Khaled Diab in The Guardian’s Comment is Free
You may be excused for thinking that nothing much happens in Belgium, a quaint land of mild-mannered and polite chocolate connoisseurs, beer aficionados and comic-strip lovers. But the country has been gripped by a non-violent conflict that began in the late 19th century which has sent few ripples into the wider world – largely due to the altogether sensible Belgian penchant for convoluted political compromises. But Belgium has now reached an existential impasse and is suffering an identity crisis.
So could divorce now be in the air?
Well, the Flemish far right are all for separation. The anti-immigrant pro-independence Vlaams Belang’s strongman Filip Dewinter has called on the Flemish parliament to open the floor to discussions over independence. “Flanders must bare its teeth. The Flemish parliament must declare, without further federal negotiations, its autonomy and present it to the Flemish public in a referendum,” the extremist wrote on his website. It should be noted that the Flemish independence movement is not just a far-right phenomenon, but it is largely a conservative one.
However, the quest for Flemish independence comes up against an immediate brick wall: any unilateral declaration of independence is unconstitutional, even if confirmed by a referendum. In addition, although many Flemings may grumble about the relatively high tax burden they must bear in order to prop up the faltering Walloon economy, Flanders still remains one of the richest places on earth, with a high quality of life index. In addition, few are disgruntled enough to desire unlawful independence, which would largely be cosmetic anyway, since the Flemish enjoy self-determination already and largely call the shots in Belgium.