I write quite a lot about the current crisis in Belgium right now ultimately because it concerns every European, as it might be a foreshadow of things to come in the EU.
After the ethnic and linguistic mud-slinging from French-speakers and Flemings alike has been disregarded, all can unite around one objective fact: Belgium is an artificial geopolitical entity, imposed on its inhabitants from the top down.
It is true that there was enough public support for the idea in 1830 to set up today’s Belgium for there to be an armed uprising against the Netherlands, which the country had been part of for the last fifteen years. But that was largely a revolution in reaction to the Protestant Dutch ruling over the Catholic Belgians, and as religion has become completely marginalised in today’s Western Europe, that is no longer an issue.
Rather, the superpowers of those days found it convenient to have an excuse to put another buffer zone in the middle of what was already – and would become for more than another hundred years – themain battlefield of Europe, one of the most strategic locations. The formation of the new state quickliy became a matter for the ruling elite, both domestic and international, and was thereafter imposed onto the people within its boundaries. There was little or no public say in the process, and even when democracy did catch on, large groups felt marginalised and unable to participate on equal terms.
All of this – all of this – could be written to describe the history of the European Union as well. The formation turning from a great idea into becoming a matter only for a ruling class; the lack of public say, the general apathy before the whole idea instead of healthy patriotism, the endless compromises to make everybody happy that eventually make nobody happy. The allocation of public funds from one end to another, leading to frustration among the payers and apathy and subsidy dependency among the receivers. The endless corruption that bit by bit undermines whatever public support there might have remained, and bit by bit reinforces the image of the state/union as a playground for a faceless nomenclatura, which is irrelevant to the citizens’ everyday lives. And so on, and so on.
In Belgium, this is resulting in anger among many, which should not be taken lightly. However, again, much of today’s Belgian crisis is also seemingly exploited by the political parties, who are probably more at odds with each other than their voters are. This is also fully possible in the EU, where political parties who play on people’s disappointment with what the state/union has done for them – or rather, not done for them – can quickly gain ground, and cause devastation once they have done so.
This should not be brushed off. The multi-faceted Belgium has been hailed as a model for how the EU in all its diversity could function – but its dysfunctions could in equal amount become a sad model for future tensions in Europe as well.
We may not be there yet, but national leaders in the EU member states would be wise to monitor the disintegration of Belgium very, very closely, and ask themselves some seriously tough questions on how to avoid this happening in the EU as a whole.