Friday, September 21, 2007

Belgium's troubles

I have no insight other than what I read in the paper, but boy it does seem odd that people are openly discussing the demise of Belgium. On the one hand, it's a big "So what?", but you do have to wonder what's going on in the EU if one of the member states is possibly coming apart.

A report in today's New York Times makes it seem like the end of Belgium is still a ways off, which is good if true. I can't see anything good coming from such a separation. Maybe this is just a mood and it will pass?

I used to pay a lot of attention to the Quebec issue, which is similar, of course. I always believed that the French Canadians were less separatist than was often thought, even less separatist than how they voted. They just liked to push the English speaking part of Canada to see how far they could go, what sort of perks could get they get for themselves. They were simply the squeaky wheel.

If Quebec had actually withdrawn from Canada it would have led to all sorts of uncertainty, including whether the western provinces would want to stay in Canada and whether Ontario would want to have to deal with the isolated maritime Provinces. Canada would probably cease to exist if Quebec did leave.

This Belgium situation seems different. More vitriolic, but perhaps less consequential for the two factions. The Flemish people seem to assume (probably correctly) that an independent Flanders would be admitted to the EU. A rump Belgium and Flanders would simply be two regional governments under the EU's umbrella where before there was only one. Maybe the cost of separation is not great enough to prevent it from happening?

Every reporter and columnist rightly points out that if Flanders separates from Belgium, other regions may also demand that they be independent states inside the EU. Yet, I'm not sure the EU can do much to stop this.

Not only will this 'divorce' lead to further trouble in other member states, but it's an embarrassment for the whole EU. It might even represent a threat to the EU itself. How can this great experiment in a multinational super-state accept that a small member state could not endure as a multinational state? What if in the future a large ethnic bloc decides it wants out of the EU?

The EU has to find a way to prevent this from coming to pass.