Hergé's adventures in Belgium ... continued

Capten Hadog has just given me another update on the situation in Belgium over negotiations to form a federal government. Since Elio di Rupo of the Walloon Parti Socialiste gave up the role of preformateur, causing the talks to officially break down, the Belgian king appointed two "elder statesmen" from the two largest parties to sound things out on a less formal level and take the spotlight away from the two leaders in the hope of cooling things down.

At that time, and for the first time, the PS started talking openly about splitting Belgium. Not their favoured option by a long way, but what the francophone press started calling "Plan B". The "B" stood for Brussels, and the idea was that they would be happy for the Flanders region to become a separate state provided they left Brussels to Wallonia. Needless to say, this wasn't really taken seriously by the Flemings ... and it since seems to have died a quiet death.

The Flemings were non-plussed with this for the fairly obvious reason that the Brussels region relies on more money from the federal coffers than it contributes (that's why the the PS wanted an additional €500m a year for Brussels) and Wallonia also receives more than it contributes. Although I'm sure he wouldn't actually say it out loud, I can imagine Bart De Wever thinking, "Go on, make my day."

     

Since then Di Rupo and De Wever have resumed talks. They don't have any real choice but to deal with each other, since the opinion polls show that both leaders are supported by a very large percentage of their respective communities. But these talks haven't been pleasant. The PS was talking of "perjury" and the N-VA talking about the PS wanting to survive on "pocket money" from the federal government. But the important thing is that they're talking again ... even if only just. Here are a couple of reports:

     Open war between PS and N-VA
     Two biggest parties at loggerheads

There was one piece of very disturbing news yesterday. The Speaker of the Flemish Parliament, Jan Peumans, was beaten up in Wallonia. But I sincerely hope (and have no reason to believe otherwise) that this was just an isolated incident. There is no civil unrest and no demonstrations in the streets.

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I'm not too pessimistic. Talk about constitutional principles isn't too difficult; things only start to get heated when money is at stake. It's hard to make out what the detailed figures they're haggling over might be. Belgium, like the UK, is a state where all except local taxation goes into a central federal treasury, and is then distributed to the three regions. I've heard rumours that the PS are talking about that being reduced to 85%, with 15% being set and retained by the regions from which the tax was collected. The N-VA would be looking for something much more like a 50%-50% split. No prizes for guessing that they'll probably meet somewhere in the middle. But the devil is in the detail: what percentage of which particular taxes ... and for that a lot of financial geeks will be running computer models late into the night for the next few weeks.

The final outcome? If this was to be a one-off settlement I'd expect a 67%-33% split, but if it were linked to an agreed review every five years or so I think the N-VA might settle for something less. I'd emphasize that this is nothing more than my own feeling. I think the split of Brussels from Halle-Vilvoorde and additional money for Brussels is fairly certain, as these had essentially been agreed a fortnight or so ago; but for obvious reasons nobody will confirm this until there is a final agreement on finances.

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Finally, for those who might be asking why I keep posting on what is happening in Belgium and in Spain, it's for two reasons. First, because those of us who want independence for Wales and Scotland need to be aware that we are far from alone in wanting this for our countries. What we want is shared by people in Flanders, Catalunya and Euskadi.

But secondly, we need to be aware of the political processes by which we are going to get there. We have to look at what the particular issues that drive the desire for independence are, how support for that option or alternatives to it grows, how those who do not want a split react ... and, most importantly, what methods actually work and what methods don't work. By learning from what others in similar situations do, we'll make our own path to independence that much easier.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for us the situation with Flanders is too far removed from ours. Catalunya and Pays Basque are closer, but with money. We will need Scotland to set the pace for us.

Penddu

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about the N-VA and Flemings is that they are surprisingly open (depsite Martin Shipton's Labour-fed black propaganda about the N-VA).

In a meeting at the Plaid Cymru conference last week, the N-VA representative said that they would be willing to share Brussels - it could be become a EU Washington DC-type city status, or share it with Walloonia. I can't imagine another state willing to share their capital.

I'm loath to say 'Flanders/Scotland/Catalonia will be independent in 5 years time' but I think with Flanders it could be true if only because independence is the sensible and logical conclusion. It will be a little messy but it won't be violent and will be less violent that the Francophone 'revolution' which wrenched what was to become Belgium from the Kingdom on the Netherlands in 1830 and the other wars which have been fought on their soil before and since then.

Once the Walloons starts talking about Plan B then I think the wind has pretty well gone out of the state.

An interesting comparison is with Czechoslovakia. The pro-indepence parties and supporters in Slovakia hovered around the 30%, most people didn't want the split ... but most people didn't either, when push came to shove, fight for a united Czechoslovakia, by their passivity or lack of support for unity they demostrated that they were ready for the split and independence. Since independence in 1993 the whole constitutional issue is dead and buried which rather proves it's the 'settled will of the people' to use a Labour phrase. My guess is that Belgium is coming to this situation.

Keep up the posts on Belgium and Catalonia - we don't get it from the so-called professional press and media in Wales.


Macsen

MH said...

I think there are three things that make what's happening in Belgium relevant, Pen. If it is the first country in the EU to split it will show us how the EU reacts. It's clear to me (and you, I know) that each part will continue remain in the EU, with neither having to re-apply for membership. But quite a few Unionists, particularly in Labour, still maintain the opposite is true as a way of frightening people away from independence. The same with the Unionist parties in Spain.

Second, the situation in Brussels is relevant because of the large amount of cross-border commuting from both Flanders and Wallonia ... and therefore the tax arrangements. It's not a unique situation, because there is already a lot of cross-border commuting (e.g. Luxembourg) but these are established and a split will require formuating new transitional arrangements that would help establish what the EU thinks appropriate for other new member countries. This will be relevant as we in Wales get more fiscal responsibility, even before we are independent.

And finally, it will be interesting to see how Wallonia (i.e. the poorer part now, though a main wealth generator in the days of heavy industry, just like Wales) improves its own economic performance as a result of setting its own policies rather than relying on a redistribution of wealth from the central Belgian treasury. My view is that a split will benefit Wallonia (although it will probably keep the name Belgium) just as much as Flanders, at least in the long term.

MH said...

If it weren't for the problem of Brussels, I think Flanders and Wallonia would have split twenty years ago, Macsen. But it is strange that the "divider" a few hundred years ago was seen as religion (a Protestant Netherlands and a Catholic Flanders) whereas that is a complete non-issue now, and they now see language as more important.

Yes, if Brussels were to become a part of Wallonia, I doubt that anything would stop it becoming a completely French speaking city. French speakers quite simply don't think in terms of bi-lingualism, and therefore have never been inclined to take it seriously ... and that of course has been the main root of Belgium's problems. Dutch speakers have good reason to be angry about how they've been marginalized by creeping Frenchification. However the Flemish, because they know what it's like to use a minority language, are therefore much more inclined to bilingualism. For that reason, I think Brussels could be part of Flanders. The Åland Islands might be a good model: Finnish sovereignty with guaranteed rights for Swedish speakers = Flemish sovereignty with guaranteed rights for French speakers.

Royston Jones said...

I still can't see the comparisons with either Spain or Belgium.

In relation to Castille Euzkadi, Catalunya and Galicia are much richer and more influential than either Wales or Scotland is to England. Castille is little more than a controlling minority rather than an overwhelmingly dominant centralising power.

As for Belgium, you have two, roughly equal elements, (with a disputed third) that might shrug their shoulders and go their separate ways. More like Czechoslovakia than the UK.

To argue that these examples are instructive, and should be followed closely, simply because we are all in the EU, overstates their relevance to Wales.

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