Soft power in Belgium

In the latest twist in the long-running saga of the increasingly Francophone areas near Brussels but in Flanders, a Council of Europe delegation visited three towns where the election of Francophone mayors has not been endorsed by the regional Flemish government.  The delegation sounded pessimistic and floated the possibility that the case could be subject to a Council “monitoring procedure” — albeit one that falls far short of what an EU monitoring procedure (e.g. for Eurozone deficit targets) looks like.   The Council, with 47 member countries, has no enforcement power.  But its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is extremely active, perhaps indicative of the fact that Europe’s various national and linguistic flashpoints result not in wars but in bitter local disputes (see also this New York Times article about Liedekerke).  Among the ironies of the Council delegation’s visit to Belgium was the presence of a Serbian member, who was probably relieved to see things don’t look likely to result in a war.  But the situation looks set to drag on and on.

2 thoughts on “Soft power in Belgium

  1. Belgium is not always the best example of ‘good governace’ in Europe, though it is a good lab for experiments in governance.
    My own experiences with Belgian officals, and Flemish regional ones in particular, is that they are if anything very very prickaly when it comes to ligustic issues.
    The francophone invasion around Brussels adds to a complex situation as Brussels used to be a Flemish speaking city (the Flemish Region has its headquaters in Brussels even though its 80% francophone because of this point).
    Its not about the illegality but the lose of ‘historic territory’ to francophone interlopers.
    But you cant have an open free democratic Belgium or Europe if you are going to place lingustic restrants on where people live.

  2. I think the linguistic invasion issue is an important one. There are also strong issues of class and economics in play here.

    Flemish speakers are the majority of Belgium, but traditionally were underrepresented in the corridors of power, and the Belgian government was historically French-speaking and hostile to the propagation of Flemish. The creation of the capital region of Brussels means that French-language speakers have a permanent reservoir of French in Flanders and can use the relatively high earning power of Brussels salaries to colonize the surrounding areas.

    For Flemish speakers, they are essentially paying money to subsidize Wallonia and Brussels to further marginalize their own language in a country in which they are a majority. It’s a situation that is bound to create frustration, and the fact that most French speakers view Flemish as an inferior nonstandard language doesn’t help. In a democracy, you can’t expect the majority to put up with a clearly disadvantageous situation relative to an ungrateful minority forever.

    I think the simplest thing is to make clear that there will be no further subdivision of Flanders and that the regions surrounding Brussels will never be part of the French-speaking community or part of Brussels. Only if the Flemish view the French-speakers as no longer expansionist will tensions subside. But that isn’t happening, and all the people who wail about human rights in Belgium are the same people who would never support Basque-language education in France, for example.

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