… at least, that was what Bart De Wever, the leader of the small Flemish nationalist party, said in an interview in La Libre Belgique. He doesn’t deny that when Belgium was founded, in 1830, it corresponded to what the francophone elite wanted. But these days, he argues, the media are divided, the culture is divided, public opinion is divided. There is no longer a unified society.
Whether or not that is true, the latest news is that Yves Leterme managed to reach an agreement on a new government yesterday. But what a government, and what an agreement! The coalition includes the three major parties (liberals, social democrats, and Christian democrats) and is asymmetrical, since the francophone social democrats are taking part, whereas the Flemish social democrats are not. This is highly notable, since until now federal governments have, to the best of my knowledge, never been asymmetrical in this way. But more worrisome, the agreement they reached is regarded by commentators from across the spectrum as extremely vague and weak. There are no details on the budget, yet there is an agreement on taxcuts (a demand from the liberals) and on an increase of the social benefits (a demand from the social-democrats), in addition to a commitment not to create a budget deficit. Perhaps they do believe in manna from heaven after all. Nothing is said about the Flemish demands to regionalise the social security system, employment policies and other responsibilities they wanted to transfer from the national to the regional levels. Nothing is said about how they will solve the problem with Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, without which future elections will be unconstitutional.
So no surprise that most media commentators ask: how long will this government last? De Standaard summarizes the situation aptly: “No team, no programme, no budget, no leader.” And even if this government lasts longer than when the first real decision needs to be taken, what will it contribute to solving the profound problems that are haunting this country?