Let's talk about Europe

EU – Belgium: same destiny, same fight?

Bart de Wever, Flemish separatist, just after his victory at Antwerpen (Antwerp), during the Belgian local elections, one week ago

In April 2010, Eric Zemmour, French journalist, summed up the Belgium’s political situation – dominated by the Centre-right Yves Leterme government’s resignation – by this statement: “if Belgium collapses, Europe might collapse too”.

Two years after, this statement still seems to echo, just after the local elections and the Separatists’ breakthrough in Flanders and their leader, Bart de Wever at Antwerp. In a column for De Volkstrant, a Dutch daily, the historian Thomas von der Dunk shares the same analysis than Eric Zemmour and even goes further considering Europe is going to fail because the Belgian model ( which it is directly inspired) failed.

EU – Belgium, same destiny? There exist some similarities between the two entities indeed. Several communities who living in a same area working on the principle of solidarity, a principle been questioning for years and undermined by the nationalism and regionalism issue. In the case of Belgium, the fiscal transfers between Flemish and Francophone people are pointed out by some groups and political leaders (as the NV-A, the Flemish separatist party). Within the EU, the Eurozone crisis showed the limits of the North-South solidarity, some people as Germans or Finnish, demanding more and more guarantees from the most in difficulty States, as Greece.

Moreover, the nationalism issue is stronger and stronger and more protested. In Belgium, as in the rest of the EU, the national issue became a political weapon to question a system and defend its interests better. In Flanders, as in Catalonia, Lombardy, Euskadi (Basque Country) or in Scotland, the fiscal autonomy issue is put forward to wave the political independence’s one, as way of blackmailing.

The EU seems to experience the same destiny than Belgium according analysts as Zemmour and von der Dunk, the failure of a model denying the regional realities and particularities for more integration and solidarity in Europe. Belgium is a kind of laboratory for a Union who, refusing to acknowledge national identities and aspirations, might be contested in the future. For the Dutch historian, “if the Flemish parties failed to convince their electorate of the advantages of the solidarity between Flemish and Wallon people, how solidarity between Flemish and Greek people might be possible?”

The persistence of the nationalist issue within the EU is an important sign of a Europe in crisis which is struggling to be re-invented and reformed. This is the same thing for a Belgium which is always in evolution and struggles to be stabilized. Nonetheless, nationalism is more regarded as a way of pressure than an instrument to reach an objective. As I wrote before, nationalism is used as a political weapon to get important concessions as the recent struggle between Rajoy Spanish Government and the Nationalist Catalonian government, about a new fiscal policy transfer. The opposition between Barcelona and Madrid ended up by the holding of early elections (planned for the next November) in Catalonia, looking like as a referendum about the future political status of this Spanish province.

Elio di Rupo, Belgian PM, receiving his Italian homologue, Mario Monti

So, it is needed to nuance the von der Dunk statements even if there are still relevant. Indeed, all is going to depend on the capacity of Belgium and the EU to be reinvented and reinvent a collective project, not forgetting an essential objective both: ensuring a peace and stability area that was reached but still questioned by nationalism. Face with the crisis and its consequences, the European Union must be able to give answers, answers which go by the Members States. It’s not for nothing that, Elio di Rupo, the current Belgian Premier, wanted to deal with these issues and his Italian homologue, Mario Monti proposed an ad hoc informal summit on this subject, at the end of the latest European Council. As Béatrice Delvaux recently wrote in Le Soir – a Francophone Belgian daily – Europe is a wall against populism (and against nationalism), it’s one of its raisons d’être and it’s on this principle that the Founding Fathers imagined the European integration sixty years ago. Faced with a phenomenon undermining their internal cohesion, Members States must reaffirm this position, Belgium ahead.