over €15 billion. In his eyes, the most divisive issues still holding up an agreement are the splitting of the Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) electoral district around the Belgian capital and the future financing of Brussels.
"Brussels, where 35,000 people don't pay taxes, simply cannot support its €500 million annual expenses on university education," he remarked.
Faniel noted that whilst Belgian opinion had become increasingly polarised since the elections, this was not necessarily symptomatic of a call for the country to be split up.
"43-47% of Flemish people voted for parties that call themselves separatists, but poll surveys reveal that the issues concerning them were mostly social, economic or even to do with xenophobia, but not necessarily independence," he purports.
"Separatist parties have therefore been promoted on the political scene without us really being sure that that is what their voters wanted," something Francophone negotiators are to seize upon.
Playing down remarks such as those made by French MP Nicolas Dupon-Aignan that France "has to prepare to welcome its Wallon and Brussels compatriots," the analyst stressed that the separatist Francophone party Rassemblement Wallonie France had never had an MP elected.
"This is a question that has been around for a long time," he said, "but things are especially complex in Brussels with regards to Flanders and the European institutions". The capital remained to be the main thing preventing a split of the country, Faniel admitted.
 See the full text of Faniel's interview in French here

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