Flanders_bigAs the economic crisis deepens across the European Union, we’ve been following the growing calls for separatism in Catalonia in Spain and Scotland in the United Kingdom, here and here.

Now it’s Belgium’s turn. Local elections held on Sunday have resulted in widespread gains for the Flemish Nationalist Party (NVA), which wants to divide the country. Early indications suggest that the party is now the biggest political force in Flanders, the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium.

The NVA believes that the wealthy Flemish-speaking region of Belgium should not be subsidising Wallonia, the poorer French-speaking part of the country, and Sunday’s victory will strengthen its demand for self-rule.

The local election results “add uncertainty and pressure, and darken the Belgian horizon,” editorialised Le Soir, the country’s main French-language daily.

Belgium has been divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders, francophone Wallonia and Brussels, its bilingual capital. Although several political powers have already been devolved to regional governments, Flanders, which has a population of about 6m people compared with 3.5m in Wallonia, is eager to further deepen the process of separation of powers.

What do YOU think? Should Flanders be independent? Would Belgium be better served by a confederation with more autonomy for the regions? Let us know your opinions in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reaction.

49 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Davey Brown

    Self determination for a people is a basic human right and is a right being denied the English. A people has a right to live as they see fit without interference from corrupt outsiders.

  2. avatar
    Aleksejs Miščuks

    Riight, I suggest every country to split and divide in multiple little “independent” states, so we could be politically intimidated with less effort.Also I think that the following political chaos and instability would really help.

    • avatar

      The problem is that Belgium has always been a Frankenstein monster like Checzoslovakia. Two completely different country and people forced into one.

  3. avatar
    Karel Van Isacker

    Of course Flanders need to become indipendent. We have nothing in common with Walloons who have a vote that counts three times as much during elections. That is not a democracy but the Flemish population kept hostage by a hostile french speaking minority. Divide is what is needed.

    • avatar

      Nothing in Common? That’s funny, I thought you both liked to drink beer and eat fries, walk along windswept North Sea beaches or Ardennes valleys, cheer on the Red Devils, to share self-depreciating jokes, keep one step ahead of the tax man and complain endlessly about your incompetent politicians. Successful countries have been built on less.

    • avatar

      Brussels, where the majority are French-speaking, generates 1/5 of Belgium’s GNP; only a portion of this profit is given back to Brussels and both regions (Wallonia and Flanders) take this money for their regions. The Zaventem airport is located in Flanders, yet the flight routes that the Federal Government has produced make it so that it is the most highly populated region of Belgium, i.e. Brussels, is overflown prior to landing or takeoff at Zaventem. You talk about hostility, why is it that my friend, who is English but who spoke French when calling the Police in Brussels for an accident, had to wait for 1/2 a day at the accident site and no policemen showed up. When he went to the Police station two policemen told him that it was their colleagues who did not show up because French was spoken over the phone. Is this not a bilingual capital? What kind of behaviour is this? Who is truly hostile? You indeed wish to be independent, go ahead: the European institutions will probably want to leave what is no longer the capital of Belgium and you will lose the euro. You will certainly have to re-sign all the European agreements and it is not sure that Europe will accept so easily since their message to Catalonia and Scotland was quite clear. If you are in the Union, this does not mean you will not have to pay for poorer regions because the essence of Europe itself is helping the whole region attain economic stability and prosperity for the good of all its people. You will no longer pay for Wallonia but possibly for some Eastern European states and Greece. However, if you think that living next to poorer regions will help your stability then that is probably a short-sighted vision.

  4. avatar

    These election results are more than about mere independence for a region or not. The problem goes deeper, namely that simplistic, populist discourse has strongly caught on in Flanders as well. As if splitting a country is truly the road to economic salvation? It is simply in line with the lack of solidarity seen on a pan-European scale. In times of political and economic turmoil – turn to your own backyard, crawl in your shell, keep out anything ‘different’ – or so they lead you to believe.

    If one were to take a look at Belgium in a more sober, objective, and distant fashion, and simply apply the subsidiarity principle (‘policy-making at the most suitable level’), surely one would agree that certain policy areas be better carried out at Flemish and Walloon regional level. Labour market structures are remarkably different, and require a differentiated approach. However, the discourse in Belgium – and media has a huge responsibility for this – has become so polarized that there is no more room for proper, well-thought through debate; and proper, well-balanced solutions. In Belgium, we are lacking Statesmanship to truly lead the country out of this political stalemate.

    But then again, that is a problem in Europe more generally.

  5. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    If we can not keep a federation with only two linguistic groups in one state, how on earth will we do this with 28? Perhaps stability and economic prosperity is the answer to any separatist attempts. Our leaders should look at that..

    • avatar

      Good question. But I’d say the answer is quite simple: in one state, it may not be easy; in a loose confederation like the EU, it should be possible.

      Countries with stability and economic growth usually have a nationally and linguistically homogeneous population. There are exceptions, of course, but feeling part of a community adds a kind of loyalty that, ultimately, is good for the country’s prosperity. The EU will be better constructed from stable building blocks, even if there are twice as many.

    • avatar

      I have to agree with antonilb. The EU does not (and cannot) become like the U.S. This would require the elimination of differences between the member states and that will lead to extreme nationalism and cultural deprivation, increasing chances of internal conflict rather than ensuring a more stable environment.

      What the E.U. needs in my opinion, is to seek prosperity for its members within a loose confederation (as antonilb puts it), of independent, ethnic states with a high degree of homogeneity in terms of language, traditions, religion. To put it lightly, remember the Eurovision song contest BEFORE everyone started singing in English? Prosperity ALONE does not last for ever and in times of crisis, homogeneity can be the decisive factor for survival.

      I am not Dutch, French or Belgian, Flemish or Walloon but I suppose had I been one, I would have preferred to become either a French or a Dutch citizen. For me, big, viable, homogeneous states (within a confederation that safeguards their core values and prosperity) is the answer, not tiny stillborn states (like Kosovo or Montenegro) or multi-ethnic experiments (like FYROM, Bosnia etc.).

  6. avatar
    Dries Debruyne

    @ Mouzeviris:

    A Belgium with 6 regions would by more sustainable, then one with just 2. Nowaday, when one region gains, the other loses. Just for the record, Antwerp is not a Flemish city, but lays in Brabant !

    • avatar
      Stefaan Colson

      @ Dries Debruyme:

      Just for the record, Antwerp is not a Flemish city, but lays in Brabant !

      I guess you are making a joke, Dries?

    • avatar
      Phil Merrin

      Now you’re splitting hairs, because what’s in a name? Flemish is a form of Southern Dutch, so it’s mostly a linguistic/cultural definition. I think you are getting confused with Flanders which is a region, just like Brabant is. Flanders historically included parts of Northern France like Dunkirk and Lille. Tourists brochures often encourage visitors to “French Flanders”. Do you have an issue with that? Of course today Flanders is the two provinces of West and East and Antwerp has a province named after itself – Antwerpen. The modern day Netherlands has two provinces, North and South Holland, but we colloquially refer to the whole nation as Holland, need I go on?

  7. avatar
    Dries Debruyne

    My idea of the future of Belgium:

    Away with the provinces.

    6 Regions: Flanders, Brabant, Limburg, Brussels, Industrial Wallonia (Hanaint, part of Namur , City of Liège), Green Wallonia (part of Namur, East- Liège, Luxembug)

    2 Communities: Flemish (Flanders, Brabant, Limburg) and French (both Wallonnia’s and Brussels), roughly 5 mil. inhabitants each

    1 Federal Belgium.

  8. avatar

    European states historically emerged from different conditions. Most of them are bound together by a common language and the same or similar ethnic groupings. Some EU states were established by domestic movements (e.g. Italy), others by foreign powers – for the latter, the Republic of Austria 1919, for example, and Belgium after the Napoleonic wars.

    It is in the interest of the supranational EU establishment to replace its historical member states by less powerful regions. The typical EU supporter is a friend of regionalism but at the same time dislikes homogenous nation states like Hungary or the Czech Republic. If the EU should ever turn into a federation, multiethnic states like Belgium and Spain will be its first victims. Whereas the monoethnic states could be destabilized by forcing mass immigration on them.

    • avatar
      Christos Mouzeviris

      OMG!!! I am not a typical EU supporter.. I do like homogenous nation states!! I am coming from one and live in another, and I do not want them to cease to exist. ;o)

    • avatar

      Christos, every rule has exceptions -:)

  9. avatar

    Look at Hungary. The country which after WWI lost the most territory of any in Europe. Millions of Hungarians woke up in different countries. Now there is forced ethnic assimiliation in Slovakia and Romania, but in Slovakia and Romania there are over 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians. In S. Slovakia the entire southern border is still majority Hungarian, do they have language rights? Not really. Do they have proper representation in government? Not really? They have the highest unemployement in their countries. Should they be allowed to rejoin their mother country? The DDR was allowed to. Why not these other countries allowing either autonomy for their ethnic groups or else let them go…. Belgium is an artificial country. It would be better for the EU if the Flemish went to Holland and the Walloons to France. Linguistic union means political union.

    • avatar

      This is a misleading comment . In Romania, the Hungarian minority (representing 6% of the population) has a party in the parliament that also entered in different coalitions to form the government between 1989 until 2012. Where else do you have an ethnic party like that? Is like having in Belgium the Flemish party. Furthermore, the ethnic privileges for the Hungarian minority are by far more consistent compared with the large majority.

    • avatar

      Forced ethnic assimilation of the Hungarian minorities in Romania? You don’t know all the facts, I guess. They do have representation in Parliament and Government (if that’s the case) and they also have education in their mother tongue. Be informed before you post such nonsense on the Internet.

  10. avatar
    Europa Sustentavel

    i hope belgium don’t dissapear..but i also like the idea of BeNeLux and ,that alliance practically doesn’t exist anymore..what happened?

    • avatar

      The second world war happened

    • avatar


      Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 not in 1940….

  11. avatar

    “The NVA believes that the wealthy Flemish-speaking region of Belgium should not be subsidising Wallonia”

    That’s not really true. The party believes that Flanders can keep subsidising its French-speaking neighbour in a proper way, as long if the Walloon government can take measures to improve its governance efficiency. NVA claims that Wallonia will stabilise itself through a systematic reform, so that Flemish money is not any longer needed. That’s the theory, but reality shows that an eternal leftist French-speaking Belgium is never inclined to ever mow in their expensive governance.

    The NVA’s call for Confederalism is not a kind of hostile threat, like many of us may think, but it’s just a call to avoid a future bang, a sudden collapse which no part wishes. If our politicians could sit around the table before the 2014 national elections, we would definitely be able to create a new landscape flawlessly and without (financial) turmoil, chaos, crisis or any other sort of disasters pro-Belgians are afraid of. Confederalism is a unique chance for the Walloons to re-build their state in order to reach a valuable level of sustainability. Any proficiency Walloons obtain in a confederal model will be appreciated by the Flemmings. If they fail (again), too bad, Flanders will sever the Belgian bond for real. With other words, Confederalism is the ultimate test for the Frech-speakers.

    Confederalism in Belgium would mean: two almost-independent states with agreements about what powers these two want to share (e.g. Foreign Affairs). At this moment, some powers are sovereign in each part of Belgium and many of them are shared. This federal model is just too pricey because of the numerous ambiguities. I can’t see why we should support a governance like that.

    And still, Flemmings and Walloons have the right to declare themselves as two peoples. There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t need an artificial outdated kingdom like Belgium to keep a kind of cross-boundary supra-national control any more: the EU has been taking over that job for decades.

  12. avatar

    @Grace about Flanders joining the Netherlands: your thinking is logical, but you miss some historical and political background to understand why this is not plausible. Financially, the Netherlands are not very keen on putting much money into a fusion with Flanders, as they first want to put things in order again themselves. An independent Flanders will also never accept Netherland’s queen as its ruler, as the Flemmings will have been rid of another monarchy. Flemmings (6 million) are not negligible: they would make 27% (6/22 million) out of the total population of Holland (now: 16 million).

    It’s a bit like merging Germany and Austria together. The same language, you know, but different stories and cultures…

    • avatar
      Phil Merrin

      I believe that Flemings could accept a United Netherlands if there were to be compromise. These could be acceptance of thever Dutch monarchy seated in Amsterdam with no constitutional powers but only ceremonial, with the trade-off being that Antwerp straddling the border already becomes national capital. The present Dutch flag with the Belgian lion over the centre could be the deal breaker for many flemings. Another crucial issue for many Flemings would be the future of Brussels. It’s hard to see how Brussels could be part of an United Netherlands because despite it being historically a Flemish city, the reality is it’s 85% French speaking.
      The only way out is for Brussels to become official EU territory and be administerd as such.
      The Walloons they love everything French, so they can jolly well get into bed with them.

  13. avatar
    Vicente Silva Tavares

    Did come to Europe any danger with the split of Tcheka republic and Slovakia? No, so what’s the problem? Belgium can disappear, Scotland can split from UK, Catalonia from Spain… Nothing bad will happen.

  14. avatar
    Debating Europe

    Artur Mas, President of the Government of Catalonia, is speaking today at a Policy Spotlight discussion organised by Friends of Europe: ?Destination Europe: Catalonia?s EU Future?. WATCH the livestream on http://www.debatingeurope.eu at 13.00 CET!

  15. avatar
    Tamás Heizler

    I have the same answer as about Catalonia and Scotland:
    People have to be asked! So that if more than 50% of people vote for independence in Catalonia/Scotland/Flanders, then they should be independent, if not, then not. This easy. In democracies people’s will prevail and not political interests.

    As far as we are living in a (mostly) united Europe, the inside borders should be created (and modified if needed) as people wish. I mean that because of EU, Schengen and Euro zone, the citizens and companies of Catalonia/Scotland/Flanders will have the very same rights to move to the rest of Spain/UK/Belgium or vica versa as before and they will use the same currency as before.

    My opinion is that the EU should make law about that if an EU country, a Euro zone country or a Schengen zone country divides into two or more parts then all the countries will remain in the above mentioned alliances.

  16. avatar
    Tamás Heizler

    One more thing: If Flanders and Wallonia separate from each other, each having their own capitals (e.g. Antwerp for Flanders and Namur for Wallonia), then Brussels could be used as a “federal district” of the EU, similarly to Washington DC in the USA.
    Of course for this, referendums would be necessary to be organized about it in Belgium.

  17. avatar

    Go to wikipedia and look for the english explanation on “flemish movement”
    Then read the history and you will find the origine of the desire for independence…

  18. avatar

    Belgium should apologize to Congo for the African holocaust committed there by king Leopold II (1885-1908). The federal parliament should repeal the abominable child euthanasia law (March 2014). Long live the Republic of Flanders!!!

  19. avatar
    Leonard van Heemskerk

    My opinion is that Flanders should become a part of the Netherlands, Wallonia should become a part of France (execpt for the German speaking part which should become a part of Germany) and Brussels should be some kind of European Union capital on it’s own. About the Belgian royal family, I don’t know but I think it is best not to keep them (in Flanders, since they’re more French than Dutch anyway). I think the Netherlands (which is my country) and Flanders could make a beautiful and strong country!!

    • avatar

      Agree, unfortunately I believe most Flemings oppose the idea. However, even though there are obvious cultural and language differences, these would be behind us in one generation. The cultural and language difference with Walloons wil never go away… So the best choice is clear to me.

    • avatar

      Good luck finding more than 10 Flemish people who would ever agree to go back to The Netherlands. There’s a reason Belgium became independent from them.

  20. avatar

    Being from Liège, I totally support the independance of Flanders!
    We, people from Liège more than others, have no real feeling of belonging to that artificial country.
    Flemish people know also that we, french speakers, have very little interest in their dialects, culture,…
    I can’t name one single B.V. ( famous flemmings) …
    not one. No actors, contemporary painters, folk singers…
    We just know politicians because they appear on the news and have an impact on our perso life… That is it!
    The destiny of Wallonia-Brussels is to be part of the french Republic in a kind of Union-Integration (not assimilation) status in which these 2 regions would keep their autonomy and competencies as they do actually within the Belgian federation.
    The french constitution has such a flexibility as an empire can have: France even still has monarchs and nations abroad such as in polynesia,….all this included in the fifth republic!!!
    So to have Wallonia and Brussels Regio being parts of the French Republic would take less time than for a Republic of Flanders to issue new passports for his freshly made non-E.U. citizens to get into an E.U. state ( given they would be out of the Union )
    Brussels of course becoming an almost totally autonomous free city but part of the republic and with a protection for the 5% minority of flemish speakers as they do in other parts of their overseas territories and/or regions.
    We would have a new start away from an ultra dominated federal structure in which all strings are in favor of Flanders such as railways,…
    France would massively invest in physical networks: roads, fluvial dredging, highways and railroads and international airports ( cargo and passenger ) in order to integrate wallonia into their own network and ease their logistics up to the flemish, dutch and upper north german borders
    40% of Walloon economy is already in french hands and
    the rest would fall into theirs (ours then) very quickly too with the help of french banks that would get CBC and other Flemishly controlled Banks into a real competitive environment.
    The whole agricultural sector would be one part of a bigger market and not a supplier of the flemish agro-industry ( Antwerpen is even producing Ardennes sausage and ham…)
    The military bases could profit from a real boost from french forces while they are getting all shut down by flemish defense ministers…
    Wallonia would have a wave of french tourists to visit the new region ( business and leisure)
    And finally a new sense of being that is missing in Wallonia and Brussels due to a lack of nationalistic feeling (unlike flanders who feels as a nation and acts like it)
    Being French would be liberating and free us from a structure that maintains us in status quo economically
    just by being a minority in a country ruled by and for the majority.
    So yes! I believe and hope that soon our flemish friends will take their independance and see for themselves what they are … maybe a bit less rich financially than they thought but finally free of having their culture and language only for themselves and most importantly: their complete destiny in their own hands.
    Within or without the Netherlands?!? Well, they are cousins but don’t spent X-mas dinner altogether though…
    To conclude:
    Flanders deserves its independance, it is a great people with a dynamic culture…and work ethics!
    And Wallonia and Brussels deserve a real partner that takes care fondly of them and help them regaining their past grandeur and not one that tries to truly colonize and maintain them into a submissive state.
    But Thanks God the NVA is now in charge so the change is close…and Bart, a history scholar will revert the wrong course of it!!!

  21. avatar
    Philip Merrin

    An interesting stand on your head exercise that Luc. One thing you’re right about the Liegois should have joined France centuries ago. If the two regions go their own way then the people of the Flemish city of Brussels should have a referendum to decide where they go, because it’s not the prerogative of Walloons to decide.

    • avatar

      Dear Philip,

      Of course, Brussels population is the only one to decide about their destiny. The forum space is too small to be as explicit as one wants to be…unfortunately!

      Nevertheless I believe that an assimilation and or integration to Flanders is not a real choice for them…for obvious reason! No need to elaborate…let’s get real here!
      Neither independance; be it alone or with that akward existing ‘federation wal-bxl’.
      Having a DC-like kinda status is just a fantasy as Europe is not a Federal State and I don’t see the EU managing that city-regio (state). And Brusselers wouldn’t accept neither to be under a technocrat ruler.

      So, although the destiny belongs to its population, Brussels would be finding itself into a dead-end street with no more viable solution than negociating a near total autonomy under the 5th Republic umbrella.
      France is the only Real Nation-State that can garantee the specificities of all (and i mean all Fr/NL,etc…) Brusselers and keeping Brussels’ integrity (of all forms).
      And mainly so keeping its status as E.U. capital.

      Any other option from the above-mentionned ones would probably means that the EU technocrats would move to Strasbourg after a huge lobby of France itself.
      That city has always been an official site…
      And Germany wouldn’t mind for bi-linguistic reasons.
      Brussels would then become a provincial city again with no relevance in Europe. 40% of poor people, an exodus of french speaking people to walloon brabant…and expats.
      Well, this would look like a bantoustan within Flanders.

      At the end, this is why both communities are still together
      so far…

  22. avatar
    Philip Merrin

    Merci Luc, It’s my contention that if push should come to shove and Brussels can remain officially bi-lingual and it’s considered that a fair percentage of Brusselaars are foreign nationals so ineligible to vote in such a referendum, that the outcome will hinge on the relative economic strength of Flanders and Wallonia. I have relatives – family name Thys, who like many Flemings have adopted and indeed prefer the French language, one or two are the the type who irritate Flemings by arguing the virtues of French over Dutch, but they certainly wouldn’t wish to be any part of a Wallon state. It appears that Brusselaars of Wallons heritage actually constitute quite a small a minority of Brusselaars.

    While I believe the break up of Belgium makes sense as it clearly has for Czechoslovakia, this is no united Country like the Netherlands or France, no proud little heart , just a consequence of what was convenient for foreign powers in the 1830’s. I genuinely believe that the bulk of Wallons and Flemings qre fond of each other not so much as brothers and sisters but more as cousins stuck on the same boat. But I also feel that we’ve kind of got used to it and re-organising things once and for all might just be too complicated. If the Vlaams were a more radical people, it’d have been remedied decades if not centuries ago.

  23. avatar
    Jonn Izzik Jansen

    Why — only in 1947 — did the Kingdom of Belgium; established in 1832 — and, officially, the language of the majority of that kingdom was Dutch. There was a strong cause — by design — to delay this official recognition. Before 1947, the people of that part of the kingdom were labeled to be ‘officially’ speaking: ‘Unidentifiable-Dialects.’ Therefore, needed to educated in French only.

    Prior to 1832, what is now called Flanders was part of the Netherlands — and, well-documented as one big potent economic region — where Dutch and many Dutch dialects were in use such as Brabant, Limburg and Flemish dialects that are now all labeled as Flemish.

    The economic power of the then Netherlands, combined with its liberal and progressive attitudes towards economic, social and religious strategies and customs were a problem for its immediate neighbors; Germany, France and, the Vatican. These three powers coluded to break up the Netherlands and create a new country named: Belgium, its name derived from Bélgica— Latin for lowlands.

    In 1832, they plotted for a coup. The well-to-do Cities of Antwerp Gent and Brussels were invaded by French army battalions, Germany supplied a Saxon-Cobourg pure-bred king and a national flag, very similar to the still current German flag. The Vatican secured that Catholicism be the official religion of the newly fabricated country — with French as its only language of education.

    The intend, by-design to make cultural and linguistic genocide on the Dutch speaking parts of Belgium became fact. When Belgium in 1947 recognized that in fact there was beside French also another language historically and organically evolved in that part of Europe, Belgium in fact — in 1947 admitted its genocide of the Southern Netherlands, now called Flanders had failed.

    In the early 1800-s, ther never was a revolution against the Netherlands in that part of the Netherlands where Dutch dialects were current language. While in Wallonia, mainly in Liege there was a resistance against the Dutch language.

    My criticism towards the remaining existence of Belgium is that it is not an organic process that created Belgium, instead it was a fabrication from outside interests that created ‘La Belgique’ that remains for many in Flanders an historic miscarriage.

    If Belgium had created itself purely organically — it would not be disputed.

  24. avatar

    Independent Flanders with Brussels as its capital will be the best for the Flemish people.

  25. avatar

    I see a lot of people here saying that Belgium should just stay united or that Flanders should join The Netherlands. First of all, please look up the history of Flanders. We’ve been oppressed for a really long time, looked down on, ignored, the Dutch-speaking community was forced to speak French, a lot of people even died in WOII because they didnt’t understand the French military orders. If you read up on all of this, maybe you’ll understand why Flanders has a desire for independence as a lot of her inhabitants still carry this with them. Second of all, there are VERY LITTLE Flemish people who will want to join The Netherlands. Flemish is looked upon as a abomination of Dutch and would not get the chance to evolve into a new language (which is way more natural for the Flemish people). Moreover, although they have the same language, there are a lot of differences between the people of these two countries. It is often said that The Netherlands would like Flanders to come back but Flanders does not want The Netherlands back.

  26. avatar

    Even if it were to secede with Spain’s consent, an independent Catalonia would be cut off from the rest of Europe, possibly facing barriers to the movement of people and goods, perhaps even ejected from the euro zone.

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