Can devolution save Belgium?
You’ve got to feel sorry for the Belgians.
Belgium hasn’t had a government since Yves Leterme stood down after his coalition collapse. That was in April. The elections that followed in June saw the seperatist New Flemish Alliance emerge as the largest single group (though together the French and Flemish Socialist had more seats overall).
Negotiations have since been deadlocked. But what has this got to do with devolution?
The background on Belgium is as complicated as it is interesting.
For a start, Belgium is made up of three different communities based in three regions: Flanders, which is mainly Dutch, Wallonia, which is German and French, and Brussels, which is French and Dutch.
Belgium is a tense country. The divisions between the three communities have led to political instability and separatist parties often do well in Flanders.
Since 1993, Belgium has had a federal government, with three regional governments that deal with territorial issues such as transport and the environment. There are also three community governments, which provide services related to the language one speaks, for example education and health. Central government is charged with distributing grants to regional and community governments.
The political system is fragmented, with there being separate parties for the different language groups. Often they don’t sit together, even where they share the same ideological persuasion.
None the less, Belgium represents a really interesting case study of devolution. In an attempt to save the Belgian state, powers have been devolved to not only regional bodies, but linguistic communities. But is it devolution gone too far?
The Re-Bel Initiative is a group of academics trying to think about where Belgium can go from here, and what the country will look like in the long-term. Interestingly, they refuse to rule anything out, even the dissolution of the Belgian state.
Crisis in Belgium is an interesting blog about the unfolding political crisis by a Belgian journalist, for those interested in reading more on the topic.