This was the headline I read over a fellow commuter’s shoulder the other morning. Belgium is in crisis, in case you didn’t know. It made page 33 of the London Independent a couple of weeks ago. Yes, that big a crisis. As Angeline (and to be fair, a number of others) kindly pointed out to me, the country has been offered for sale on ebay. I am sure that this has garnered just the kind of publicity that the caretaker government welcomes
Since the national elections on June 10, Belgium has been without a government. And no sign of anything budging either. The King is rushed off his feet.
Belgium is divided into regions and communities in an extraordinarily complex way for such a small country. There are Flanders and Wallonia which are federal areas. Then the Brussels region has special status. The Flemish want to leave Belgium and take their money with them – they subsidise Wallonia, it appears. My taxi driver from the airport the other night, a Walloon with a Flemish father, said “if your lover says she wants to leave, do you forbid her? Let the Flemish go.” And unbelievable as it seems to me, it looks like they might split.
A country formed in 1830 and given a minor German princeling as King (the late Princess Charlotte’s husband, since you ask), it’s hardly a historical entity of great antiquity. In its time, it has presided over murder in the Congo – “Heart of Darkness” anyone? – and been a battlefield for two world wars – remember plucky little Belgium? It’s fair to say that it has some negative associations. The late W.G. Sebald, beloved of literati, gave it a particularly hard time, saying “And indeed, to this day one sees in Belgium a distinctive ugliness, dating from the time when the Congo colony was exploited without restraint and manifested in the macabre atmosphere of certain salons and the strikingly stunted growth of the population, such as one rarely comes across elsewhere. At all events, I well recall that on my first visit to Brussels in December 1964 I encountered more hunchbacks and lunatics than normally in a whole year.” That is unfair. I like the Belgians. I like their food. They have acres of great art and know lots about it. I am endlessly entertained by their attitude to linguistic diversity and their coastline (it is dull, they adore it). The Belgians are an enterprising bunch. It’s probably the only place in Europe where tramps routinely speak three languages. And though Belgium is largely flat, it has beautiful towns and some lovely countryside (in the South, the non-flat bit, I concede).
If Belgium dissolves, I will be sad. In a reflection on the fact that I have spent far too long in the heart of Europe, I also note that it will mean at least one extra country in the EU (and this scenario ignores the fate of Brussels) and the consequences for Council voting rights and the new Treaty will be ominous. I bet the Portuguese (the current holders of the EU’s rotating Presidency – there’s a new one every six months to keep you on your toes) are hoping that Belgium will wait until next year to disintegrate.
And in other non-dissolution of Belgium news – Michael has started vomiting again and the Princess went to bed with a temperature but, hurrah, my husband is home.