Feature

Belgium’s Balkanization

A failing marriage in the heart of Europe

Belgium is on the verge of splitting apart after Prime Minister Yves Leterme submitted his resignation on Tuesday, said Leo Cendrowicz in Time, but the political chaos surrounding an imminent schism “seems like a default mode” in the tiny European nation. Leterme is quitting because he failed to pass measures “aimed at giving more autonomy to Belgium’s increasingly estranged constituent provinces, French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders.” This is a crisis, sure, but there’s “a weary familiarity" to it.

This time Belgium really seems “in danger of splitting apart at the seams,” said James Martin in The New Republic’s The Plank blog. That Belgium, unlike other troubled nations, is “prosperous, safe, and free” doesn’t seem to matter. As the German press puts it, “Belgium may now qualify as the ‘world’s most successful failed state.’”

Or failed marriage, said Sarah Morris in Britain’s The Guardian. Like with estranged spouses, many Belgians seem "in denial” about the extent of the split, while “others are perhaps too easily seduced by a quick divorce.” Separating the two regions would “involve a bitter settlement,” with hard custody battles over Brussels, EU membership, and how to divide the two “intermeshed economies.”

Belgium now has a few choices, but none are great, said The Economist in an editorial. The most likely is that King Albert II rejects Leterme’s resignation and orders him to stay on until federal elections in 2009. The king could also appoint a caretaker government or call new elections—but that would likely return the same parties to power, “merely prolonging the current crisis.”

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