The break-up of the state of Belgium seems ever more likely following the victory in June’s elections of the moderate separatist New Flemish Alliance (NFA). (See “Brussels diary,” p25.) The election campaign featured an increasingly comic series of disputes between the poorer francophone south and the wealthier Dutch north. Political debates ignored Belgium’s record levels of debt, but saw plenty of angry words about the relative number of speed cameras in each region. (The responsible Walloons have hundreds, the Flemish hardly any.) Matters reached a low ebb in January when the NFA’s leader Bart De Wever took part in a racy photoshoot with Miss Belgium. De Wever held a pair of scissors to the word “Belgium” on the beauty queen’s sash, while both stood on a Belgian flag. Calls for both to resign quickly followed.
While the division of the country into two nations remains the most likely breakup scenario, a carve-up among its neighbours is also possible. Polls suggest that the French would back adopting their fellow francophones, while Belgian’s southeast province—called, confusingly enough, Luxembourg—could join with its next-door namesake to form a newly expanded “Grand-Duchy.” With Holland adopting the north and an independent Brussels, Belgium would simply drop off the map.
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 edition of Prospect.