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FEDERALISM AS FUEL FOR ETHNIC CONFLICT:
BELGIUM’S POLITICAL EVOLUTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
BY COREE BROWN
Indeks Number: 1016765 Thesis written under the supervision of dr. Hab. Marek Kucia. submitted January 2008
TO MY NANA: YOU ARE ALWAYS IN MY HEART AND MIND,
ENCOURAGING ME TO FOLLOW MY DREAMS
I WOULD LIKE TO THANK MY PARENTS FOR CONSTANT SUPPORT, ENCOURAGEMENT AND GROCERY MONEY, THE PEOPLE OF PEPINSTER, BELGIUM FOR SPARKING AN INTEREST, RTBF FOR KEEPING IT INTERESTING, THE DOCTORS AT DIETLA FOR KEEPING ME ALIVE SO I COULD FINISH, & GOSIA, BOBBIE AND HALINA FOR THEIR FRIENDSHIP, ENCOURAGEMENT AND AN AMAZING YEAR!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION INTRODUCTION HISTORICAL CONTEXT RESEARCH QUESTIONS STATEMENT OF THESIS CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE AND THEORY INTRODUCTION THE STATE OF THE SCIENCE THE EUROPEAN UNION AND REGIONALIST DEMANDS ETHNIC MOBILIZATION AND POLITICAL MANIFESTATIONS: CAUSES & CONSEQUENCES CONSOCIATIONALISM: FROM PILLARS TO PEOPLE
MULTIETHNIC-MULTINATIONAL FEDERALISM: IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE
2 5 7 8
11 13 15
WHEN THE SYSTEM FAILS: SECESSIONISM
CONCLUSION: ETHNIC CONFLICT IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE: THE CASE OF BELGIUM 46
CHAPTER THREE: HISTORY: THE FEDERALIZATION OF CONFLICT INTRODUCTION IDENTITY FORMATION UNDER OCCUPATION: 1750-1830 STATE FORMATION FROM ABOVE: BELGIAN INDEPENDENCE AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF
53 57 62 68 69 72 74 75 76
THE RISE OF NATIONALISM AND REGIONAL DIFFERENTIATION 1840-1910 DEMOCRACY AND DISSENT: THE 1920S AND 1930S WORLD WAR II: COLLABORATION AND RESISTANCE CRISIS AND CHANGE: 1945 TO 1950S ECONOMIC BOOM, ECONOMIC BUST: THE 1960S THE FAILURE OF ACCOMODATION AND THE END OF THE UNITARY STATE: THE 1970S TOWARDS A FEDERALIST BELGIUM: THE 1980S BELGIUM 1993: THE END OR THE BEGINNING? IV
CHAPTER FOUR: ENTRENCHING ETHNIC CONFLICT: BELGIUM’S MOVE TOWARDS FEDERALISM AND ITS IMPACT INTRODUCTION THE FEDERAL REFORM OF 1970: A RELUCTANT MOVE TOWARDS FEDERALISM REFORM OF THE 1980S CONFLICT PREVENTION OR COOPERATION? 1989: REFORM UNDER DURESS 1993: THE “FINAL” REFORMS 2001 AND BEYOND CONCLUSION 78 80 85 87 89 93 94
CHAPTER FIVE: ANALYZING THE EFFICACY OF BELGIAN FEDERALISM: THE MITIGATION OF ETHNIC CONFLICT AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF DIFFERENCE
INTRODUCTION CAUSES AND NATURE OF ETHNIC CONFLICT IN BELGIUM FROM CONSOCIATIONALISM TO FEDERALISM: WHAT REMAINS BELGIAN FEDERALISM DEFINED INSTITUTIONS, MECHANISMS AND FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PARTY SYSTEM DOES A BELGIAN SOCIETY EXIST? THE MOST EUROPEANS OF THE EUROPEANS: BELGIUM IN THE EU THE PROBLEM OF BRUSSELS
96 98 103 105 108 114 117 123 128
CHAPTER SIX: THE FUTURE OF THE BELGIAN STATE:
BYE-BYE BELGIUM? DECEMBER 2007 WHAT COMES NEXT…
CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION EST-CE QU’ELLE EXISTE, LA BELGIQUE ?
No, Sire, there is no such thing as a Belgian soul. The fusion of Flemings and Walloons is not so much to be desired and, if one were to desire it, one would have to admit that it is not possible Advisor to the King
The Belgians have a nationality which one can ignore only by repudiating the extensive evidence of their history and by taking into account none of the numerous characteristics they still display today Essay on Belgian Public Opinion 1815-1830
Belgium is a rare nation that is defined by not being two of its neighbors. Within its borders live, in grumpy co-existence, six million Dutch speakers who are not Dutch, and four million Francophones who are not French The Economist
On the thirteenth of December, 2006, the programming of RTBF, the statefunded network in Francophone Belgium, was interrupted by a shocking special report. Newscasters announced that the Flemish Parliament, in an overwhelming majority, had voted to declare its unilateral independence, seceding from the Belgian state. King Albert II, in protest of the decision, left the country in a “fit of pique,” accompanied by his wife, Queen Paola. Although his destination was at the outset unknown, it was eventually revealed that he was heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where inhabitants of the former colony were gathering to welcome him. As the events unfolded, responses from the multiple federal and regional bodies housed in the small state and the public came pouring in. A Flemish parliamentarian in an interview declared it to be a “fantastic day” which would become a national holiday, a day of Flanders‟ deliverance. Belgium was declared to be an artificial unit, an “invention of a Liegois journalist.” The secession was to be followed by referendums on several issues, allowing the Flemish public to weigh in on several; including approving the prepared constitution, the type of political system to be adopted, and the selection of the Flemish capital. Political leaders assured Francophones in Flanders that the Council of Europe‟s statutes on minority rights would be signed and respected. A parliamentarian from the far-right Vlaams Belang argued, with somewhat flawed logic considering Flemish nationalism, that the Francophones of Brussels would support the act, as they are “not Walloons, they are Flemings, Flemings who speak French” (Dutilleul, 2006). The Walloon parliament was hastily assembled to formulate its response, while the President, when interviewed, mentioned that rumors had been circulating for several days. He attributed the move to radical elements and explained that the consociationalist system had collapsed because the Francophones and Flemings had very different views on Belgian federalism. While the Flemish community pushed for the division of the social security system, Francophones were content with the status quo. They had no demands, and therefore no bargaining power. The mayors of Brussels-based Front Démocratique des Francophones argued that this unilateral action must be resisted. The President of the Germanic community explained that the small region would face several options for its future in the coming weeks. It could become an independent
microstate, seek incorporation into Luxembourg or Germany or remain with Wallonia, which at the point of secession oversaw its regional governance. The traffic around Brussels was at a standstill as people rushed towards the Belgian capital in confusion. A growing mass gathered around the Royal Palace, holding the Belgian flag, shouting “Vive le roi” and singing La Brabançonne in both Flemish and French. Manifestations in Anvers, the stronghold of Flemish nationalism, erupted in celebration of the declaration, which would allow them to “make their own choices in solidarity with his neighbors” and a gentleman burst into hastily improvised song of the Basques, Catalans, Occitans and Alsatians who would follow in their footsteps. Viewers were advised to stay home in order to avoid provoking violence. Forty-five minutes into the broadcast, an announcement was made, explaining this reportage was a farce, designed to spark debate over the nature and fate of the Belgian state. The broadcast, featuring well-known politicians from across the political and linguistic spectrum and familiar reporters, gave little cause for viewers to doubt its veracity. The emission began with the statement “this is perhaps not fictional” and the same ambiguous message appeared throughout the emission. After this announcement, the broadcast continued; reporters, Belgian politicians and European officials weighed in on the international and domestic ramifications and practicalities should such a division occur. The political and social debate that followed the broadcast indicated that all was not well in the land of beer and chocolate. The so-called “docu-fiction” sparked outrage amongst French and Flemish-speakers and was so convincing that some diplomats in Brussels called their home states in confusion. Inspired by Orson Welles‟ War of the Worlds and touted as an attempt to draw attention to the state of Belgium, a multi-lingual, multi-ethnic federation, the controversial programming succeeded in its objective. RTBF and the producer of the socalled “mocumentary” Phillipe Dutilleul faced intense criticism from Walloons, the King and the federal government. Flemish nationalists expressed their appreciation citing it as evidence of the artificial nature and precarious position of the Belgian state. Dutilleul defined the project as “science fiction derived from a probable reality” (Dutilleul, 2006 p. 187). The fact that the belief in the veracity of the newscast was so widespread calls attention to the fact that the future dissolution of the Belgian state is not an absurd or unthinkable concept for Belgians.
Belgium‟s delicate internal composition was exposed and debated in the international press, an unfamiliar experience for the nation known primarily for its beer, chocolate and commitment to European integration.
Some have described Belgium as an artificial state, a result of the machinations of the great powers in the 1830s. At its origins, Belgium was dominated by Francophone elites who attempted to forge a common Belgian identity with a distinctly French flavor. The power of Wallonia was bolstered by early industrialization, while Flanders remained relatively underdeveloped and largely agrarian. Religious and ideological cleavages combined with linguistic issues to prevent a strong sense of national identity from taking root. As Flanders developed, an intellectual class worked to develop a Flemish body of literature and standardize the language. Linguistic laws passed in the late nineteenth century ranked Flemish on par with French, in theory if not in practice. Ethnic conflict was exacerbated by the First World War over the treatment of Flemish-speaking soldiers in the Francophone dominated corps and of instances of collaboration by some Flemish nationalists with the German occupiers. While Flemings were afforded some linguistic rights and enhanced participation in government as a result of the crisis, the Second World War would divide the country further. Extremists on both sides of the linguistic divide participated with the Nazi occupiers and following the war, divisive battles about the role of the king, religion and the fate of collaborationists were waged. The question of the king would become especially bitter, resulting in the only violent ethnic conflict Belgium has ever seen, with three people killed in protests and rioting. The postwar period marked a dramatic shift in economic and demographic power. Flanders began to welcome foreign investment, channeling it into developing modern and lucrative enterprises, while Wallonia‟s traditional mining sector fell into decay. At the same time, a new breed of Flemish elites, well-versed in Flemish language and nationalism, came to the forefront of politics, giving the Flemish movement a voice. Finally, in the 1960s, the country was partitioned along linguistic lines, which were to be permanent, allowing politicians on both sides to mobilize territorially. Ethnoregional parties emerged in Wallonia, Brussels and Flanders, challenging the traditional parties and advocating Belgium‟s federalization. In order to cope with these demands, Liberals, Catholics and Socialists split according to their linguistic affiliation and adopted regionalist goals. In 1970, the first step towards federalization was made. This process would continue for more than twenty years until Belgium was declared a federal state in 1993. At present, many politicians continue to press for further -5-
devolution of competences, although their original demands have been fulfilled and even exceeded, lending credence to the theory adopted here that federalism has perpetuated and even stimulated centrifugal forces.
Throughout the text, we will explore the theoretical framework, historical context and political situation against which ethnic conflict in Belgium occurs. It is our goal to answer the following questions: What is the nature of Belgium‟s political system? How does this system, with its consociationalist and federalist aspects, serve to minimize or perpetuate conflict? What is the role of parties and party elites within this system? How does Belgian society as a whole act within this system? What influence does the far right on both sides of the linguistic divide have on political currents? What is the role of the European Union in Belgian‟s experience with ethnic conflict?
Statement of Thesis
In 1993, Belgium formally became a federal state, essentially fulfilling demands that originated in the interwar period by both Flemings and Walloons. Despite the devolution of many competences to the regional and community level, issues continue to plague the political scene and many more competences have been devolved, at very high costs for the federalist apparatus. This, I argue, is a result of the unique nature of the Belgian state. From its origins, elites worked to build a Belgian society. While this was essential for ensuring stability and cooperation from a society beset by severe social, religious and ideological cleavages, the paritocracy has become entrenched, leading to charges of corruption and disillusionment with the existing party system. As regional conflict intensified in the 1970s, eventually leading to the adoption of a federalist system, traditional parties adopted the demands once exclusive to the regional parties in order to retain power. The parties split, and at present, only one small party, the electorally minor Belgische Unie, Union Belge, competes across linguistic boundaries. The country‟s parties were divided along linguistic lines in the 1970s and now, little communication much less collaboration occurs, partly as a result of the different ideological backgrounds. Flanders advocates free market policies but at the same time is politically conservative, while Wallonia retains its socialistic leanings, necessary to procure the funds to prop up failing, aging industries while adopting socially liberal policies. Research has shown that despite the predominance of demands for reforms on the basis of a need for regional autonomy, citizens are becoming actually less attached to the regions. They are, however, demanding changes in employment, economic and social policy which political elites must satisfy. It is true that the federal government has been essentially enfeebled by successive reforms and may lack the political and economic resources to enact necessary reforms, but it is often not given a chance. The politicians argue that all problems are better solved at a sub-national level, granting themselves greater control over political power and resources. However, regionalist parties persist, advocating further separation and taking on rightist ideologies, especially in Flanders. As a result, it has become politically profitable to advocate regional autonomy because of the manner in which the state attempts to pacify demands and minimize ethnic conflict. This failure of the government -8-
to respond at any level has led to widespread disillusionment with traditional political actors. As a result, rightist parties such as the ultranationalist Vlaam Belang have achieved significant electoral success within Flanders, although it is unclear the percentage of support generated by ideological agreement or protest votes. The federalization of the Belgian state is not a unique phenomenon in a larger European context. Throughout Europe, once centralized states are engaging in some form of economic or political devolution to appease minorities, improve the transparency and efficiency of government mechanisms and lend the political process legitimacy. Belgium‟s move towards federalism actually mirrors the European Union‟s expansion of competences and deepened integration. Belgium has always defined itself as intensely pro-European, although some argue that the expansion of Union control over fiscal and monetary policy, one of the few areas left in the domain of the federal government, has essentially served to hollow the federal center from above and below. The European Union, with its seat in Brussels, serves as the glue which holds it all together, in the eyes of some. However, the European Union, with its attempts to increase citizen involvement, has expanded operations at the regional level. Belgium, already highly integrated by necessity into international markets, has pushed for further integration. The division of Belgium into small states of Flanders and Wallonia seems increasingly economically and politically feasible. Belgium seems to be held together only by a few factors but even these provoke disputes. The monarchy, represented by King Albert, has historically been a rallying point for Belgians but has, since the postwar period, been a source of communitarian strife. While Flanders once overwhelmingly supported the king in the controversy after the First World War, many now criticize King Albert for his apparently proFrancophone views. Brussels, an area of contention, is often ignored in order to prevent the total failure of negotiations remaining a sticking point, with neither side willing to cede this largely Francophone city in Flemish territory. Could Brussels become a UN protectorate or a European city? Only the future will tell, but refusing to address the contentious nature of Brussels may be the only way to hold the Belgian state together.
ETHNIC CONFLICT, ETHNIC MOBILIZATION AND THE EUROPEAN UNION: LITERATURE AND THEORY
Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial for a Breton or a Basque of French Navarre to be a member of the French nationality than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times. John Stuart Mill
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The field of state-based ethnic conflict studies has remained relatively limited. Scholars have resisted its study, believing it to be a transient phenomenon. Despite the claims of scholars in the postwar world, ethnic conflict within multiethnic societies is not an aberration, an unexpected bump in the road to modernity and post-nationalism. The predicted homogenization of nation-states has yet to transpire. As we have seen, the rapid changes spurred by globalization have perhaps provoked more ethnic and national identification, as people naturally cling to what is familiar, feeling lost in a world where nation, creed or village are supposed to be meaningless. As Western Europe integrated, forming a new post-national entity which successfully incorporated groups once divided by bitter hatred and centuries of conflict, much of South-Eastern Europe crumbled into disorder and internal strife. It is for that reason that state-based ethnic conflict is increasingly relevant and perhaps dangerously neglected. For our purposes, it is necessary to adopt a slightly more restrictive view towards the causes and theories of ethnic conflict. We must focus on conflict which takes place in the developed world, especially integrated Europe, which has eliminated or assuaged ancient grievances between states while having a very limited role in internal affairs, beyond assuring the accordance of minority rights. The resurgence of nationalism in Europe may be particularly odd for social scientists in Europe, seeming "at odds with the construction of a new and wider political order, often referred to a supranational, which is seen as the culmination of the very trend to functional integration that is credited with producing the nation-state" (Keating, 2004 p. 1). It is interesting to note that state-based ethnic conflict, in the form of regional autonomy movements and ethnic mobilization, has actually intensified as the grand European project has progressed. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that borders dictated by the decisions of great powers and bloody wars throughout the centuries do not always correspond with ethnic distributions and political realities. Some have also argued that the nation-state is being weakened from above and below by the advent of multi-level governance. We will examine the causes of this resurgence and the European Union‟s role in its management. Realizing the need to protect the rights of cultural minorities while sustaining the central state, governments throughout the world and especially in Europe have adopted - 11 -
cultural protections. Some have done so on their own, others when mandated by larger regional bodies, such as the Council of Europe and the European Union. In some cases, the official recognition and protection of a distinct culture, language or religion has been sufficient. However when it is not, power-sharing schemes, non-majoritarian in nature have been designed to ensure representation and appease ethnic demands, especially when these groups are politically mobilized or territorially based. Consociationalist theories attracted attention in the 1960s when Dutch political scientists Arend Lijphart proposed his theories of consociationalism as a means of mitigating conflict in multiethnic societies. Consociationalism relies on the existence of several pillars of society, whether ethnic, religious or ideological. Federalism, typically identified with the German and American systems, is another device for ethnic conflict management, useful only when competing ethnic groups are territorially based. States often turn to federalism to moderate these interests, as has India, Russia, Switzerland and Spain. This allows an ethnic group some autonomous control over their territories. (Esman, 1994 p. 2). This work will examine the causes and persistence of state-based ethnic conflict and institutional strategies designed to manage it. It is important to remember that nonmajoritarian power-sharing strategies, including federalism or consociationalism, are not designed to cure ethnic conflict or do away with ethnic identities, but to manage them in a peaceful way, ensuring the survival of the state in question and the respect for rights of its inhabitants. Both models rely on the presence of forward-thinking elites and both, despite their merits and relative success in preventing violence in the Western countries in which they are employed, have generated charges of elitism and democratic deficiency, leading to political crises.
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The State of the Science
It was a common belief that economic development, urbanization and literacy would create greater social and technological links between once feuding peoples, serving to strengthen loyalties to the existing state and later to post-national bodies, such as the European communities. (Gurr, 1994 p. 78). In Donald Horowitz's opinion, the inattention of the social sciences to issues of ethnic conflict arose out a desire to relegate this tribalism “to the dustbins of history.” He writes that this belief made it "easy to perceive ethnic allegiances as purely vestigial affiliations, survivals of a traditionalism whose lack of contemporary utility would be made apparent by the onslaught of modern forces" (1985 p. 97). Despite these predictions, the postwar world has not seen a decrease in nationalism and ethnic conflict. Very few societies (only 10% according to Esman) possess the homogeneity required to ensure peace and in all societies, traditional and modern ethnic groups have mobilized, at least at some level, politically. (1994 p. 2). Neither the experience of prolonged prosperity, the decreasing salience of many non-economic cleavages, the active intervention of the state, nor the irresistible march of modernization significantly undermined traditional patterns of majority-minority group conflict. Fraga et al 1992 p. 5. In fact, some scholars argue that the very process of modernization, which was viewed as a antidote to primordialism, has in fact exacerbated existing problems as “modernization is a threat to ethnic solidarities that prompts minorities to mobilize in defense of their culture and way of life”(Gurr, 1994 p. 78). The study of ethno nationalism evolved as the need to understand virulent ethnic conflict became apparent in both European societies and abroad. In the 1950s and 1960s, models were developed to integrate multiethnic societies through peaceful and non-majoritarian means, models which were intended to eventually lead to the integration of ethnic groups. However, faced with nationalist success in Flanders, Quebec and Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s, new fields addressing the political mobilization of ethnic groups “ethno nationalism,” “minority nationalism” and “micronationalism” emerged. As autonomists largely failed to achieve their stated goal of independence, the studies sought to address their failure. The collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia allowed scholars
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to hone their skills. (Sorens, 2005 p. 304). Minahan identifies this as the third wave of modern nationalism: The nationalist revival, global in scope, has strengthened submerged national, ethnic, and regional identities and has shattered the conviction that assimilation would eventually homogenize the existing nation-states. The nationalist revival is now feeding on itself, as the freedom won by many historically stateless nations has emboldened other national groups to demand greater control of their own destinies. 2002 p. xxii. As ethnic conflict persists, both in the developing and developed world, more study is necessary. Rather than focusing solely on the causes and manifestations of ethnic conflict, scholars must look at successful techniques applied in countries with territorially based ethnic groups which remain peaceful, such as Switzerland. The European Union, which up until this point, has kept remarkably silent on cases of ethnic conflict within its member states, may either foster or minimize ethnic conflict depending on its approach.
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The European Union and Regionalist Demands Hollowing from Above and Below
In a Europe where there is no majority, all nations are in a sense 'minorities', allowing those who are minorities within their own states to project their concerns as part of a wider issue' Keating 2004 p. 137.
Introduction Globalization and the regional integration that accompanies it have served to undermine the nation-state. The rapidly changing political and economic realities have swept aside the old arguments that population size, geographic location, and economic viability are deterrents to national self-determination. The revival of nationalism is converging with the emergence of continental political and economic units theoretically able to accommodate ever smaller national units within overarching political, economic, and security frameworks Minahan, 2002 p. xxi-xxii. While the traditional state does remain the primary actor on the international stage, its sovereignty is increasingly limited by its international obligations. International organizations such as NATO have shown themselves willing to intervene in domestic policy when it contravenes basic principles of human rights while regional bodies are becoming increasingly influential in both economic and social affairs. Nowhere is this more evident than in the European Union, which has become a significant source of domestic policy and has expanded its competences far further than originally envisaged. While many discount the role of the European Union in the rise of regional autonomy (citing the minimal direct influence of Committee of the Regions on EU policy and the persistence of the nation state as both the subject and the actor in of the Union), the psychological impact of the Union which seems to make the nation state superfluous in regards to its traditional functions (economic regulation, security) is profound. The integration of a small region or a potential “microstate” into a larger market independent of the traditional state is possible for the first time. To profit from this certain regions have gone so far as to engage in international relations which were once the exclusive and fiercely guarded domain of the nation-state. In addition, the - 15 -
Union, with its emphasis on rights for minorities and the peaceful mediation of conflict is likely to be a moderating influence.
Regionalist Trends within the European Union While globalization has weakened the nation-state, the predicted “death of nationalism” has not occurred. Many European states are engaging in regional decentralization to better cope with economic and social demands, although the extent of this process depends on the nature of the regions themselves. Keating identifies several characteristics of contemporary regionalism within Europe • Regions become economic units in their own right; • Regional identity strengthens; • Regional institutions are established to deal with social, economic and political issues; • Regions seek investment from abroad; • New development coalitions of public and private actors emerge at the regional level; • Inter-regional co-operation increases at international and European levels. Keating, 2007 p. 19 While devolution seems to be a general trend in Europe, Keating et al explain that contemporary moves towards decentralization are a result of different demands, often reflecting the desire to manage economics while others, such as those in Spain, are designed to protect local cultures and mitigate ethnic conflict. (2003 p. 21). European states first engaged in decentralization after World War II, spurred by the idea that regions rather than central governments could better deal with pressing issues of economic development. The regions that resulted were not necessarily cultural or linguistic entities. Some were determined according to their economic development, designed to promote infrastructural development or investment, rather than a political consciousness. (Keating, et al 2003 p. 7). Decentralization has occurred to a greater extent in areas in which the territorial units are made up of national, linguistic or religious communities, like in Belgium, than those which are units based on administrative divisions or economic disparities, such as in Italy. (Kymlicka, 1998 p.
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130). Political nationalism was often unexpected, largely believed to be relegated to Horowitz‟s dustbin of history. As decentralization occurs, economic and ethnic regions have attempted to project their interests on an international stage. Both Catalonia and Flanders engage in what Keating terms “paradiplomacy”, promoting themselves as regions ripe for foreign direct investment, with both the infrastructure and educated workforce to meet the needs of foreign corporations. (Keating, 2004 p. 156). At the same time, they engage in cultural nationalism, working to promote and preserve their language and culture. Politically mobilized regions with the competences to do so set up missions to European and international institutions to promote awareness and protect their interests. However, international law rarely grants these missions standing in the institutions in which they wish to take part.
The Regional Autonomists’ Vision of Europe
Europeanization is a popular theme among groups advocating regional autonomy or outright independence. This is a reaction against prevailing political thought which viewed regionalism as “backwards and regressive” and as a result, went incognito by adopting “Europeanist” or “neo-Marxist internal colonialism ideologies” (Keating, et al 2001 p. 7). Despite the widespread pro-European sentiment, some have criticized the Union for falling short of its goals. A specific vision of Europe is contained within regionalist manifestos, including those of the Basques, Catalans and Flemish, who each speak of a Europe of Regions. This vision is opposed to the present Europe of nationstates, which they view as an artificial construct. While nationalists and autonomists speak hopefully of a third level within European politics, the Convention on the Future of Europe and the now defunct constitutional treaty proved a disappointment, doing little to augment the powers of the Committee of Regions and focusing on the member state as the primary political actor. (Keating, 2007 p. 17). While this vision of Europe may be difficult to achieve, one must stress that within an integrated Europe, ethnoregional mobilization has remained remarkably peaceful and often manifests itself in political forms, less damaging and dramatic than violence but no less telling or significant.
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Institutions and Representation
The growing importance of the regions was institutionalized in the Treaty of Maastricht. Previously, Article 146 EEC restricted representation and voting within the Council of Ministers to members of national governments. Due to intense lobbying by both the Belgian regions and the German Lander during the intergovernmental conference of 1991, the Treaty on the European Union reflected these concerns. (Laffan, Stubb 2003 p. 78). Article 203 TEU allowed regional ministers to participate in Council meetings, recognizing the devolution taking part in some countries which deprived the central governments of competence in certain areas. However, the article stipulated that each representative must present a unified voice, acting from “the policy position of the member state as a whole and independent from the constitutional status the member state representative enjoys domestically” (Beyers, Bursens 2006 p. 1064). This emphasis on unanimity may in fact promote cooperation. “A domestic compromise is needed if one wants to achieve anything at the EU level. Regions, therefore, depend strongly on internal arrangements. (Beyers, Bursens 2006 p. 1064). This is especially true in the case of Belgium which allows ministers from the relevant policy area from both the communities and regions to participate in Council meetings but requires consensus in order to cast a vote. In order to have a voice, the regions and communities must find compromise. Policies regarding regional representation depend on the competences vested in them by the nation-state and are not a result of European Union decision-making. In Germany, one organization represents all Lander and they are expected to come to a common decision. While the Belgian regions and communities are expected to come to a consensus, each entity possesses its own diplomatic corps. (Hooghe, 1995 p. 149). The nation-state remains the primary actor at the EU-level, despite the principle of subsidiarity. The states have, according to David Allen, retained control over access through procedural requirements and may work to manage ethnic conflict and autonomy through these policies. It does seem that the effectiveness of sub-national access is determined more by the nature of the constitutional arrangements in a particular member state than by the Commission‟s partnership arrangements. In some cases central governments have been able to strengthen their powers by using Commission procedures to
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play one set of sub-national actors off against another, or by joining forces with sub-national actors to do battle with the Commission 2000 p. 259-260. Despite these restrictions in the main decision-making bodies, the regions and localities have an institution in which they can act in an advisory capacity, although its significance is debated. With each treaty revision, the role of the Committee of the Regions has been enhanced although it does not possess binding powers. The Commission and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee on proposals which will have a regional and local impact. Maastricht Culture Economic and social cohesion Education Health Trans-European Infrastructure Amsterdam Employment policy Environmental issues Social policy Transport Vocational training
As we will see in the following chapters, each of these policies now falls within the competences of the regions and communities which together form the Belgian federalist system. While the committee is modeled after the powerful German Bundesrat, it is described by some scholars as “internally divided” by a “debilitating diverse” membership consisting of both of powerful regional authorities from Germany and Belgium and representatives of small parishes in England. (Bomber, et al 2003 p. 63). Because of this asymmetry, a group of stronger regions emerged which felt that the Committee of Regions should be granted legislative powers, named “Regions with Legislative Powers,” they argued for a special status in the new treaty in recognition of their responsibility in the transmission of European directives and application of European policies. Neither the CoR nor the Convention, however, was prepared to allow this formal asymmetry - 19 -
Keating, 2007 p. 16. Despite these weaknesses, the Committee may play an important role for socialization, allowing representatives of politically mobilized regions to cooperate and exchange ideas although its overall influence remains limited.
The Role of the European Union in Regionalist Conflict
The European Union, like the states which form its membership, has been forced to divert more attention to the regions in recent years. The idea of regions as international players in their own right was adopted by academics, governments and the European Commission, becoming, by the 1990s, "the common currency of regional political and administrative elites" (Keating, et al 2003 p. 18). According to scholars, the Union served two important, although perhaps contradictory purposes in regards to ethnic and nationalist conflict. Primarily, it has served to moderate national demands. Even the most virulent nationalist seeks integration and acceptance into the larger European body, although the regionalist conception of Europe may be very different from the conception of a strong unitary state like France. Cooperation has increased amongst the regions seeking autonomy or outright independence and the Basques, Catalans, Flemish and Scots often speak of a Europe of Peoples or Regions rather than a Europe of states. Keating describes this evolution as nationalism “tamed and modernized” (2004 p. 137). While independence within a highly integrated Europe seems for the first time economically and politically viable, even for the smallest of states, these regions are unlikely to engage in violence, considering the political consequences of such an action. (Ghai, 2002 p. 157). "The Union has deeply redefined the notion of sovereignty and autonomy, and has therefore given new (and less threatening) meanings to regionalism" (Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 17). Even calls for independence have been moderated as nationalists in Wales and in Catalonia have explicitly renounced statehood as a goal in favor of nation-building in a new form. The Flemish nationalists of the Volksunie seem content to allow Belgium to continue as long as the region of Flanders is also strengthened Keating and McGarry, 2001 p. 9.
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Despite this apparent downfall of the state, some minorities remain committed statehood as the ultimate goal. "Paradoxically, the erosion of the ideology of state nationalism has stimulated ethnic politics without diminishing the potency of self-determination as a spur to ethnic activism" (Esman, 1994 p. 5). As the European Union has expanded its competences, regionalist parties in Belgium, Spain and Scotland have looked at the organization as a source of support for its ambitions. Majone explains At a time when it becomes evident that the European state is too small for certain essential tasks, such as military security and economic management, it also becomes possible to argue that the nation-state is too large for other purposes. Hence many regionalists view the movement toward greater European unity and decentralization of state functions to the regional level as complementary trends Majone, 1990 p. 72. In the case of Belgium, European integration and regional devolution have followed a remarkably similar course, serving as the ultimate example of multilevel governance. As the EU asserts its influence over more aspects of life, it may undermine the state which these regions rally against. In its quest for democratic legitimacy through subsidiarity, the Union has augmented the role and influence of sub national bodies, especially the regions. In fact, some would argue that the EU which grants regions a voice (both through official representation and perhaps more significantly through the distribution of structural funds on a local and regional basis), has served to empower those regions, allowing them to gain political and economic expertise, which perhaps strengthens their autonomist demands. “Especially regions with extensive competences have a strong base from which they can mobilize. They are therefore more likely to shift their political strategies to the European level" (Beyers, Bursens 2006 p. 1060-1). Stolz describes a professionalization of a political class which has shifted its ambitions from the national level to the regional and supranational level. (2003 p. 245). Regions which share a common mission are able to mobilize support for their interests at the supranational level, largely bypassing the nation-state and seek support in Brussels. Within the European Parliament, the European Free Alliance represents regionalist and nationalist movements from various member states. The Union is hesitant to grant moral or political support, especially for outright secessionist movements, as nation states do remain the primary actors. However, through their inclusion in the political dialogue, Europe serves as another source of legitimacy and recognition, both and moderating their demands in the process, with - 21 -
potentially dramatic consequences. The distribution of structural funds may put multiple levels within a state in direct competition.
Regionalism and Risks
While most argue that the representation of small ethnic groups at all levels of EU decision-making enhance democratic representation and promote diversity, the populist roots of many movements advocating multilevel governance have given some scholars cause for concern. While policies which allow participation on multiple levels, according to Logno, allows the “more effective protection of distinctive cultural features and greater democracy through enhanced capacity of communities to choose the form of government to represent them” (2003 p. 479), some scholars fear parochialism and discrimination as regions attempt to prevent the dilution of their recently acquired powers. These movements wish to promote cultural cohesion within their region and are therefore often resistant to external immigration, and promote a “Europe of Regions” that is of total European heritage, rather than a more inclusive entity. The policies which promote cultural diversity raise, according to Longo, “the possibility of the emergence of an inward-looking, competitive, xenophobic and culturally protectionist bloc” (2003 p. 480). This has been shown in the case of Flanders, as the Vlaams Belang has adopted harsh anti-immigration policies. These risks must be anticipated as the European Union strives to meet the needs of both the nation-state and the regions
Europe of Regions: A Vision of the Future?
Despite the trends towards devolution and federalization, the organization of a Europe of Regions may prove difficult because of competing visions of Europe and resistance on the part of the member states. The nation-state remains the primary focus of the European Union and is likely to resist any attempt, on the part of its own regionalist groups or in the groups of its neighbors, to reorient Union policy. (Beyers, Bursens 2006 p. 1058). Centralized states which do have territorially-based ethnic groups within its borders are likely to be wary of measures which may encourage regionalization or ethnic mobilization at home. In addition, some nation-states do not face ethnic conflict or regional autonomy movements, due to either homogeneity or the lack of mobilization on the part of ethnic groups. Many “regions” are simple - 22 -
administrative units, possessing no cohesive identity than the national one. The diverse nature of European member states, consisting of both highly centralized and highly devolved systems, is likely to hinder efforts to create a Europe of Regions.
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Ethnic Mobilization and Political Manifestations Causes and Consequences
Social scientists seeking to understand ethnic conflict are split into two camps regarding the impetus to engage in political and ethnic mobilization. Primoridalists hold that ethnicity is "deeply rooted in historical experience," some arguing that it can be viewed as a biological phenomenon while still others maintain that it is a result of socialization into an ethnic community which involves absorbing the language, customs and norms of a people. Esman writes that primordialists "tend to attach high value to historical continuity, group sanctions, and social solidarity as determinants of human behavior." (1994 p. 10). Instrumentalists argue the contrary, describing ethnicity as a "highly adaptive and malleable phenomenon" with few firm boundaries. Some view ethnic identity as motivated by the potential for gain, arguing that "ethnicity is primarily a practical resource that individuals and groups deploy opportunistically to promote their more fundamental security or economic interests and that they may even discard when alternative affiliations promise better returns." (Esman, 1994 p. 10). Wimmer explains that instrumentalism only occurs when a given ethnic group has sufficiently mobile elites, often of the middle class. It often begins with cultural issues; educated elites resist assimilation, and push for further academic opportunities in their language and inclusion of minority history into programs of academic study. They thus draw on the ideal of ethnic representativity, of equality before the law, and of the state's responsiveness towards 'the people', in order to demand a 'just' representation in government, a recognition of their cultural heritage as part of the nation's treasures, a treatment as equally valuable and dignified parts of 'the people' Wimmer, 2002 p. 3. They point out instances of cultural and legal exclusion, in the case of Belgium, the traditional francophone dominance of government and the emphasis on French as the language of social mobility. Within Western Europe, this historical situation was termed “internal colonialism” and became a point of mobilization for Basques, Bretons, Corsicans, Scots and the Welsh. (Gurr, 1994 p. 78-79). Lead by these “political entrepreneurs” ethnic minorities began to form organizations and push for legal, economic and cultural inclusion. - 24 -
Despite these differences, Esman argues that rather than being contradictory, primordialist and instrumentalist theories are instead interrelated and even interdependent. He writes that: "ethnicity cannot be policiticized unless an underlying core of memories, experience, or meaning moves people to collective action" These include historical struggles, cultural markets (including language and religion). They are also fluid, capable of being “oriented to fresh goals” and “infused with new content" (1994 p. 14). This is true in many Western countries as ethnic groups focus on reviving and preserving their unique cultural heritage in order to mobilize politically and improve the status of the group as a whole, especially in economic terms, within a larger society. Ethnic conflict is perhaps more virulent than other forms of state-based conflict because of the ability to frame the conflict in black and white terms of us versus them. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to identify the exact factors which lead groups to mobilize politically in any given case. However, the manifestations of ethnic conflict can be categorized. Gurr identifies four politically important types of groups that exist within the confines of the modern state which can be divided into two categories, those who seek separation or autonomy and those who work to gain access and participation within the existing state bodies. Autonomists/Separatists Ethnonationalists: previously independent ethnonationalists seek to reestablish their own states or control their traditional territory. Examples are found both in the developing world and the West, as the drawing of national borders rarely creates homogenous societies. While the use of violent tactics in the West is rare, wars for national independence are frequent in the developing world and often carry dramatic international consequences as the events do not occur in a vacuum. (1994 p. 19). Indigenous peoples: seek to control and protect traditional lands, resources and culture, examples include the native peoples of the Americas and Asia, the Australian Aborigine, and the Scandinavian Saami. (1994 p. 19-21). Equal participation Communal contenders: one of a number of culturally distinct groups in pluralist societies, compete for a share of political power. Communal contenders can include previously secessionist ethnic groups have since been integrated into the political system. Examples of this shift represent hope, - 25 -
according to Gurr, for effective politics of power-sharing and integration. (1994 p. 23). This category can also include politically active religious minorities, which combined with nationality and class differences can prove especially damaging. Ethno classes: seek equal rights and opportunities to compensate for discrimination experienced due to their status as an immigrant or cultural, linguistic or religious minorities. Ethno classes may be repressed and excluded and as a result, adopt autonomist policies. (1994 p. 22). When these groups mobilize, the government may seek to control the process with various methods, including consociationalism.
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Consociationalism: From Pillars to People
The idea of consociationalism was introduced by political scientist Arend Lijphart in the 1960s as an explanation for political stability in plural societies. Lijphart‟s first case was his native Netherlands, although he and his adherents eventually expanded the theory to incorporate Switzerland. Lijphart and those who developed his theories furthers attribute the apparent stability to elite behavior, arguing that elites will act to combat disintegrating tendencies. The theory is distinctly antimajoritarian, and consociationalists are agreed on the need to a key "mitigate the unfortunate effect of majority rule in ethnically divided societies" rather than eliminate these societal cleavages completely. (Horowitz, 1985 p. 570). However, the consociationalist model has come under intense criticism for its somewhat idealized views of the roles and motivations of governing elites. Critics argue that elites are unlikely to act against their own personal and professional interests to promote unity and that a society dominated by elite bargaining is unlikely to be viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the people.
Consociationalism Defined Lijphart‟s original definition of consociationalist system was "government by elite cartel to turn a democracy with a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy" (Lijphart, 1969 p. 216). This emphasis on stability is the most important aspect, as the main characteristics of consociationalism focus on balance and cooperation rather than majoritarian policy formation. Consociationalism is antimajoritarian, mandating near unanimous consent from all major political pillars, including religious, ideologically, ethnic, socioeconomic, and territorial, which explains its success in highly segmented societies like Switzerland and the Netherlands. in deeply segmented democracies, federal as well as unitary, stability and some slow progress have often been ensured over long spans of time by a grand coalition of major parties and interest groups promoting their specific interests but also seeking a general consensus on a give-and-take basis Duchacek, 1986 p. 100. - 27 -
There are several common characteristics of a consociationalist structure, including the emphasis of autonomy or self-regulation in areas which concern each specific group; these typically include language use, culture and education. At the federal level, power is shared in several areas. Parties are formed to represent the interests of each group and according proportional representation in the parliament. The principle of parity is respected in key sectors, including the cabinet, the civil service, the security forces and media. The goal of consociationalism is to prevent majority rule, allowing each political actor a voice in society and often a veto. There is an emphasis on consent, each segment is vested with veto powers or accorded alarm bell devices, as in the case of Belgium. (Hechter, 2000 p. 136). Traditional majoritarian democracies may be perfectly acceptable in cases of homogenous societies, but may not be “suitable when elections are decided on ethnic grounds, as this means a permanent majority for one side, and no group trusts the other enough to allow it to govern on its own” (Keating, 2007 p. 6-7). Consociationalism is best suited for societies in which cross-cutting cleavages occur, groups driven into conflict by purely racial or religious reasons are more difficult. Unlike federalism, consociationalism can work even when ethnic, religious or linguistic groups do not have a territorial component. Several primary conditions have been identified by Lijphart and other scholars. 1. The elite leaders of each group must have to resources to satisfy the demands set forth by their group 2. Elites must be willing and able to cooperate with the representatives of rival groups 3. The leadership as a whole must be dedicated to the larger state and be cognizant of the consequences of ethnic conflict and disunity. There is no room for autonomist demands in a society which is to function through the adoption of consociationalist models. Morris Hale, 1997 p. 8-9. The emphasis on the role of leadership has proved to be the at once the model‟s greatest strength and greatest weakness.
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Strengths and Weaknesses of the Consociationalist System
Several examples of consociationalist success do exist, including Switzerland which has remained remarkably unified despite a multitude of linguistic, political and religious differences. Consociationalism has also been a characteristic of Canadian governance, although less effective to a certain degree. While scholars often propose the exportation of the Swiss model to diverse countries in the developing world, it is not clear if a society which was once beset by bitter or violent ethnic conflict or minority suppression is capable of achieving the level of trust and cooperation required for a consociationalist system. Consociationalist systems require extensive contacts and cooperation in order to function effectively, which can “further the recognition of the other groups as equal partners, improve the understanding of their standpoints, and, by creating positive trust spirals, foster cooperative attitudes” (Bächtiger, et al 1998 p. 83). However, this cooperation does not always occur and should elites refuse or be politically unable to engage in a dialogue, crisis often occurs. The primary criticism of the consociationalist system is derived from the core principle set forth by Lijphart, that of elite dominance. Scholars such as Donald Horowitz, arguably taking a more skeptical view of human nature, warning of opportunism. Elites, representatives of the modern era, were expected to reject the tribalism and parochialism of the past, promoting a new unity. In many cases, they did the exact opposite, preying on ethnic divisions for votes and power. "The very elites who were thought to be leading their peoples away from ethnic affiliations were commonly found to be in the forefront of ethnic conflict" (Horowitz, 1985 p. 97). These elites, in their effort to gain electoral support or political strength are likely to exploit linguistic and ethnic differences to mobilize support. Others argue that consociationalism which has been lauded as a solution for internal strife in the developing world, is unlikely to work in societies with a history of violent or intense interethnic conflict. As popular democracy seems to be a given, at least in European societies, the consociationalist emphasis on elite bargaining and secretive negotiations seems to be a throwback to another era. (Hechter, 2000 p. 137). "Standard consociational practices are vulnerable to charges that they are elitist and undemocratic, since decision making is
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largely a matter of negotiation and compromise among established leaders of the variable communities" (Esman, 1994 p. 43). The consociationalist system, with politics taking place in the high levels of government with little popular participation, is unlikely to be viable for the long-term as the societal differences and conflicts remain entrenched. While the zero-sum approach to politics is minimized by these trade-offs, groups are defined in opposition to one another and the development of a larger identity or national sentiment is impaired. "By promoting group as against individual rights, consociationalism tends to inhibit intergroup cooperation. It is at least as likely that leaders will use consociational institutions to gain maximum resources for themselves rather than to defuse intergroup conflict" (Hechter, 2000 p. 137). The approach can also lead to the rise of more radical leadership who accuse those taking part in the bargaining process of betrayal. The presence of “counter-elites” has often been ignored in consociationalist theory and consociationalism in its present incarnation has failed to explain the rise of radical groups seeking autonomy. Horowitz writes Consociational theory assumes the existence of 'group leaders', but, even when groups begin with a single set of leaders, compromise across group lines is likely to show those leaders to be merely party leaders opposed by leaders of other parties seeking the support of the same group 2002 p. 21. The public is often susceptible by these messages, disillusioned by the paritocracy that dominates governance and the appearance of backroom deals and clientelism. Consociationalist emphasis on legislative representation of the societal cleavages also falls short of promoting greater cooperation. While consociationalist legislative bodies often mirror the societal cleavages, there is no mechanism that encourages cooperation between the groups in the parliamentary rather than elite sphere. Centrapetalists argue that groups should be encouraged to look outside of their linguistic, ethnic or religious group for electoral support. This, according to Reilly, would "work to break down the salience of ethnicity rather than foster its representation in parliament" (2001 p. 21). In addition to promoting democratic competition, it could also serve to moderate elite demands. As we will see in the Belgian case, no multiethnic competition takes place, essentially dividing the political sphere. As a result, the political parties are free to espouse increasingly radical messages.
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Consociationalism has proved to be relatively transient as it relies heavily on informal agreements and the goodwill of elites, rather than constitutional guarantees. In his study, Daniel Elazar showed that classic consociationalist systems have a lifespan of about two generations before they enter into political flux. (1991 p. 24). The case of Switzerland appears to be the exception rather than the rule, perhaps because the Swiss system incorporates elements of federalism. Often the social cleavages have taken on territorial characteristics, making the adoption of a federalist system an obvious choice. In federalist systems, once informal relations are constitutionalized and mutual guarantees are made. However, they often retain some traits of their former selves, as trust has been established between the multiple pillars and elites often retain their importance. Lijphart himself argued that consociationalism and federalism are not mutually exclusive, explaining that “federalism offers an excellent opportunity for group autonomy if the groups are geographically concentrated,” as in the case of India, Switzerland and Belgium. (Lijphart, 2002 p. 51). Consociationalism and federalism, according to Hooghe, both propose a "systemic response to territorial conflict majority rule should be replaced by federalism or by a consociational regime" (Hooghe, 2004 p. 18). However, they each possess several weaknesses, including an undue reliance on the goodwill of elites which perhaps explains their fragile nature “Because strategies based on outbidding are often easier to instigate and maintain than those based on cooperation, politics can quickly come to be characterized by centrifugal forces, in which the moderate political centre is overwhelmed by extremist forces” (Reilly, 2001 p. 2).
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Multiethnic-Multinational Federalism In Theory and In Practice
Federalism has to do with the need of people and polities to unite for common purposes yet remain separate to preserve their respective integrities. It is rather like wanting to have one's cake and eat it too. Since that is the natural human condition, at least half the work of politics, if not 90 percent of it, is directed to somehow accommodating that logically insoluble problem Daniel Elazar, 1991 p. 33.
Federalism has been credited by many scholars as an institutional means of containing ethnic conflict while ensuring adequate representation of minority rights. It has become increasingly popular in Europe for both multiethnic and homogenous but economically disparate regions. The case of the United States, a traditionally federalist entity, is often cited as an example. However, one must remember that the federalist States were not created to mitigate ethnic conflict. Multiethnic and multinational federalism has been remarkably effective in calming tensions when implemented properly. However, several sometimes elusive conditions have proved themselves important. They include the existence of several territorial units, a commitment of political elites to the central state and symmetry in federalist demands. The implementation of a federalist system can have two drastically different results. It may weaken ethnoregionalist sentiment as the demands of ethnic groups can be fulfilled within the state context. Conversely, federalization provides regional and ethnic leaders political experience, confidence and a territorial base from which to mobilize. This can entrench nationalist sentiment and lead to further demands for devolution and even secessionism, which although rarely successful, is incredibly divisive. Whatever the effects, it is important to note that, like any tool for mitigating ethnic conflict, federalism will not make these problems disappear. Several scholars express reservations. Bauböck writes that A well-ordered federation is not a final settlement of claims that could have been be enshrined in a foundational contract, but an institutional framework for building mutual trust in an ongoing negotiation of claims - 32 -
2001 p. 380. Kymlicka explains Federalism can help to keep certain multination countries together, but the best we can hope for in such circumstances is a looser and more provisional form of 'togetherness' which coexists with ongoing questioning of the value of maintaining the federation Kymlicka, 2001 p. 94. Despite questions regarding longevity, it may ensure peace and prosperity within the state.
Trends in Federalism
Federalism entered the political spotlight in the 1950s and 1960s, along with consociationalism, which are both considered forms of non-majoritarian democracy. (Elazar, 1991 p. 18). The federalist model has remained remarkably popular, especially as political scientists struggle to come to terms with the fact that ethnic and national identities have not been overtaken by modernist sentiment. Federalism‟s popularity is a sign that a system of accommodation is increasingly necessary in countries in which rights for minorities are guaranteed rather than suppressed. (Kymlicka, 2001 p. 96). "It is now argued that the federal state format is the best conceivable one, given the strong demand for democracy today, as well as the existence of many multicultural societies" (Ersson, Lane 2000 p. 78). Many former colonies, including India and Nigeria, have adopted federalist systems to deal with suppressed ethnic identities and the inevitable conflict that results from decolonization. In Europe, this federalist movement has been widespread, as both multiethnic and homogenous ethnic states decentralize. Since the 1950s, Belgium, Italy and Spain have adopted regionalist policies, France has granted certain powers to Corsica, albeit reluctantly, and Austria, Germany and Switzerland, all possessing strong federalist traditions, have remained committed and even intensified federalist aspects of their society. (Elazar, 1991 p. 9). Despite this trend, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland are each constitutionally federal states while Italy and the United Kingdom have engaged in devolution or decentralization, in which the central state sets the goals or principals while the regional units are responsible for implementation, a model not unlike the European Union‟s principal of subsidarity. (Keating, 2007 p. 7). - 33 -
A federalist system is defined as a political system "in which an overarching government and regional government have joint sovereignty and governing authority, with each holding final authority in some areas" (Brezinski, 1999 p. 46). Elazar explains that while both the United States and Belgium are considered federal, the reasons and processes of federalization are distinctive. One of the characteristics of federalism is its aspiration and purpose simultaneously to generate and maintain both unity and diversity. This ambiguity is reflected in confusion over the very use of the term. People use the terms "federalism," "federalist," and "federalize" to describe both the process of political unification and the maintenance of the diffusion of political power 1991 p. 64. In the United States, federalism was implemented from the beginning, designed to promote a greater unity while preserving the rights of the states which made up the union. In Belgium, federalism was a response to demands of ethnic groups which threatened the unitary nature and very existence of the Belgian state. For our purposes, we will focus on federalism as a means to retain unity while recognizing and ensuring diversity. We will adopt Will Kymlicka‟s definition of federalism as applied to heterogeneous democratic states a political system which includes a constitutionally entrenched division of powers between a central government and two or more subunits (provinces/ Länder/states/cantons), defined on a territorial basis, such that each level of government has sovereign authority over certain issues 1998 p. 119. This federalization is often a result of overwhelming or explosive ethnic conflict which force states to adopt some sort of power-sharing to meet ethnic and economic demands put forth by the regions. . The goals of a federalist system are • To balance power within a Constitution by providing a countervailing force to the central government so as to preserve democracy and enhance liberty; • To maximise allocative efficiency by locating government functions at the most appropriate scale and to rationalise administration and policy-making; - 34 -
• To manage nationally diverse and divided societies by giving groups a degree of self-rule while maintaining the overall unity of the state. Keating, 2007 p. 8. While federalism may be a highly effective means of moderating ethnic conflict and ensuring the effective functioning of the states, federalism is not suited for all multiethnic states.
Conditions for Multiethnic Federalism
Scholars have noted that the most successful federalist systems encompass multiple religious, ethnic, or linguistic pillars as none “can reasonably feed ambitions of becoming the single dominant one" (Colomer, 2001 p. 188).This inhibits majoritarianism and ensures that the center remains a forum for conflict mediation, rather than being hollowed by demands for greater devolution. Horowitz attributes this to the diversity of interests and opinions contained within the different federal units. Territory can partition groups off from each other and direct their political ambitions at one level of government rather than another. Federalism, and especially the proliferation of federal units, or regional autonomy can act in effect as an electoral reform and can preserve multipolar fluidity Horowitz, 2002 p. 25. In the case of Belgium and Canada, the demands of two ethnic groups are often overwhelming and conflict is almost entirely framed along ethnic lines. Elazar presumes that a federalist system in which demographic and economic equality is necessary to prevent centralization. "The constituent polities in a federal system must be fairly equal in population and wealth or at least balanced geographically or numerically in their inequalities if noncentralization is to be maintained" (1991 p. 170). However, this is difficult, if not impossible to maintain, if one is to give credence to instrumentalist theory which states that ethnic groups will mobilize in favor of devolution when they feel that their status is threatened. In both Belgium and Spain, the groups most in favor of further autonomy are those who hold a position of economic superiority. This can undermine the federalist cause and the state must develop mechanisms to cope with the inevitable conflict that arises.
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Elazar explains that there are no strict rules for federalism, emphasizing that, like under a consociationalist system, relationships are more important than structures. "as long as the proper relations are created, a wide variety of political structures can be developed that are consistent with federal principles" (Elazar, 1991 p. 12). When faced with continued ethnic conflict, federalized systems have several tools with which to diffuse it and encourage greater integration. Bauböck outlines four of them 1. Concession granting greater autonomy to the contesting group and allowing them special powers at the federal level. This can include vetoes over certain issues or guaranteed representation. 2. Moderation undercutting support for extreme nationalists through free elections. 3. Participation allowing minorities participation at the federal level, including power-sharing schemes. 4. Multiple identities promoting geographic and marital mobility across territorial boundaries and by promoting a greater federal citizenship. Bauböck 2001 p. 381 The last, and probably the most important for the long-term viability of a federal state, is often difficult to achieve, especially when dealing with deeply entrenched ethnic identities. This has succeeded in the case of Switzerland, because according to Elazar, people “think federal.” (1991 p. 78). However, in Belgium, where ethnic conflict seems, at times, almost intractable, very few people cross ethnic and territorial boundaries for marriage or for work and many French-speaking and Flemish citizens cannot communicate with each other because of the decrease in multilingualism. (Billiet, et al. 2006 p. 915). However, the federal government has made progress in promoting a greater Belgian identity as evidenced by recent polls, a phenomenon which we will explore later. Like in consociationalist societies, the role of elites is critical, as they can mobilize in the interest or to the detriment of the federal state. Two crucial ingredients for a successful federalism were identified by Thomas M. Franck “the transmission of ideological commitment from charismatic leaders to the people (elite charisma) and/or the transmission of broadly shared values (culminating in a federal value) from the people to the leaders (popular charisma)” (Duchacek, 1986 p. 92). While federalist principles may be enshrined in the constitution, a federalist system will not function properly without the successful cooperation of governing parties. - 36 -
In severely divided societies, elites and parties may serve, at times, to undermine the democratic legitimacy of the political process and also to gain political support through populist and nationalistic policies. This reliance on elites is one of the weaknesses of non-majoritarian power-sharing arrangements in which the general population cannot make decisions through referenda. An interesting characteristic of federalism, as noted by Erk and Gagnon, is the presence of, and some might say, reliance on ambiguity. While federalism depends on constitutionally guaranteed institutions and rights and the negotiation of all policies at the federal level with input from relevant parties, some issues will remain unresolved. constitutional ambiguity had become a sign of a broad consensus to eschew polarization. When parties to the federal compact could not agree on the exact terms of the union, they left the question about the nature of the political community unclear. Compact between the provinces or compact between peoples; in a way, they have been agreeing to avoid having to agree. At the same time, the successful continuation of these arrangements was dependent on the overall federal trust between the partners. Erk, Gagnon 1998 p. 101. This prevents either side from “winning” or “losing” and allows federal bodies to ignore issues until they can be dealt with in a way satisfactory to all sides. However, this also creates impetus for further reforms and is quickly seized by those unsatisfied by the federal government. We will see this in the case of Belgium. Brussels, a Francophone city in the heart of Flanders, has been disputed for decades with no clear resolution. It has been compared to the child that preserves the union between feuding parents and it is possible that should its status be irrevocably settled, it could increase calls for total division on either side.
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Federalism and Mitigating Ethnic Conflict Strengths and Weaknesses
Federalism has proved remarkably resilient, despite the presence of multiple competing interests. In fact, Elazar notes that No authentic federal system that has lasted for even fifteen years has ever been abandoned except through revolutionary disruption (as in the case in Germany) or foreign conquest (as in the case of Switzerland), and in most cases, including the aforementioned two, federalism--showing remarkable resilience--has ultimately been restored 1991 p. 156. However, some would argue that this persistence is not necessarily a result of the federalist system but due to a general feeling of trust and cooperation, something that is nearly impossible to achieve in a political sphere recently beset by intense ethnic and political conflict. Kymlicka asserts that where federalism is needed to keep a country together, the odds that the country will remain together over the long-term are not great. Federalism may be the best available response to ethnocultural pluralism, but the best may not be good enough 1998 p. 113.
The Federalization Process
Duchacek argues that "by timely concessions to, and constitutional recognition of, territorial communities and their desire for self-rule, a formerly unitary nation-state may be re-formed and its national unity saved" (1986 p. 92). However, this is more relevant in theory rather than practice, as a unitary state is unlikely to divest itself of its competences unless under extreme duress. "Because they start with a centralized structure and because there is unease about the political implications of devolution, national powers tend to be dominant, including, not infrequently, the power to suspend regional governments" (Ghai, 2002 p. 157). This results in tensions between the centralized government and ethnic groups, who sense this resistance. As demands for federalization are likely to be precipitated by the mobilization of ethnoregional parties rather than national governments, the national government may - 38 -
work to ensure its maintenance of power. "Indeed, federalism can and has been used by majority groups as a tool for disempowering national minorities, by rigging federal units so as to reduce the power of national minorities" (Kymlicka, 2001 p. 96). This may occur by allowing some regional autonomy but limited representation, influence and control at the federal level.
The Role of Elites
Consociationalist and federalist systems share several characteristics, the most significant of those being the role of elites. Elites operating at the federal level may promote trust through the construction of relationships. However, those elites may be especially prone to mobilize on a territorial basis to ensure their electoral success. "Federation may stimulate nationalist conflict because it provides potential nationalist leaders with patronage and other resources that can be mobilized for nationalist ends" (Hechter, 2000 p. 141). Horowitz rejects the assertion that the political elites that advocate federalization will act in the interest of the larger state, rather than in the interest of themselves or their ethnic group. To the extent that the imputed motive is still statesmanship rather not to protect cultural or than self-interest, the assumption that elites in divided societies are likely to be more tolerant of other ethnic groups or less inclined to pursue advantage for their own group is extremely dubious 2002 p. 21.
The Problem of Asymmetry
It has been shown that federal states with multiple units benefit from enhanced stability, it is rare that various groups that comprise a multiethnic state makes similar demands, especially since ethnic conflict often arises from the perception of economic or political disparity. As a result, symmetry is often difficult to achieve, especially when the adoption of a federalist system is a result of minority demands. (Kymlicka, 1998 p. 130). Majorities are often reluctant to relinquish control. In the case of Canada, Quebec agitates for greater autonomy and even independence while the rest of the country resents this federalization and wishes to restore the unitary system, essentially
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rejecting “special privileges” for Quebec. Belgium‟s move towards federalism was precipitated by Flemish demands and Wallonia resists further devolution.
Federalism and Society
Zbigniew Brzezinski argues that devolution to the regional levels can enhance democratic participation by allowing greater competition on the lower levels, forcing the parties to pay greater attention to the demands of the people. (1999 p. 50). This is true, although perhaps to a limited extent. The territorialization of politics means that in some cases, like in Belgium, no party competes on a national level. Parties must only be responsive to their ethnic group and are thus unlikely to take into account the welfare and desires of other groups, with whom they have now entered into competition. As politics at the highest levels are negotiated by regional representatives rather than subject to broad debate, this can limit political input. While these issues of democratic participation are serious, perhaps one of the most underrated effects of federalism is the social and cultural impact of the system. This can be both positive and negative, undermining ethnic groups which may be inclined to act in an oppressive and despotic manner while ensuring representation for the minority by compartmentalizing conflict. Federalism makes it more difficult for those who have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens to act in unison with each other. The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States Kymlicka, 2001 p. 99. However, within these ethnic regions, diversity is often viewed as a threat, immigration from both other federal entities and from abroad, may undermine their influence. They may work to prevent others from settling in the region or existing minorities from engaging in public life. In the case of Belgium, the ethnoregionalist party Vlaams Belang runs on an anti-immigration platform, advocating ethnic homogeneity as well as independence. “Multination federalism divides the people into separate 'peoples', each with its own historic rights, territories, and powers of self-government; and each, therefore with its own political community" (Kymlicka, 2001 p. 114). This political empowerment, which is often vested with the powers and institutions of a state may be dangerous, - 40 -
according to Hechter, and may perhaps lead to further ethnic conflict and secessionism. "When nations are given many of the accoutrements of real states, this also encourages people to think and act according to national categories" (Hechter, 2000 p. 141).These peoples, who are governed by political elites, are unlikely to either develop or retain a common identity. In addition, each group is defined only by ethnicity, inhibiting pluralism. Other identifications, such as class or religion, are likely to be ignored. institutionalizing the federation along such lines is more likely to promote a primordial nationalism, which in politically unstable polities increases the likelihood of inter-ethnic violence and even civil war. Not only do such arrangements tend to solidify and make permanent what might be temporary or partial group identities, they also allow key policy areas to be hijacked by highly partisan titular élites and thus increase the probability of tyranny by the minority, which, it is contended, acts as an impediment to liberty for all Smith, 2001 p. 345. It is because of these characteristics that federalism does not pose a permanent solution. However, its relevance and utility should not be dismissed because of the weaknesses explored here. "In short, federalism is designed to prevent tyranny without preventing governance. In this sense it seeks to provide a political remedy for political diseases" (Elazar, 1991 p. 29). Federalism remains one of the most effective means moderating conflict, preventing violence and allowing the effective operation of the state.
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When the System Fails: Secessionism
Secessionism and Power-Sharing Arrangements
In the case of Belgium, federalism was touted as a panacea for ethnic conflict, meant to appease ethnic groups and ensure the continued existence of the state. Despite these ambitions, calls for the further devolution of competences and even the dissolution of the Belgium state continue. This, according to scholars, should not be met with surprise. The more that federalism succeeds in meeting the desire for self-government, the more it recognizes and affirms the sense of national identity amongst the minority group, and strengthens their political confidence. Where national minorities become politically mobilized in this way, secession becomes more conceivable, and a more salient option, even with the best-designed federal institutions Kymlicka, 2001 p. 113. As a result, national minorities may view themselves as part of a confederation, rather than a federal state, possessing the right to govern and even declare their independence. Secessionism is often cited as a reason for resistance to the adoption of a federalist regime. Critics argue that once given power, the federal units, especially those constructed on a regional or ethnic basis will often agitate for more power. This has been proven true in some cases, with scholars arguing that power-sharing enhances the confidence of regional elites, leading them to believe independence to be viable and makes the idea more palatable for the general population. While the implementation of consociationalist and federalist systems may be necessary to ensure the protection of minorities, enhance democracy and minimize the risk of violent ethnic conflict, these techniques can often further secessionist causes. Regional autonomist groups, especially those possessing the goal of independence, are unlikely to be appeased by the devolution of competences, no matter how significant. (Horowitz, 1985 p. 624).Some political scientists argue that the state can inhibit secessionist tendencies by involving all political actors, not just those amenable to the status quo, at the national level, allowing them to “acquire a collective responsibility for the common good of that state" (Bauböck, 2001 p. 379).
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Factors in Secessionism
The impact of economic differentiation is, according to many scholars, one of the most influential political issues. Sorens explains the appeal of secessionist groups from an instrumentalist perspective, noting the influence of socio-economic factors rather than a larger identity. Secessionist parties in advanced democracies succeed not because they appeal to a primordial past but because they are able to present independence or wideranging autonomy as beneficial in political and economic terms. 2005 p. 307. In this context, ethnic identity may serve as a rallying point, a symbol of difference, but is not the primary motivating factor. According to Horowitz, secessionist regions, while not exclusively, are more likely to be those which face a lower level of regional economic development and prosperity. Those prosperous groups in prosperous regions (like the Flemings in Flanders) which depart from the norm are likely to do so because they have a regional economic grievance. He writes, "Advanced regions usually generate more income and contribute more revenue to the treasury of the undivided state than they receive. They believe that they are subsidizing poorer regions." He cites the Basques and Catalans, which at the time of his writing had far greater per capita incomes than Spain as a whole. The Basque protest song of the period somewhat graphically referred to Spain as "a cow with its muzzle in the Basque country and its udder in Madrid," a slogan that industrious Flemings might soon adopt. (1985 p. 249-50). In cases such as this, Horowitz encourages states to do something that may seem counterproductive, devolve further, allowing the region to tax and spend within its territory, thus taking responsibility for its economic success or failure.
Secessionism as a Political Tool
Secessionism remains an important political issue, but in practice is rare as citizens are reluctant to risk the possible political and economic consequences. Kymlicka points out, that despite these demands and the democratic participation of secessionist parties in the west, these parties have “never received a democratic mandate for secession, and no referendum on secession has succeeded” (2001 p. 116). - 43 -
This statistic may indicate the use of secessionism as a bargaining chip to push for greater devolution. “While secession often leads to civil war, the threat of secession may be an effective if risky strategy leading to increased autonomy” (Helms, McBeath 1983 p. 26). It may also be that calls originate from within radical groups, such as Flanders Vlaam Belang, and while they are vocal, they do not necessarily represent the wishes of the population, who is satisfied by the rights accorded by a federalist system.
Secessionism: European Trends and Influences
European integration has served to both inhibit and enable secessionist demands in member states. Secessionist movements in advanced economies are often thwarted by the fact that this prosperity may depend on integration within the greater economic entity which supplies infrastructure, labor and consumers for its products. The argument that the division of a state into independent parts would create economically and politically untenable microstates have been undermined by several factors: the presence of very small states within the Union, the reduced necessity for a nation within a united Europe to maintain significant military forces, and economic integration which fosters transborder trade. This would reduce the cost of independence for both parties, by “preserving market access and factor mobility” and allowing “small states to externalize costly items, such as negotiating common standards or support for declining sectors, or maintaining a national currency" (Keating, 2001 p. 30-1). However, secessionism is unlikely to be supported by neighbors, especially in an integrated Europe within which borders are secure and a balance is maintained. In Europe, autonomy movements and secessionism are rarely supported, morally or fiscally. This tendency is derived from, I believe, from two primary factors: the delicacy of international or in this case European politics, and fears over encouraging ethnic conflict and autonomy movements in ones own state. Irredentism is virtually unthinkable, the Netherlands would be unlikely to support a movement in the Flemishspeaking part of Belgium which advocated reunification, and France, apart from some extremists, has lent little support to the small Walloon reunionist group. France would be equally reluctant to recognize a Basque or Catalan state for fear of antagonizing the Corsicans or Bretons, who have finally been placated.
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Secessionism and Minority Rights
Theorists, while supporting self-determination in theory, often reject secessionism as a viable alternative. "populist nationalism may take root, with its targeting of ethnic and other social and political minorities as scapegoats for the economic and social ills of the community" (Jenkins, Sofos 1996 p. 27). Regions are rarely homogenous and the rights of minorities within the territory must be respected, something that is especially worrisome as secessionist groups often thrive off of populist demands, leaving immigrants and minority groups at risk. The legitimacy of secession is almost always contested by some people within the seceding territory, raising questions about the size of majorities required to achieve it and the rights of minorities, who may themselves demand the right to secede, or to remain within the host state Keating, 2001 p. 28. This could lead to potentially violent conflict and one that must be accounted for when forming policy. Conclusion
Secessionism, or at least the success of groups advocating independence, is a very real risk for any multiethnic state. In states which employ power-sharing techniques such as consociationalism and federalism, it is perhaps a greater risk. Some states are reluctant to implement these means for fear of encouraging independenceoriented groups. However, they may do so at their peril. Federalism and consociationalism allows ethnic groups a voice, and may moderate their demands. A unitary state in which no concessions are made may encourage desperation and violent resistance among its minorities. Repression against these minorities is unlikely to be tolerated within an integrated Europe.
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Conclusion: Ethnic Conflict in Theory and In Practice: The Case of Belgium
Existing literature does not often anticipate the case of Belgium, focusing instead on small, subordinate minority groups. However, because of the unique historical transition of Flanders, these proofs can often be applied. Attempts to explain the actions of the government (as a separate entity ruling from above) ignores the fact that Flemings and Walloons make up the government while Catalans, Basques and Scottish, while accorded greater standing in recent years are less influential. Most theories deal with ethnic conflict arising from a disgruntled minority, like that which occurs in the Basque, Catalan and Quebec cases. These groups often form a small minority in the larger population although they are no less disruptive (they may be prone to violence or terrorist acts in response to majoritarian principles which render them voiceless), Belgium is distinctly different. Most claims for autonomy and secession come from Flanders, although Wallonia has engaged in ethnic mobilization, it is on a much smaller and more moderate scale. Flanders, while often studied in the context of minority rights and autonomy, is in fact a demographic majority in the larger Belgian state, forming 65% of the population. In addition, it is distinctly wealthier than its southern counterpart. Ethnic conflict in this case, arises not from minority status, but from several distinct factors. Flanders, with its capitalist, market-oriented system has done very well while the traditional industries of Wallonia have suffered. Flanders resents the Walloon socialist system that props up ailing industries at the expense of the federal government, whose coffers Flanders fills at a disproportionate amount. Historical memories of Francophone dominance are also often invoked, especially by Flemish nationalists. The issue of Brussels is probably the most symbolic, a francophone city, a European capital, in the heart of Flanders, the Flemish parties have attempted to prevent its suburbs from becoming increasingly francophone. Some scholars argue that Brussels, and the conflict that it represents may be the glue holding the Belgian state together. We will examine these centripetal and centrifugal forces in the following chapter.
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CHAPTER THREE THE FEDERALIZATION OF CONFLICT RELATIONS BETWEEN FLEMINGS AND WALLOONS FROM BELGIUM’S ORIGINS TO PRESENT
Introduction While both Flemish and Walloon nationalists attempt to frame the progression of Belgian history as a story of oppression and opposition, power shifts have been frequent. These shifts shaped all aspects of Belgian politics and social life, including education, the role of the church in society and even foreign policy. Belgian nationhood has coalesced only when under threat, first emerging in 1789 with the Brabant Revolution against Habsburg rule. Despite the failure of the revolution, it planted the seeds for a common identity, allowing Belgium to develop its unique nature during French and subsequent Dutch rule. Even in the heady days of independence, the nation was beset by both internal and external factors which threatened its unity. It was only through the cooperation of the two principal political groups, Liberals and Catholics and the help of powerful neighbors hoping to preserve the delicate continental balance that the Belgian state survived. However, this cooperation would not last long. Conflict and power struggles between Liberals and Catholics would shape Belgian politics in the 19th century and would eventually become imbued with ethnic and linguistic significance. The emergence of the Flemish Movement, and the eventual Walloon response, would call into question the very nature of the Belgian state. Faced by German invasion in both World Wars, Belgium would be divided by charges of collaboration and irredentism. As Flanders gained both economic and demographic strength, especially in relation to the aging industry and populace of Wallonia, the continued dominance of political life by Francophone elites seemed increasingly unwarranted. The economic disparities spurred calls for federalism as both sides hoped that increased regional autonomy would allow each to address its unique economic and social conditions as it saw fit. Despite the adoption of a devolved system in 1970, calls for increased autonomy have continued, reinforced by mainstream support for extremist movements such as the Front National and Vlaams Blok. Both politicians and the public have a tendency to attribute economic or political difficulties to the other side and the future of the Belgian state seems increasingly uncertain. - 47 -
Identity Formation under Occupation: 1750-1830
Belgium was shaped by outside influences, rather than a common ethnic or religious identity. In some ways it benefited from foreign rule, which provided both the necessary economic resources to develop infrastructure and political structures and a common threat against which to develop a national or regional identity.
Austrian Rule and the Development of Belgian Political Traditions
Because of the expense required to directly administer far-flung provinces, the Austrian regime relied upon a highly devolved political structure. From 1750, the Austrians administered their western territories through a sophisticated system of administrative, judicial and religious bureaucracy, filling positions from the ranks of local bourgeois and nobility. Like much of Europe, these bureaucratic elites were educated in the French language. (Zolberg, 1974 p. 187). Mabille explains that this experience created a tradition of regional and provincial autonomy; later attempts at centralization by either foreign or domestic powers were resisted, especially by elites eager to retain their influence. (1996 p. 20). In the public consciousness, provincial roots took precedence over any identity imposed from above as the scale of political authority in Belgium made it impossible to identify with a nation (with the institutional and territorial framework of a state), in which the principalities would belong. The principalities had their own institutions and their delimited territories. In Belgium, the principalities‟ inhabitants saw their identities as local (the town, the village) and regional (the principality) on one hand and religious on the other LeFebrve, 1997 p. 18-9. This would later present an obstacle for the future unitary state which later arose.
The Brabant Revolution- The Development of Belgian National Consciousness
In December of 1789, Belgian conservatives formed a volunteer corps and defeated their Austrian rulers at Turnhout. This victory led to a general uprising and the localities, with the exception of Luxembourg, proclaimed their independence and - 48 -
formed a Confederation of the United Belgian States. Vos describes two motivations for the revolution, arguing that on the one hand, it was mainly encouraged by “the traditional resistance to the centralization policies of the Emperor which encroached upon the privileges of the favored classes, that is the nobility and clergy” but also that a “minority of rebels sought justification for their revolt in the ideas of the Enlightenment.” (1993 p. 131). The leaders of the Brabant Revolution envisaged a highly decentralized Belgian state in which the sovereignty of each province was guaranteed and the central government had competences over only those aspects of life related to national interests, allowing the fiercely independent provinces to cooperate and coexist while facilitating some coalescence of national identities. (Manhés, 2005 p. 95). In fact, this fledgling state had a system remarkably similar to that of today. However, the movement was undermined by disputes amongst its leaders, the ranks of whom included traditionalists and those admirers of the revolutionary French system. (LeFebrve, 1997 p. 22-3). As each vied for political power and influence, Belgium returned under Austrian control after just one year of independence. Perhaps the most important aspect of this aborted independence was the developing Belgian national identity, described by Vos as consisting of three elements, restoration, the creation of national symbols, including a the flag, leadership and a uniquely Belgian history, and the religious sentiment, predominantly Catholic, of the revolution. The failure of the revolution drove some Belgian patriots towards France, the government of which had originally adopted a policy oriented towards the creation of independent but amicable republics on its frontiers. (Manhés, 2005, p. 96). While this policy would quickly change from one of cooperation to one of occupation, the language, culture and administration of France would have a profound impact on the fledgling Belgian state.
Belgium under Revolutionary France
At first France advocated the incorporation of Belgium into the ideal Republic, bound by common values and ideals. However, in 1795, the increasingly extremist French regime voted to annex the Belgian territory and began imposing revolutionary ideals upon the conservative Belgian society, including secularization and francification of society. Despite these hardships, the annexation by France and improvement in - 49 -
infrastructure gave Belgian merchants, who had benefited from the investment and improved standard of living during Austrian rule, access to a greater market, actually spurring Belgium‟s precocious industrial revolution. (LeFebrve, 1997 p. 24). Despite France‟s rhetoric of self-determination, the country was treated as occupied territory, rather than as an integral part of the Republic, burdened by high taxes and requisitions (Bitsch, 2004 p. 64). They also advocated centralization, something completely contrary to the provinces which had experienced a remarkable degree of autonomy under the Austrian empire. The repercussions of France‟s harsh assimilation policies are still present in modern Belgium. The territory under Austrian rule had a linguistically heterogeneous population, with the general population speaking Walloon or Flemish, while their rulers spoke French. This led to a division of Belgian society by class lines, with elites, anxious to retain their power, employing French while the rest of the population spoke their regional dialects. (LeFebvre, 1997 p. 26). This spurred regional differentiation as well, as the Walloon region, with its raw materials and developed infrastructure could actually benefit from the French occupation, while the largely agrarian and inherently traditional Flanders could not. While the inhabitants of the Belgian provinces were legally equal citizens of the French republic, the reality was often far different. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 65). The imposition of secular policies “reinforced the Flemish community consciousness against the French, already associated with centuries of wars and attempts at annexation” (LeFebvre, 1997 p. 27). Linguistic policies also spurred a reaction by the Flemishspeaking segments of the population, who perceived the imposition of the French language by the Republic as “an attack on their cultural, linguistic and religious identities” (LeFebvre, 1997 p. 26). In Wallonia, the transition was eased, owing to the fact the fact that the upper and middle classes already spoke French. However, the workers of Wallonia faced harsh conditions and were subject to draft into Napoleon‟s army which in fact served as a form of francification, exposing them to the French language and culture. (LeFebvre, 1997 p. 34). Despite attempts at resistance, by 1814, when the Netherlands took control of Belgian territory, French was the common language of Belgian elites, regardless of their sphere of social activity and region of origin or of residence; it was also, therefore the language of upward mobility. The French occupation had several important consequences for the Belgian territory including the integration of Liege into the rest of - 50 -
the Southern Netherlands, the centralization of once fiercely independent provinces and the birth of an assimilated Francophone bourgeoisie which took its place alongside the traditionally French-speaking noble classes. (Vos, 1993 p. 132). The new occupiers would have difficulty combating these trends.
Belgium under the Netherlands
In 1814 an agreement was signed in London detailing the amalgamation of the Southern Netherland Territories with the Northern, affirming the principle of “one state, two countries.” Fitzgerald describes the new state, undertaken with little consideration of the views of Belgium‟s populace, as a “buffer between France and Prussia as part of the 'reconstruction' of Europe undertaken by the Congress of Vienna” (1996 p. 21). Belgium‟s status was vastly improved from its experience under French rule as the region rivaled Holland in population, had increased visibility and saw Brussels regain its status as a capital. Despite these advantages, Belgian nobles voted largely against the union with Holland, reflecting the influence of the Catholic Church which feared the rule of a Calvinist king. Notwithstanding these overwhelming objections, the agreement went forward, a result of what satirists called “Dutch Arithmetic.” (Manhés, 2005 p. 102). Like under French rule, the approach towards the Dutch occupiers was dictated more by social class and the desire to retain social standing than regional or ethnic affiliations. William the First adopted a policy designed to disengage Belgians from French language and culture. In 1823, Dutch became the official language of administration and justice in the Flemish region and Brussels and planned to apply this policy to Wallonia. (Zolberg, 1974 p. 188).The Dutch were aware that this policy went against wellestablished trends and would be met with considerable resistance. It was rejected by the bourgeois of both regions who by now spoke almost exclusively French, the language which was once and would be again connected with social mobility. William‟s policy waged against the clergy also undermined further identification of the largely Catholic Flemish with the Dutch. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 71). The Dutch rule did serve an unintended purpose, increasing awareness of Flemish culture, formed in contrast to Dutch and French traditions. Dutch rule led to a greater acceptance of Flemish culture, revealing to the middle class a “hitherto almost unsuspected, or actively repressed, existence of a modern literary and scientific culture - 51 -
in a standardized language almost identical to what was regarded as a mere “dialect” in Belgium” (Zolberg, 1974 p. 191). This segment of society formed the core of the Flemish intellectual class which would later be influential after independence. Despite a shared history the incorporation of the Southern Netherlands into a United Kingdom of the Netherlands failed. Fueled by revolutionary and romantic ideals and deeply dissatisfied with the policies of King William I, both liberals and young Catholics, especially from Flanders joined forces. The movement against Dutch rule began in Liege and quickly spread to larger cities throughout Belgium, fomented antiDutch sentiment and advocated greater liberties. Shortly before the revolution, the Dutch administration began repressing dissidents. Bitsch writes that Fourteen years of common life had actually enlarged the gulf that separated Belgians from Dutch and the King William the First. This period permitted the crystallization of a national Belgian sentiment which had been developing for some time and which took a distinctly anti-Dutch tone 2004 p. 72. These issues would culminate in the revolt of 1830 which would grant the Belgian state its independence.
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State-Formation from Above Belgian Independence and the Development of the State
Impetus for Revolution
The economic prosperity that Belgium experienced had no effect in calming demands for autonomy and even independence. Periods of economic downturn would naturally turn revolutionary. The failure of the Dutch administration to identify with the people combined with an economic crisis that let to immigration and unemployment would give the movement popular support. Many Francophones were also inspired by news of France‟s July Revolution. A rapprochement that occurred in the 1820s between liberals and increasingly progressive Catholics allowed the revolution to generate popular support.
The Revolution In Brussels on August 25th 1830, a theatre production ignited patriotic fervor when it showed the fight of Napolitans against their Spanish oppressors. Demonstrations followed during which the Branbacon flag was flown. A group of bourgeois, faced with increasing disorder, formed a citizen‟s army which restored order to the streets. The nobility advocated a dual administration under which Belgium would have a high degree of autonomy. In the very beginning, the movement was led primarily by Walloons, as the Church, highly influential in Flanders, distrusted a revolution inspired in part by that of France, which it viewed as anticlerical and dangerous. However, antiDutch activities eventually spread, with the Church seizing the chance to free itself from the Protestant Netherlands and gain influence in the new Belgian state. Citizens, deserters from the army and the French all joined in the effort to expel Dutch troops from Belgian territory. Militarily, Belgium did not have the strength to hold off Dutch troops indefinitely; however, its timing was fortuitous. It benefited from a unique combination of internal and external factors, including foreign support for Belgian independence and the promise increased liberties and exercise of powers. LeFebrve describes the period in which “Europe‟s smaller lands briefly profited from the failure of leadership once vested in that continent‟s larger national units” (1997 p. 5). The fledgling Belgian state - 53 -
benefited from the distractions of other European powers. While Prussia and Russia were initially willing to intervene in favor of the House of Orange, Louis-Phillipe abstained, as the French public supported Belgian independence. Prussia, faced with an uprising in its Polish territories, also abstained. Belgium found support for its quest for independence among the English who wanted to establish a state capable of defending itself on France‟s northern frontiers. (Manhés, 2005 p. 101). England negotiated the treaties which led to the recognition of Belgium by the great powers and helped defend it against Dutch revanchisme. The nature of political leadership was also important, and resulted in a union of the young generation from across the political spectrum, "the first generation of Catholics who no longer wished for the restoration of the Ancien Regime and the first generation of liberals who no longer feared this restoration" (Mabille, 1996 p. 23). The movement found its greatest support among the popular and middle classes of Brussels, and in other Walloon towns, joined later by rural elements and the Flemish provinces.
The Formation of the Belgian State and Language Policy Belgium‟s first constitution was highly progressive, allowing freedom of religion, education, association and the press. It also allowed, in Article 23, for the freedom of linguistic usage. However, this was more relevant in theory than practice as the political class believed that a cohesive Belgian state would not be possible unless French was the only official language. (Zolberg, 1974 p. 191). Although Belgium was linguistically heterogeneous, most of its inhabitants lived in linguistically homogenous regions. A majority of those in the north of the country spoke a dialect of Flemish. This formed a majority, about 60% of the Belgian population, however these dialects had yet to be standardized. Those in the south spoke Walloon or Picard while only a small, urban, industrial minority used standard French as its primary means of communication. Francophones were not necessarily of Walloon origin; a large segment consisted of Flemings who had adopted French as a means of social mobility. Those who spoke French were the upper stratum of society, forming the political class which shaped the Belgian state. (Zolberg, 1974 p. 182-3). However, the status of French, Flemish and Walloon languages was not determined without debate, and historians differ on the motivations for the choice of French.
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Vos attributes the adoption of French as the single national language to three factors; including the belief that a one-language policy was critical for a stable state, the conviction of the cultural superiority of the French language to that of the vernacular Flemish or Walloon dialects, and the feeling that national identity could not form around the language of the most recent overlord. (1993 p. 133). However, Alain Deickhoff views the motivations in a slightly different light, arguing that Belgium was largely a product of elite and bourgeois elements, with little input from the lower classes. He explains the primary considerations as the traditional usage of French as the language of central administration, its cultural and ideological prestige as the language of freedom and progress, its usage, in both Wallonia and Flanders, by the bourgeois However, Dieckhoff also recognized the role of language in the formation of a national consciousness. (1996 p. 10).
Resistance from Within: Orangists and Reunionists
Although inhabitants of Belgian territory were generally in favor of independence, there were some sources of dissent, advocating either union with the French state or with the Low Countries. In Belgium, Orangists and Reunionists adopted similar arguments in favor of reunion with the Netherlands and France respectively, arguing that an independent Belgian state was not economically viable. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 86). Orangists, who promoted the maintenance of ties with the Low Countries were present among the industrialists of both the north and the south largely abstained from the election of national representatives, effectively eliminating themselves from the political dialogue. Notably, the Orangists were not Flemish nationalists but were Francophone who feared “the negative economic consequences of separation and the dominant position which the Catholic Church was likely to achieve in an independent Belgium” They disappeared completely with the international recognition of the Belgian state in 1839. There was also a pro-French contingent, largely comprised of those who had come of age during the French occupation. This group was more active than the Orangists and the first acts of the national congress often reveal a pro-French bias. (Mabille, 1996 p. 25-6).
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Choosing a King Belgium‟s progressive political leadership seemed to make a strange choice when it advocated the formation of a parliamentary monarchy to rule Belgium. However, they believed that a king would enhance the fledgling state‟s status on the international stage and would provide a figure around which Belgian identity could coalesce. The choice of a king was a difficult one, as a member of the House of Orange with which Belgium was engaged in conflict until 1838, could obviously not be selected. The Belgian parliament was originally closely tied to France, with many members advocating the Duke of Nemours, a choice others feared would merely be a prelude to annexation by their powerful neighbor. Finally, Leopold de Saxe-CoburgGotha was asked to become monarch. Linked through marriage with the British royal family, Leopold I was a cunning statesman and competent to lead the military, a trait which would serve him well as the Belgian state was attacked by the Netherlands shortly after his inauguration. This foray was halted by Belgian and French troops and the resulting stalemate forced an acceptance of the Belgian state, with some territorial concessions on the part of Belgium in 1838. When independence was recognized by the international order, the process of state-building could begin. Fitzgerald describes the new state as coming into existence “both as a reaction against its arbitrary fate resulting from historical accident and the machinations of the great powers, and at the same time as the direct result of those very machinations” (1996 p. 6).
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The Rise of Nationalism and Regional Differentiation
The End of Unionism
Unionism, the alliance between liberals and Catholics through which Belgium came into being, was necessary until the recognition of Belgian independence by the Netherlands in 1839. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 108). However, this alliance would not survive without the presence of a common external threat. Several scholars date the death of unionism to 1847, although its decline was evident as early as 1840. (Fitzgerald, 1996 p. 26). Belgium, considered by some as an artificial state, did not have a normal period of reprieve after independence, but was beset by severe cleavages that would shape the state. The primary issues as identified by Mabille were centralization, secularization and industrialization; language policy would later be added to this list of contentious issues. Often these issues took on a regional dimension and remain important factors in today‟s politics.
Belgium: A Secular State?
The role of the church immediately became a point of contention, with the primary parties having different conceptions of the role of the church in education and social services. This debate was waged between clerical parties and liberals, who were often militantly anti-clerical. The main battle took place over education; liberals felt that the establishment of Catholic universities and primary schools represented a dangerous monopoly. Attempts to moderate the influence of the Church in public education met strong resistance from Catholics. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 112). A regional dimension became evident, as Wallonia, highly influenced by secular French ideals, resisted the Catholic monopoly and more traditional Flanders resented attacks on the Church. These issues first emerged in the early days of the Belgian state and reemerged with a vengeance after World War II. (Mabille, 1996 p. 30).
The Debate over Industrialization and Economic Development
At the end of the 1840s, Belgium faced a severe economic crisis, especially in Flanders whose domestic textile industry was destroyed by the mechanization of the - 57 -
trade. This, combined with poor harvests, led to famine, disease, emigration and most importantly, increasing levels of social and political discontent. The economic expansion which took place in Belgium and much of Western Europe from 1850 to 1873 was unique, marked by a dramatic regional disequilibrium. Wallonia profited while Flanders still reeled from the destruction of its traditional textile industries.
The Birth of the Flemish Movement
Shortly after independence, the Flemish population confronted a severe regional economic imbalance, a perceived foreign policy overtly oriented towards France and the dominance of French-speaking elites to the exclusion of the Flemish. At its origin, the Flemish movement was not anti-Belgian, nor did it advocate federalism or autonomy. Its raison d’être was simply to improve the status of the Flemish language within the Belgian state and was seen by many as a response against the francification of the Belgian state and population. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 120). Although the Flemish language did not face outright persecution, its inferior status hindered social mobility among Flemish speaking citizens and served to solidify a monopoly on power of Francophones. Walloon elites often adopted a paternalistic attitude towards their Flemish counterparts. Their relative social and economic underdevelopment was attributed to use of a provincial dialect and the adoption of French was believed to be the means of economic development. Several scholars argue that the movement, as it developed, aimed to "fortify the independence of the Kingdom by the rejection of French influence, promoting a national tradition in fact anti-French and anti-Dutch" (Wils, 1996 p. 52; Vos 1993 p. 134). It was highly influenced by the literary world, many of whom wrote in French to reach a wider audience while promoting the standardization of the language, adopting Dutch spelling and grammar. In 1840, the movement launched a petition demanding bilingualism in the Flemish provinces which received 13,000 signatures. This movement generated support from wide segments of society p. the clergy, which saw the French language as a vessel for anti-clericalism and impiety, the creative world which was heavily influenced by Romantic ideals and especially by the Flemish middle class who confronted a glass ceiling in the social sphere as a result of a French-leaning administration and the advanced economic development of Wallonia.
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Despite this action and the fact that a majority of Belgium‟s citizens spoke Flemish, their demands were largely ignored. Their ranks swelled in the 1840s, when Flanders was hit by a severe economic crisis. Flemish disillusionment increased, bolstered by the region‟s economy which grew in the late nineteenth century and suffrage movements which made the political spectrum more accessible to the general population. Both the Flemish Movement and that of Wallonia which arose as a response to Flemish demands emerged outside the party structure, although party affiliations are evident from the early days, reflecting different traditions and interests. Walloons had a tendency to align with liberals and socialists while the majority of Flemings supported the religious-based parties.
The Rise of the Party System
The need for unity and the influential role of King Leopold I are, according to Yves Manhés , the elements which prevented the immediate development of political parties. It was not until 1846 that the Liberal Party was created, heavily influenced by freemason and anticlerical thought. Until the formation of their rightist counterpart in 1884, they held a monopoly on power, despite a return to unionism in the 1850s and Catholic government in the 1870s. The party‟s anticlerical stance pushed Catholics to form their own party. In the late 1870s and 1880s, socialist currents in the form of workers parties began to develop, bringing Flemish and Walloon organizations under the umbrella of the Belgian Workers Party.
The Walloon Movement
The Walloon Movement did not spring from deep-seated cultural identifications or political discrimination but was in fact, a reaction against the Flemish movement, with practical demands. The Movement rejected the proposed introduction of bilingualism in Wallonia and monolingualism in Flanders where many French-speakers had found lucrative careers. The movement was first supported by the liberals and socialists who distrusted the Flemish Movement‟s close ties with Catholicism. This actually served to reinforce Flemish identification with clerical movements. (Vos, 1993 p. 137).
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Attempts to Reform the System
In 1856, the Belgian government created an official Commission of Grievances which in 1859 published a report addressing linguistic issues in Belgium. It advocated general bilingualism in Flemish areas and French-unilingualism in French-speaking areas. (Vos, 1993 p. 134). However, this did not solve the underlying problem faced by Flemish nationalists. If French was to remain the dominant language in education, administration and industry, the trend of francification would continue, as the middle classes saw the French language as key to social mobility. Francophones argued against reforms, which would pose a threat to the current linguistic monopoly and oust exclusively French speakers from leadership positions in Flanders. Small changes were enacted to appease the movement, including the introduction of subsidies for Flemish literature. However, this was not sufficient and the Flemish movement organized with the realization that their demands were unlikely to be met without concentrated action. In the 1870s, Flemish politicians pushed through several laws regarding linguistic issues. This was a result of several shocking cases in which unilingual Flemish-speakers faced legal action in a language they did not understand resulting in severe punishments, including the death penalty. In 1873, a law was passed regarding language usage in the courts, 1878, in the administration and 1883, in official secondary education. However, these laws did not imply the implementation of bilingual policies but applied only to unilingual Flemish speakers. (Vos, 1993 p. 135). It was only in the 1880s and 1890s that the first bilingual policies were passed, which dealt with monetary policy, postage stamps and the official newspaper. In 1898, Flemish efforts were noted with the recognition of the equality of French and Dutch, however symbolic.
Politicization of the Flemish Movement
The Flemish movement evolved in the second half of the nineteenth century, shifting its focus from linguistic and literary identity to linguistic equality and bilingualism. “It was under no illusions that Dutch-speakers in Belgium would have to be bilingual if they were to play a role in public life. Yet it wanted French-speaking officials in Flanders to bear at least some of the cost of bilingualism” (Vos, 1993 p. 134).
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In 1900, boosted by increased political participation, the Flemish movement expanded its political program to reflect this evolving interest from solely linguistic issues to incorporate a broader “cultural nationalism.” Vos argues that this identity was distinct from the larger Belgian identity and promoted “culture as a whole, on group solidarity and emancipation, on economic, social and educational development of the Flemish nation and on the creation of new „Flemish institutions.” (1993 p. 136-7). Within this framework, nationalists pushed for a unilingual territory and state support to enhance economic development in the region. It was within this economic context that the movement gained widespread acceptance. Flemish-speakers who were at a disadvantage vis-à-vis their French speaking counterparts became increasingly politically engaged. The Flemish movement found itself being absorbed into mainstream political parties, especially with traditionalist Catholic parties, rather than liberals who were strongly anti-clerical, anathema to Catholic Flanders. The view that the Catholic and Flemish identities were intrinsically linked became widespread. (Vos, 1993 p. 135).
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A Common Threat- A Common Hope? Belgium in the First World War
As Europe tottered towards the brink of war, Flemish politics were reaching a new level, emphasizing a national cultural revival rather than solely linguistic rights. Vos explains that this movement was not like later movements, as it remained compatible with Belgian patriotism. (1993 p. 137). Electoral reforms had expanded the vote to a greater proportion of the population, increasing support for both the Catholic party and reforms of linguistic policy. In Belgium‟s first years, politics were dominated by the Catholic and Liberal parties, who tended to undo the other‟s policies when taking office. In the 1880s, the socialist Belgian Workers Party entered the political arena, gaining particular support among the workers of highly industrialized Walloons, but little in Flanders, where they were distrusted for their supposedly anti-clerical views. One of the key issues in this period was the creation of a Flemish university. This movement gained significant support from members of all three parties, Catholic, Socialist and Liberals. In 1910, a petition was signed by 100,000 citizens. (Fitzgerald, 1996 p. 31). However, its implementation was interrupted by the tensions which led to the First World War. Albert I sought guarantees of Belgian neutrality from Germany. When he failed to do so, he began increasing the military resources of Belgium, despite strong opposition. In 1913, obligatory military service was finally passed. It was during the military occupation that Belgian nationalism and regional identities were put to the test. The Flemish movement was both strengthened and radicalized during the war due to the treatment of Flemish soldiers in the Belgian army. From 1910 to 1914, several reforms were proposed to end the unilingual nature of the armed forces. However these reforms were largely unsuccessful and those which did succeed did so only in 1913 and therefore lacked the time to be fully implemented before the outbreak of war. The German occupiers sought to undermine the Belgian state, dividing it into Walloon and Flemish administrations, and favoring the Flemish region. (Manhés, 2005 p. 138). The occupiers engaged in Flamenpolitik and pandered to nationalists by promising the long-awaited Dutch-speaking university in Ghent. During the war, a front movement developed which envisioned the postwar Belgium as a federal state with selfgovernment for the region. However, only a minority of Flemish-speakers supported the - 62 -
German occupiers, notably the Activists which formed a puppet government and advocated an administrative division of the country. (Vos, 1993 p. 137). The majority of the population remained loyal to the unified Belgian state, hoping only for reforms to increase equality among the two groups once the war ended.
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Democracy and Dissent The 1920s and 1930s
Belgium struggled to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by the German occupation, increase political participation and democratic development and cope with the nationalist and fascist forces sweeping Europe. While Belgium would quickly return to its prewar prosperity, it was highly integrated in the international system and would be vulnerable to the global economic crises of the period. King Albert, for his part, promised a new society in which national cohesion would be strengthened. While charges of collaboration on both sides seemed to threaten the very fabric of Belgian society, it served in fact, in some groups to strengthen Belgian identity as people were anxious to disassociate themselves with the extremist and collaborationist activities that took place during the Great War.
Universal male suffrage was introduced and used to determine the results of the first elections in 1919. The liberals, long accustomed to dominance, faced the greatest electoral losses. The Catholics would remain an integral part of the coalition governments during the entire interwar period. In periods of economic and social crisis, broad coalitions were formed. Despite or perhaps due to these reforms, the government coalitions were highly unstable but then, as in now, ministerial positions were often occupied by the same elites, lending consistency.
Radicalization of the Flemish Movement
Due to his participation during the war, Albert I was aware of the detrimental effect of excluding Flemish speakers and he affirmed the necessity of a bilingual army and of greater linguistic equality. (Manhés, 2005 p. 143). However, these reforms were slow in coming and Flemish proponents of linguistic equality quickly became disillusioned. The Flemish movement, which had gained strength in the prewar period, was discredited by accusations of collaboration and found itself divided. The majority of Flemings retained their prewar stances, advocating increased linguistic equality and - 64 -
cultural cohesion. Vos describes their goals as “unilingualism in Flanders and a form of cultural autonomy via a legally guaranteed replacement of French by Dutch in public life” (1993 p. 138). This goal was not incompatible with the unitary structure of the Belgian state and these moderates pushed for reforms from within the existing party system, drawn especially to the Christian Democratic Party. A radical minority supported by disillusioned soldiers and young intellectuals developed into Flemishnationalists, advocating the federalization or in some cases, the dissolution of the Belgian state, which would entail Flemish independence or incorporation into the Netherlands. However, as demands were unfulfilled, there was a gradual evolution of the Flemish movement, which “created an environment and a mental framework within which the commitment to Belgium gradually gave way to a solely Flemish-nationalist sentiment. This sentiment was to attract not only the radical political nationalists, but also the strategically moderate supporters of the language laws. “There was now a Flemish culture alongside the official and still much stronger officially bilingual Belgian culture, which in turn had assumed a slightly more Francophone character” (Vos, 1993 p. 139). This would increase the efficacy of political mobilization and differentiation. There was also an economic motivation, as the discovery of coal in Flanders further accelerated the shift in industry as these resources were exploited. Following the First World War, financial institutions and industries were centered in the Flemish cities of Brussels and Antwerp. This would empower the middle classes of Flanders and lead to a greater push for regionalization. This was viewed by ruling elites as a threat to their economic and political power and was resisted, especially by Francophones.
Greater Cohesion among Walloons
The Walloon movement capitalized on the disgrace of Fleming collaboration and distrust of the nascent Flemish identity which seemed to threaten both the Belgian state and Francophone dominance therein. Vos writes that after the end of the war everything that was Flemish was regarded as unpatriotic by French-speakers, Belgian patriots and left-wing opinion. A wave of francification engulfed the country. The language laws of the thirties were continually broken to the detriment of Dutch. At the same time the southern
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provinces saw a revival of Walloon-Belgian sentiment. This was considered perfectly compatible with respectable Belgian patriotism” 1993 p. 140. Rather than serving the interests of the state, this solidified Flemish distrust of their counterparts, emphasizing the dominance of Francophone and often overtly French interests.
Flirtation with Fascism
In June of 1936, a broad coalition was formed to lead the government. While the government did make changes, including the implementation of a 40-hour workweek, public opinion largely felt that the reforms failed to address serious political, economic and international problems. In the 1930s, both Flemish and Walloon militants were increasingly attracted by the fascist ideologies sweeping Europe. Some turned to these extremist parties, including the VNV, the Flemish National League, which emphasized the necessity of greater discipline and Flemish nationalism. Rex, based in Wallonia had the largest electoral support among the extremist groups, coming in fourth after the traditional parties. Rex rejected the capitalist nature of Belgian society and advocated a return to authority and the implementation of corporatism. The effects of these parties were compounded by a lack of unity within the Catholic union, which split along regional lines, the Flemish wing advocating Flemish nationalism and going so far as to negotiate with VNV. (Manhés, 2005 p. 147-8). The traditional political actors were forced to grapple with these new forces in a time of increasing crisis. In 1937, in order to appease the demands of the Flemish right, those who had collaborated with the German occupation were granted amnesty.
Preparing for War After the First World War, Belgian‟s politicians remained committed to neutrality, despite its obvious failure to prevent German invasion. Faced with internal turmoil but secure in its economic position, Belgium did not seek to enhance its influence on the international stage, with the exception of its limited colonial activities in Africa. It was not until the 1930s that the geographically vulnerable state began to view Hitler‟s Germany as a threat. Leopold III attempted to develop a new security - 66 -
policy, one of mains libres.. By this point, the threat of fascist Germany was becoming increasingly real, and this policy was endorsed by a once resistant government coalition. However, the policy which entailed closer relations with France was cited by Flemish nationalists as further evidence of Walloon dominance, a dominance which would put the country in opposition to one of its powerful neighbors. (Manhés, 2005 p. 150). The lack of time coupled with the absence of strong internal support for militarization, Belgium was ill-prepared to defend itself. Despite courageous efforts, was quickly overrun and placed under German military occupation.
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World War II: Collaboration and Resistance
King Leopold III, following the example of his father in the first conflict, refused to evacuate in face of the German army despite the objections of the government-inexile which had relocated first to France and then to London. He hoped to protect the country and negotiate safety for Belgian prisoners of war. Objections to and support for this act would divide the country immediately following the war and lead to his abdication. While a common threat can often promote greater unity and cohesion in a state, for Belgium, the German invasion and occupation only served to augment ethnic conflict. The Walloon Rexists entered into the Nazi camp with their leader affirming the German character of the nation and advocating its annexation. (Bitsch, 2005 p. 155). Initially, Flemish nationalists collaborated with the Reich, in hopes of gaining independence with the support of the powerful Germany. Germany once again engaged in Flamenpolitik, supported by the VNV and De Vlag which pushed for annexation of Flanders into the Reich and negotiated the release of Flemish prisoners. Both Walloons and Flemings were subjected to forced labor and deportation of large segments of the population, which quickly lead to disillusionment with the fascist cause. The majority of the collaborationists quickly realized that Flemish independence was not part of Hitler‟s grand vision for a postwar Europe and renounced the fascist collaboration and adopted a pro-Belgian, anti-federalist stance. This change would come too late, as Walloons would not easily forgive this betrayal, while conveniently forgetting the actions of the Rexists. They perceived fascist leanings as characteristic of both the Catholic Flemings and King Albert. As a result some advocated an independent republic of Wallonia or absorption of the region into France. One of the most significant political developments was a Walloon Catholic party which would foster a greater sense of ethnic identity. Mabille writes that the war and politics of occupation gave birth to a Walloon national conscience that would only accept Belgium “under certain conditions” (1996 p. 73). The war would force a dramatic change in Belgian politics.
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Crisis and Change: 1945 to 1950s:
Belgium was both economically and politically damaged by World War II, having split definitively into factions, with anger and recriminations on both sides. The Walloons emerged from the war radicalized, demanding a federal state, on equal terms with the Flemish nationalists who were by now tainted by their flirtations with the Nazi regime and weakened by charges of collaboration. Although Francophones had long dominated Belgian society, they feared that acquiescence to Flemish demands compounded with demographic and economic shifts would leave them vulnerable to majority rule. Fortunately, Belgium was able to regain its economic prosperity quickly, enhanced by cooperation between all social elements, employers were pleased with state supports, workers and unions benefited from reforms enhancing their stability and positions. However, this growth took on a regional character, with the majority of new investment going to Flanders rather than Walloon industries which were struggling even before the war. These issues quickly culminated in a crisis, manifesting in a bitter dispute divided largely along linguistic lines over the fate of Belgium‟s monarch.
The Question of the King
While previous kings were viewed as a symbol of unity, the question of the fate of King Leopold III catalyzed the Belgian public. Leopold remained in Belgium and negotiated with Hitler over the fate of Belgian soldiers taken prisoner by the German army. He was taken to Austria and liberated by American troops but his status remained unclear, polarizing public opinion. The Catholics, overwhelmingly Flemings, supported his actions and advocated his return to power while non-Catholics disputed his right to rule. In 1950, a referendum was held to decide his fate and the results showed the stark divide between Flanders and Wallonia, with Flanders voting 72 percent in favor of his return to power, in Wallonia he received 42 percent in favor and fared minimally better in Brussels, receiving 48 percent of the vote. Despite receiving a total of 58 percent in favor, rioting erupted over his return, resulting in three deaths. As a result, the king abdicated in favor of his son Baudouin. (Manhés, 2005 p. 163). Catholics in Flanders viewed this as an affront to their pride and yet another instance in which the majority of - 69 -
Flemish voices were overruled by a Francophone minority. This, according to Louis Vos, combined with the persecution of former Flemish-nationalist collaborators, strengthened, their sense of Flemish identity. (Vos, 1993 p. 140).
The Ramifications of Collaboration
While the majority of the population remained loyal to the Belgian state, collaboration with the Nazi occupiers did occur in both the Flemish and Francophone communities. The judicial system dealt first with those guilty of baring arms against the Belgian state, which included those individuals, armed or not, who were at the service of the German army or its auxiliary branches, including the SS. This also applied to women and children who had worked with the German division of the Red Cross. Political cooperation was more ambiguous and those prosecuted included journalists for the German paper and members of those supported by the Reich. The courts adopted a different approach from that imposed after the First World War, realizing that economic contacts were inevitable, and even beneficial, and therefore not punished. (Manhés, 2005 p. 159). However, the charges of political collaboration fell largely on Flanders and the Flemish were considered pro-German because of the nature of Flemish nationalism. The repression of both collaborators and the Flemish movement themselves was considered by many to be a contributing factor the rise of a new breed of Flemish nationalism. Vos writes that “the punishment caused dissatisfaction among large sections of the Flemish people who felt that many idealists were punished simply because of their Flemish sympathies” (1993 p. 139). The Flemish movement was now considered tainted by its fascist affiliations. Instead of breaking the Flemish movement, Flemish organizations experienced an increased mobilization of the Flemish movement within cultural parties and parliamentary initiatives. The revitalization was fostered by Catholic educational and social organizations.
The School Crisis
The question of secular versus religious education had always been a factor in Belgian politics. Opinion was drastically different between Catholics, who had a long - 70 -
established system of education, liberals and socialists. In the tumultuous years shortly following the war, Christian Democrats had increased state funding of religious schools and, according to the opposition, increased the role of the Catholic Church in state affairs. (Manhés, 2005 p. 163). When a coalition of socialists and liberals came to power in 1954, they attempted to implement major changes, reducing and restricting financial aid to religious institutions. (Vos, 1993 p. 141). In 1955, legislation was proposed that would increase control over the educational system and limit funding to those areas in need of it. This action resulted in massive protests in Brussels and forced the proponents to retreat. In 1958, the question was resolved with the School Pact, a result of cooperation of all major parties, recognizing the freedom of school choice and free education at all levels. However, the fallout from this battle would persist, in particular, strengthening Flemish Catholic identity, especially among the younger generations. The issues of collaboration, the monarchy and educational policy dominated the postwar political scene. However, as these contentious issues were resolved, emphasis returned to linguistic and regional policy which had yet to be resolved.
The Return of Regional Movements
While the Walloon movement gained support in the aftermath of the war, the Flemish movement was slow to develop, due to charges of collaboration and disorganization. In 1945, at the first Walloon Congress held in Liège the first votes were shocking, with the majority of participants voting for the dissolution of the Belgian state and the reattachment of the region to France. A second vote found this view to be reactionary, and the majority of voters advocated a division of Belgium into linguistic communities while maintaining the existence of the larger Belgian state. It was not until 1947 that the Flemish reorganized under the auspices of the Algemeen Vlaams Komitee, incorporating the cultural organizations that existed before the war. It is notable that candidates in favor of autonomy were not present in this organization until 1949. (Manhés, 2005 p. 152). These organizations and political parties perpetuating autonomist and federalist demands would become very important in the next decade.
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Economic Boom, Economic Bust: The Shift of Economic Power to Flanders
The 1960s were a turning point in Belgian history, characterized by dramatic shifts in the balance of economic and demographic power, a strengthened Flemish movement and a concentrated Walloon defense. After the war, the more moderate wing of the Flemish movement reinvigorated itself, adopting the ideology of the Christian workers. Advocating economic regionalism, Flanders sought to address its relative economic underdevelopment with a series of policies, including educational initiatives, which served to strengthen Flemish as the language of enterprise. Its growing economic power helped it push through these reforms and increased its assertiveness. (Keating, et al 2003 p. 75).The Walloons on the other hand faced economic and demographic stagnation rather than underdevelopment and reacted out of fear rather than confidence. Political parties formed to represent these disparate and often opposing interests.
Growth of Regional Parties and the Strengthening of the Walloon Movement
The parties designed to represent regional rather than ideological interests had their strongest electoral showing in the late 1960s and 1970s. While support ebbed in the late 1970s, regional parties had clearly become a permanent feature in the Belgian political scene, vital in forming necessary majorities for reforms. (Fitzgerald, 1996 p. 125). They also served to force traditional Belgian parties, including the Socialists and Christian Democrats, to incorporate regionalist rhetoric into their party platforms to retain dwindling electoral support. Dissatisfaction with the economic situation in Wallonia led to increasing strikes in the 1960s. The bitter strikes of 1960-1, a result of severe decline in the aging industries of the south, led to greater unity among the Walloon movement. (Fitzgerald, 1996 p. 125). Eventually these organizations entered into the party system, with the Parti Wallon which formed in 1965 and the Rassemblement Walloon which followed. These parties sought federal reform and revitalized the Walloon national movement. They were supported by workers who felt that a regional government, which was likely to favor socialist policies and state intervention, could better address the extreme - 72 -
structural problems which faced the region. By nature, the Walloon Movement was ideologically left-wing and contrasted with its Flemish counterpart, which is inherently rightist, emphasizing the preservation of culture and a common national identity.
Attempts at Reform
The need for a serious reform became increasingly evident in the 1960s. While both Dutch and Walloons agreed on the need, the means were the subject of intense debate. The Flemish advocated devolution of powers to language communities, which were viewed as cultural institutions while Walloons defended economic autonomy for the southern region, powers necessary to address the economic decline that had beset the once prosperous region, Brussels wanted to retain its Francophone nature. (Keating, et al. 2003 p. 77). In the early 1960s, the government led by Lefevre and Spaak finally sanctioned the principle of unilingualism in Flanders and Wallonia, with a bilingual Brussels. As part of these reforms, the institutions addressing issues of culture and education were divided along linguistic lines and legislation was passed dealing with language policy. In 1962, a new linguistic frontier was drawn with four Flemish provinces, four Francophone provinces and the division of Brabant in accordance with linguistic distribution. These lines were fixed, as linguistic questions on the census were disallowed at this point. (Manhés, 2005 p. 173). These reforms represented a fulfillment of traditional demands, but a whole new slate had emerged in the postwar period, including the demand for cultural and political autonomy for linguistic communities.
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The Failure of Accommodation and the End of the Unitary stateThe 1970s
In the 1960s, a unilingual territory was finally realized in Flanders. The 1960s saw the emergence of a class of Flemish politicians who had been educated entirely in Dutch-speaking schools and/or universities and who were thus more vocal in demanding a strict observance of the language laws. (Swenden, 2003 p. 3). These political elite often adopted the nationalistic rhetoric that would be key to mobilizing voters and forcing change among traditional parties. Their discontent with the status quo manifested itself in Leuven, when Flemish nationalists that demanded that the French speaking portion of the Catholic University be relocated to Walloon territory. After strikes and violence, these demands were met, but like all attempts, they only perpetuated further strife, as anti-Flemish sentiment developed in Wallonia and Brussels. As a result of these tensions, both Walloon and Flemish nationalist parties gained at the ballot box. To meet these demands, the government sought structural solutions, including constitutional reform in 1970 which created cultural councils and regional authorities, divesting competences over cultural affairs and economic development respectively to these institutions. This reform and its impact will be analyzed further in chapter four. The unitary structure was no longer effective in the management of regional demands and had to be replaced. While the need was evident, the means were subject to intense debate.
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Towards a Federalist Belgium, the 1980's
In the early 1980s institutional reform was put on hold in order to deal with economic problems besetting the country. However, the intended reforms could not be delayed for long. Flanders had become more assertive, approaching the matter as a “powerful national entity.” The merger of the linguistic community and regional government allowed it a greater range of maneuver than that of the Francophone community and the Walloon region, which did not possess this degree of administrative and territorial continuity, as they encompassed both the German community and ever contentious Brussels. (Manhés, 2005 p. 176).Wallonia also suffered for its constant emphasis on economic issues and a lack of strong national consciousness.
A Stronger Cultural Council and Regional Governments
The regional governments were also formed, realizing the goals of the 1970 reforms. The regional council would eventually be directly elected, and the number of members would be proportional to the number of deputies at the national level. Competences were divided between the state and the region. Regional economic policy was perhaps the most important, as Wallonia struggled to invest in and subsidize its ailing industries while Flanders adopted more market oriented policies. The regions were financed by allocations from the state although taxation was envisaged. From 1988 to 1989, constitutional reforms were enacted allowing the expansion of regional powers and adding additional institutions. In 1990, these fledgling institutions were put to the test when the Francophone community failed to meet its financial responsibilities in its education system and relied on the national government for handouts. Manhés writes that “in economic fields, the fracture between Flemings and Walloons led to fears of the existence of a collective will to live” (2005 p. 177). Wallonia feared Flanders‟ economic dominance while Flanders resented subsidizing failing industries in the south. These points of contention contributed to the rejection of governmental actors in favor of regional rightist parties in the elections of 1991.
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Belgium 1993: The End or the Beginning?
The government which took power in 1992 began a new round of constitutional reforms, which included an additional transfer of competences to the communities and direct elections to community institutions. It affirmed the federal nature of the system in the first article of this constitution and ended the special status of the Brabant region, which was previously bilingual, dividing it between the regions. This was meant to solve the regional conflicts which had divided the country for so long. Walloons, allowed the power to manage their economic affairs, were content to stop here. However the Flemish demands continued, aided by the persistence of the extreme right.
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Conclusion Belgium‟s “final” federalization would only last for 2002 and throughout this period, strife between the two main ethnic groups would continue. The extreme right, while losing some electoral support, remains an important factor in Belgian politics, especially within Flanders. Although parties such as Vlaams Belang and Front National focus on issues such as immigration and economic policy, their party platforms remain antagonistic to the Belgian state. The balance of power between Flanders and Wallonia has shifted dramatically from the early period of French dominance. The movements representing regional interests have evolved also, the Flemish Movement began a small, marginalized group struggling for linguistic recognition, to the main force of Belgian politics, while Wallonia lost its historic dominance and was prodded towards a federal state by its Flemish counterparts. One is unable to predict the future. The large majority of demands have been met, with a high degree of competences divested to the communities, yet demands continue and the devolution of the state will eventually reach its limits.
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CHAPTER FOUR ENTRENCHING ETHNIC CONFLICT: BELGIUM’S MOVE TOWARDS FEDERALISM AND ITS IMPACT
The unitary state with its laws, structures and functions has been outmoded by reality. The communities and regions must take their place in the renovated structures of the states, better adapted to the country’s specific situations Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens
Introduction Belgium‟s move towards federalism was a slow process, pushed forward only under intense pressure. The first challenge to the unitary state came more than a century after its foundation, when a meeting of Francophone leaders in 1945 voted in favor of an autonomous Wallonia in a federal Belgium, a move largely in response to the Belgian experience in World War II and the already evident decline in economic productivity in Wallonia. However, the leaders quickly retreated from this position and the federalist mantra was then adopted by the Flemish nationalists that emerged in the 1950s. "Ethnic demands and conflict management strategies were initially non-territorial, but increasingly acquired a territorial aspect" (Hooghe, 2003 p. 73). Despite rising calls for federalization, the established leaders resisted reforms until absolutely necessary, when their political grip was weakened by electoral support for the regionalist parties. At the time of the first reform, all agreed that something had to be done to appease the population and sustain political control, although no end point was envisaged. All of the major parties had an interest in protecting their unified control of the policymaking process. The Catholics and Socialists, however, could tolerate limited reforms if it meant they could be dominant regional actors in Flanders and Wallonia, respectively. Such reform would require the dissolution of parliament, the holding of constituent elections, and a two-thirds majority to pass new constitutional amendments. Despite the fear of amending the existing governing system, the major parties knew that the two-thirds rule guaranteed consociational bargaining, ensuring their control of the amendment process Newman, 1996 p. 76.
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Despite Prime Minister Eyskens assertion that the unitary state was dead, many scholars argue that the reforms of 1970 were not meant to introduce a federalist system, but were designed to preserve the unitary state in the face of federalist demands by making small concessions to regionalist groups. Parties which operated on both sides of the linguistic divide still existed, although they had disappeared by the time of the subsequent reforms. They remained committed to a unitary state, feeling that a total federalization would threaten their monopoly on power and the viability of the Belgian state itself. (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 903). This piecemeal approach was unsuccessful. The failure to implement reforms lead to the collapse of several governments and the ethnoregionalist parties continued to garner votes. In response, the traditional parties adopting regionalist platforms in the 1980s as they ceded electoral support to regionalist parties such as Vlaams Unie and Vlaams Blok in Flanders, Front Démocratique de Francophones in Brussels and the Rassemblement Walloon in the South. Despite a drop in support for the regionalist parties during this period, Belgium continued on its path towards federalism. By now the traditional parties, in their regional reincarnations, had adopted distinctly ethnoregionalist platforms, realizing this was the only way to retain influence. In 1993 the federalist nature of the Belgian state was formally declared in the constitution. Belgium had been transformed from a unitary state struggling to grapple with regionalist demands to a federal state struggling with the same issues. Despite its flaws, the Belgian system has been remarkably effective in minimizing conflict, preventing an outbreak in violence or outright secessionism, largely because it maintained consociational characteristics which prevented a majoritarian system from taking root and completely alienating one side or the other. (Deschouwer, 2002 p. 159). However, as a consociationalist system relies on secret negotiations and favors, stability has come at the expense of the Belgian polity‟s confidence, which is increasingly disillusioned with the elite-driven political system. The division of politics into regionalist camps has not helped the already fractured Belgian society, which seems to rally only in the face of scandal or sport. The extreme right feeds on this dissatisfaction and calls for further regionalization of competences persist.
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The Federal Reform of 1970: A Reluctant Move towards Federalism
Throughout the 1960s regionally based political parties mobilized support in favor of federalization. After the linguistic lines were made permanent in 1964, it was possible to speak of federalism along territorial lines. Once what Lefebvre calls the “formal territorialization of the linguistic problem” was complete, pressure intensified further as the ethnoregional parties had a concrete base from which to mobilize support. (2003 p. 127). It was this competition, rather than a belief in federalism, which forced the establishment to deal with the problem. Pressure eventually emerged from both sides of the linguistic divide but was initiated by Flemish nationalists. Already faltering economically, the Francophones feared they would face further problems if the drive towards federalism was the result of a unilateral effort of the Flemings. Caselli and Coleman offer this theory which can be applied to the Walloon response: a majority that would otherwise prefer peaceful coexistence, engages in repression and discrimination against the minority in order to prevent the latter from attempting a grab for power. Similarly, in a multi-group world, a group that would otherwise prefer peace may be induced to participate in an aggressive coalition in order to preempt the constitution of an alternative aggressive coalition that excludes it 2005 p. 4. In an interesting reversal of roles, the Rassemblement Walloon advocated economic autonomy to protect Walloon interests against the central government which it accused of being a dominated by the North. (Buelens & Van Dyck, 1998 p. 53). The RW drew support from socialist voters who were concerned about the maintenance of Wallonia‟s social welfare system in light of the faltering economy and the Flemish economic dynamism and belief in free market principles. Their platform in 1968 advocated reforms to "assure for Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels the largest possible autonomy in their political, economic, social and cultural organization." (Newman, 1996 p. 70-1). Brussels was even more wary as the Francophone enclave feared cooperation between the Flemings and Walloons would lead to its total exclusion. The Front Démocratique de Francophones, founded in response to the linguistic measures of the 1960s and the rise of ethnoregionalist parties in both Flanders and Wallonia, ran primarily on a platform of linguistic choice for education and administration and was supported by both Flemish and Francophones who continued to view the French - 80 -
language as key to social mobility. “The FDF was first and foremost a liberal defender of individual rights rather than a true community party" (Newman, 1996 p. 73). Originally, the party remained committed to a unitary Belgian state but as federal reforms seemed inevitable fears arose that it would be excluded from decision-making carried out by the Walloon and Flemish regions, and it adopted a federalist platform that would put Brussels on equal footing with the other units. (Buelens & Van Dyck, 1998 p. 56). After the first reforms, the FDF became almost passionately federalist, advocating Brussels as a region of its own, running on the slogan of “Bruxellois, master in your own house.” The Flemish side rejected this as it would allow a two-one balance in favor of the Francophones rather than the parity that prevailed. As a result, compromise compromis à la belge, as Carter terms it, left the issue for another day. (2002 p. 15). Several institutions and procedures were introduced in order to ensure cooperation among the linguistic groups and the peaceful resolution of ethnic conflict. Significantly, these mechanisms maintained traditional consociationalist tendencies of mutual vetoes and compromise. There was a formal devolution of power to the regions and cultural communities, which was necessary because the linguistic border and the territory were not congruent in all situations. Linguistic regions and cultural communities governed by community councils which consisted of members of the national parliament. These councils had full legislative powers in several defined areas. Citizens living in formally bi-lingual Brussels were assigned a community on the basis of the language they habitually spoke. (Pilet, 2005 p. 399). The regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels had, at this point, no special authority but this was to be granted later in specific social and economic areas. Brussels and the German population also had smaller cultural institutions. (Newman, 1996 p. 77). In the central government, the principle of linguistic parity was to prevail despite demographic differences. The Belgian cabinet which was to consist of equal numbers of French-speaking and Dutch-speaking ministers as was the Brussels administration. In regards to the legislative, new rules require the consent of a double majority in order to enact further institutional reforms and implement the reforms proposed in this constitutional session. This principle stipulates an overall majority of two-thirds and a simple majority in each language group. (Deschouwer, 1999 p. 102). This prevents the Flemish, by now a demographic and economic majority, from advocating further devolution or actions without the consent of the Francophone minority. (Lefebvre, 2001 p. 127). - 81 -
An alarm bell procedure also restricts unilateralism and majority rule. When legislation is proposed that one linguistic group considered potentially harmful, they could vote to suspend further debate. It requires support from twenty-five percent of the given language group. At this point the national government is required to propose a solution within 60 days. Although the alarm bell procedure has yet to be used, it has had a moderating influence on political actors, obligating them to negotiate and find an acceptable solution for all parties involved, and avoid the political fallout of a stalemate. This procedure, essentially a veto, is typical for the Belgian consociationalist system which is designed to prevent majoritarianism and encourage compromise. The original Belgian constitution required a two-thirds majority for any constitutional change. These measures could only be enacted following the dismantling of the parliament and new elections and were meant to ensure that parliament could not change the constitution without support from all major political actors. (Hooghe, 2004 p. 19). The articles did not entail extensive devolution of competences to the regions, thus showing the reluctance of the establishment to dismember the central government. Many felt that the reforms would stop here, having offered some guarantees. The measures, including the roles and competences of the communities required extensive implementation by the parliament and would now be subject to the stringent double majority procedure. As no one had a grand vision of a federalist Belgium, attempts to pass the implementing legislation would prove to be the foil of six governments between 1970 and 1980. The measures were finally pushed through by a coalition led by Wilifried Martens but would be revised as demands for further regional autonomy and meaningful competences intensified. (Covell, 1982 p. 451). The 1970 reform, with its emphasis on compromise rather than majoritarian rule, implemented a system which favored conflict management over efficiency. Political elites, threatened with alarm bell procedures and vetoes, are forced to reach a compromise, or pay politically for their inaction. Deschouwer writes of the reforms “Either there is a compromise that is acceptable for both communities, or there is no longer any government” (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 905). Despite its success in mitigating ethnic conflict for the moment, the division of language groups would signal the death of multilingual political parties and by the end of the decade, they would have dissolved completely. The reform served to polarize the once united national parties and in effect institutionalized ethnic conflict, framing every
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political debate along linguistic lines and encouraging political entrepreneurs to adopt increasingly aggressive political platforms. As the mainstream political actors co-opted the regionalist and federalist rhetoric of the ethnoregionalist parties to maintain electoral support and meet demands, the parties lost momentum. Flemish and French-speaking actors spoke increasingly for their community or region in the first place, and began systematically to observe a FlemishFrench or regional balance in national politics" (Hooghe, 1995 p. 138). In the late 1970s, Volksunie and the Rassemblement Walloon were drawn into coalitions designed to pass the necessary legislation laid out in the constitutional reform. This would allow their entry into the traditional Belgian system but would be at their peril, drawn into what Newman describes as a “Faustian bargain that helped ensure the creation of a federal Belgium at the expense of party unity and support” (1996 p. 61). The manner in which these reforms were carried out further distanced the Belgium people from their government. Newman explains that it was not the voters who determined the scope or direction of regionalization in Belgium. Rather the major parties had used regionalization as a way of dividing the ethnoregional parties so that they could control the political agenda. In a sense, they had moved toward regionalization with limited input from the ethnoregional parties 1996 p. 92. Only the Volksunie, which was older and more experienced than FDF and RW and competed on a more diverse platform, would be able to withstand these tactics. Volksunie, accused of selling out by more radical elements in the Flemish nationalist movement, began to develop a more comprehensive party platform, adopting stances on militarism and environmental policy. (de Winter 1998 p. 33). However, they were undercut by Vlaams Blok, a splinter group that advocated Flemish independence and adopted increasingly xenophobic rhetoric. After the mid-seventies, the regional parties lost seats in parliament, from 44 in 1974 to 13 in 1991. (Eatwell, 1997 p. 43). However, they had accomplished their objective, setting Belgium on the path towards federalization and forcing the mainstreaming of regionalist ideologies. The halted, reluctant reforms perhaps created more resentment and encouraged the push for autonomy, especially among the Flemish. By reason of the alarm-bell procedure, the requirement of concurrent majorities for special laws, equal representation in the national government, and a - 83 -
multiparty political system that requires coalitions, the francophone political parties have considerable leverage in the national parliament to ensure that their interests are taken into account in any negotiated deal. Many Flemish resent these antimajoritarian elements, which they often characterize as antidemocratic" Mnookin, 2007 The emphasis on parity, despite the obvious demographic and economic differences coupled with historical resentment of Flemish dominance spurred many Flemish nationalists to increasingly radicalized positions.
The Egmont Pact In 1977, it was clear that more progress towards a federal state must be made. This progress had been hindered by the fragile nature of coalitions. In order to do so effectively a broad majority coalition was formed, incorporating both traditional parties and regional movements. The government needed to reconcile differing needs, as Flanders sought to ensure the recognition of linguistic, territorial and cultural unity while Wallonia sought the means to counter its economic decline independently. The Egmont Pact would have created powerful regional institutions which could tax and conclude international agreements. These institutions were to be run by elected assemblies and legislatives, largely free from centralized control. (Fitzgerald, 1996 p. 128). While these aims fulfilled the demands of the parties, they included constitutional reforms which needed to be implemented in stages, rendering the process vulnerable to fluctuations in coalitions and political tides. In the end, the CVP rejected the agreement, arguing that the project was unconstitutional, would undermine the federal state and hurt Flemish living in the periphery of Brussels, thus halting the process. (Fitzgerald, 1996 p. 130). Notably, in 1978 the final division of Belgian political parties was complete, they were now divided along linguistic lines and each found varying levels of political support amongst the region. (Manhés, 2005 p. 175). However, just a few years later, a similar model would be adopted and would this time succeed, even though the question of Brussels would be frozen in order to ensure cooperation.
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Reform of the 1980s Conflict Prevention or Cooperation?
The legislation of 1980 was difficult to enact but necessary to fulfill the reforms adopted in 1970. This entailed a regionalization including the expansion of regional autonomy and the granting of new, and exclusive, competences to the community. Unlike the German system in which the national body sets general goals and allows the Lander to implement specific statutes, the regions, communities and federal government were each given exclusive competences over specific areas and the acts that each made were given equal status as national law. The goal of this reform, according to Hooghe, was to minimize conflict by creating “watertight compartments” on every level. This effort was complicated by the fact that regional and community councils were not yet directly elected and made up of members of the federal parliament. In addition, the regions and communities relied on the federal government for funds, lacking the power of tax although this reform allotted greater resources. The regions were financed by the central government and the sums were determined on the basis of three equal criteria: population, personal income tax paid and territorial surface area. The Communities received their funding on the basis of a 45/55 rule, reflecting the demographic makeup of the French and Flemish communities. (Gérard, 2001). The existence of cultural and regional bodies also created divisions as there was no broad agreement on “whether the territorial or the nationality principle should take priority” (Hooghe 2003 p. 86). This problem was only relevant for Wallonia and the Francophone region, as 1980 brought the formal merger of the Flemish Community and Flanders as a region. This system was decidedly asymmetrical and allowed Flanders to act more efficiently and strengthen regional identification. (Manhés, 2005 p. 176). Regions are considered territorial entities, granted power over aspects such as administration, agriculture, economic policy, environment, transportation. Communities have so-called “personal competences” which are restricted to the linguistic territory, and included the services such as the protection of minors and health policy. To deal with the inevitable disputes between linguistic groups and federal bodies the Court of Arbitration was formed in 1980, designed to restrict conflict to the political rather than social sphere. Consisting of judges and retired politicians, the Court also observed the principle of linguistic parity. It was vested with the responsibility of guarding the legal division of competences and assuring that all legislation respected the - 85 -
constitutional provisions of equality, protection of ideological and philosophical minorities (granted in the 1970 reform), and freedom of education. This court was weaker than similar courts in Germany, Canada and US but was nevertheless influential. (Hooghe, 2003 p. 90). Once put into effect, it was judged to be fair, and was strengthened by the subsequent round of reforms to allow anyone with appropriate standing to approach the court. (Carter, 2001 p. 15).
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1989: Reform under Duress
Like so many of Belgium‟s extensive reforms, the 1989 constitutional revision was precipitated by a crisis. The Happart affair touched about regional and linguistic nerves. Happart was a former Member of the European Parliament and served in 1988 as the mayor of Fouron, a town that had been transferred from Wallonia to Flanders as part of a 1962 agreement. This transfer took place in spite of a referendum that rejected the move. Happart led the fight against this action which continued to provoke anger twenty years later. Upon his reelection, he refused to take an exam that would prove his competence in Flemish, a requirement for all mayors in Flanders. This led to a new election which he again emerged the victor, however, a new electoral law disqualified him. (Carter, 2001 p. 17-18). The Walloon Socialist party faced intense political backlash among Francophones who had always hoped for the return of Fouron. (Manhés, 2005 p. 177). The government fell as a result of this controversy and a new plan was enacted to further reform the Belgian system. The plan involved three phases, the first of which was to deal with the festering issue of Brussels which previous reforms had failed to address, the recognition of Francophone rights in the Flemish suburbs of Brussels and the creation of a Brussels-Capital region with powers equal to those of the Walloon and Flemish region. The creation of the Brussels-Capitals Region, envisaged in early reforms, was finally settled in exchange for special minority guarantees for the small, but vocal, Flemish population. (Hooghe, 2003 p. 84). In addition, the Court of Arbitration which had been deemed remarkably effective found its jurisdiction was extended in this phase. The second phase allowed the German-speaking Community to engage in international relations and the powers of the Regions and Communities were clarified. The final phase included direct elections to the Regions and Community institutions. (Carter, 2001 p. 17-18). While the regions and communities were granted some fiscal autonomy, their powers to tax remained limited which allowed the federal government to retain control over the process. They were allowed to make infrastructure investments in the region but the federal government retained control over the energy production, national airline, nuclear plants, postal service, railways and telecommunications. (Hooghe, 2003 p. 87). A transition period of ten years was agreed upon to minimize the political repercussions for participants in an agreement that was described as “suboptimal for either side” but - 87 -
better than the alternative extremes of maintaining the status quo or separatism. (Hooghe, 2004). While ethnic issues, in the form of linguistic conflict, had calmed, economic issues took on ethnic and regional undertones, especially as Belgium faced economic crisis in the 1980s. At this point, several political groups became more independence oriented, with economic justification. Secession would allow rich Flanders to end transfers to relatively poor Wallonia, transfers which were subsidized by high taxes on the successful industries of Flanders. Wallonia, which remained committed to its social welfare system and its struggling state owned enterprises would be free to pursue more redistributive policies which Flanders had blocked. However, there were economic deterrents as well. Although the European Community was developing, barriers to international trade did exist and trade across the regions was high. Flanders would lose its extensive domestic markets and would likely be saddled with the large part of Belgium‟s enormous public debt. Wallonia would lose the taxes and transfers on which it depended to fund its social welfare system. (Hooghe, 2004 p. 24). Perhaps a more important aspect, both symbolical and practical, was Brussels, often considered the glue that held Belgium together, if only because both sides refused to give it up. Included in the 1989 reform was the power to deal with education, granted to the communities. This enforced a total separation of Flemish, French and German education systems. In Brussels, the system was split according to linguistic affiliations. This is an unusual practice even for a federal regime and is significant for social reasons especially. “The central Belgian authority has barely any policy instruments to promote or socialize a shared Belgian culture, assuming the existence of a political will to do so” (Billiet, et al 2006 p. 914-5). This reform, which satisfied no one, had to be revised just four years later, especially after the catastrophic elections of 24 November 1991, so-called Black Sunday, which led to a rejection of the government parties, in favor of the left and the right, Vlaams Blok, which tripled its electoral returns, while the ecologists in Wallonia more than doubled theirs, reflecting the growing rejection of the traditional parties and their means of operation. (Manhés, 2005 p. 177).
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1993: The “Final” Reforms The 1992 to 1993 constitutional reform, the apparent final reform or “the roof on the house” was carried out in three separate legislative phases. (Bitsch, 2004 p. 266). The new constitution affirmed for the first time the federal nature of the Belgian state in the first article of the Constitution. At this point “Belgium [has been] a federal state made up of communities and regions” (Pilet, 2005 p. 399). This was not just a symbolic concession to a disillusioned electorate but had entailed a significant transformation of the Belgian system. Measures carried out by the Dehaene government included the implementation of traditional federal institutions and mechanisms, such as senate reform, the redrafting of electoral districts, increase in fiscal autonomy, procedural autonomy over each level. International competences and treaty power, which had been alluded to in both 1970 and 1980 were finally clarified. (Hooghe, 1995 p. 139).
State Regional Level
House of Representatives
Flemish Community Council
Walloon Region Senate French Community Council King German Community Council Brussels-Capital
The reforms were characterized by an additional transfer of competences and the direct elections to federal institutions which would begin with the general elections of 1995. (Deschouwer, 1998 p. 121).
Federal Competences Defense
Community Competences Arts
Regional Competences Agriculture
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Fiscal & monetary policy Justice Security Social Security
Culture Education Health Policy Language Welfare Youth Affairs
Employment Energy Environment & Conservation External trade Housing Industrial restructuring Land use planning Local transport Regional airports Roads & waterways Urban renewal
At this point, federal competences included issues of high-politics, monetary policy which has since been largely ceded to the European Union. The federal government does make general regulations and restrictions but the communities and regions maintain exclusive competences in many things. It is important to note that despite the adoption of traditional federalist mechanisms, the consociational nature of Belgian politics remain, evident in the transfer of competences. The powers are only transferred after a compulsory agreement has been concluded, allowing the federal government to orchestrate some aspects of policy. (Poirier, 2002 p. 37). Despite attempts to enact clear divisions of power, conflicts do occur, due to contradictory competences, several of which Poirier outlines p. Preventive health is a community matter, while health care insurance falls under federal jurisdiction; Unemployment insurance is federal, while the placement of the unemployed is left to the regions. Professional training is carried out by the communities. The educational system is set by the communities while professional programs must be recognized at the federal level. Poirier, 2002 p. 28. Interestingly, both the communities and regions possess the power to enter into international agreements dealing with those issues, as long as it is in the interest of the Belgian state as a whole. The European Community which was rapidly increasing in relevance, also played an important role. In the Interministerial Conference for External - 90 -
Affairs, the federal government, regions and communities agreed upon the composition of the Belgian representation in the Council of Ministers and negotiation strategy and voting. The reforms of 1980 required the ratification at the community level if the text fell within its competences. When Maastricht entered into force, the fact that it contained provisions on culture, education, health, vocational training and youth meant that the treaties must be approved in the national parliament and by the community councils, and the Community Commission of Brussels. (Hooghe, 1995 p. 147). The implementation of a federalist system should have destroyed the Volksunie and Vlaams Blok, and would have done so if they had remained focused only on the federalist issue. However, both had adapted their party platforms to remain politically relevant. The Volksunies‟ new slate of demands included community representation in European and international organizations and the construction of a confederal state in which Wallonia and Flanders would have independence and share responsibility for Brussels. (de Winter, 1998 p. 46). While all ethnoregionalist parties lost electoral support in the 1990s, they retained their influence as the mainstream parties continued the practice of co-opting some of their more moderate demands, therefore inspiring them to radicalize further to remain politically relevant. Although this reform was presented as the final round, a success according to Hooghe who indicates that conflict has abated and centrifugal forces have calmed themselves, as a result, talk of additional reforms arose shortly after the 1993 agreement. (2003 p. 90-1).Walloons would have been content of the reforms had stopped here while the Flemings pushed for more. (Manhés, 1994 p. 180). The previous reforms had largely succeeded in pacifying contentious and symbolic linguistic issues, dividing competing populations administratively and territorially. French and Flemish-speakers were according equal standing and both had equal access to government administration and power. However, as new economic challenges arose and the regions differed in their approach to them, the demands for reform became more and more strident, especially from the Flemish side which resented the financial transfers stipulated by the federal government (Hooghe, 2004 p. 4). In 1999, the Flemish parliament offered new legislation to remedy this situation, demanding increased financial and fiscal autonomy and the defederalization of the social security system, demands which Deschouwer writes were immediately rejected by the Francophones as a “a clear and deliberate attempt to reduce or even to break the financial solidarity between north and south and - 91 -
thus as a direct attack on the viability of the Walloon region,” a precursor to secessionism. (1998 p. 137). The nature of the conflict between Walloons and Flemings had evolved, once based on cultural issues, it now deals with more practical economic and political disputes. However, one symbolic issue does remain, and that is the issue of Brussels, overwhelmingly Francophone in nature, its inhabitants are spreading into the legally Flemish-speaking suburbs.
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2001 and Beyond
Demands for further reforms persisted and each side made concessions in order to best serve their interests. Flanders pushed for a greater regionalization of social security, enhanced fiscal autonomy and powers over agriculture. They sought greater control over the economic system, hoping to reduce taxes and encourage investment. The Liberal-Socialist-Green government of Wallonia conceded on many of these demands in exchange for greater funding for its education system which faced a severe financial deficit. However, social security remained outside the scope of these negotiations despite Flemish intent. (Deschouwer, 1998 p. 134). In addition, the transfer of fiscal autonomy which was enacted in 2001 was conditional on the conclusion of compulsory agreements before the transfer took place. (Poirier, 2002 p. 37). In 2001, reforms were introduced to facilitate greater cooperation and hopefully alleviate some of the issues plaguing the political system. These mechanisms, outlined by Poirier included Non-binding consultation Concertation: a mechanism designed to encourage formal cooperation agreements but which has no effect on the actor‟s freedom of action Association agreements which allow participation of the federal bodies in the drafting of federal norms and standards Joint-decision making procedures Representation which allows the regions and communities to send representations to the federal level Poirier, 2002 p. 32 In 2003, the federal level conceded competence over agriculture and external trade, two sectors that had already been hollowed by the European Union. This was accompanied by the transfer of additional financial resources, and came at high financial cost and indicated, according to Hooghe, the tenuous position of the federal state by the fact that it was willing to “take out a mortgage on its hard-won financial solvency in return for placating intense subnational demands for greater financial resources for education policy and greater fiscal autonomy" (2003 p. 95). Demands for further reforms are likely to continue and scholars debate just how far the reforms can go while preserving the Belgian state.
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Deschouwer writes that the slow, almost stuttering process of reforms was a result of both the high threshold for reforms and different interests on both sides. The constant failure of proposals for reforms, like the proposals by the Flemish parliament in 1999, may have actually served to force comprehensive reforms by aggregating the problems and creating a crisis which prevented the typical superficial remedies from being applied. But after a governmental crisis a new government had to be formed by parties of both sides. When things really became troublesome, the risk of a total deadlock of the political system actually helped to produce the awareness that a solution had to be found, and then a solution was found indeed Deschouwer 1998 p. 135. However, in each session, issues were left unaddressed and as regional and community bodies gain confidence, the calls for greater devolution are likely to continue as it has become politically profitable to blame problems on the greater Belgian state or on ones neighbor rather than taking responsibility for them. Ethnic conflict, at least at the political level, persists and has even intensified as the economic disparities between the two regions have increased and European regional integration has reduced the apparent political cost of independence.
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CHAPTER FIVE ANALYZING THE EFFICACY OF BELGIAN FEDERALISM: THE MITIGATION OF CONFLICT AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF DIFFERENCE
It is hard to avoid the impression that Belgian government in the latter two thirds of the postwar period has been more an exercise in crisis management than a considered implementation of substantive policy programs Bergman et al, 1994 p. 224.
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In 2007, Belgium is a federal state, albeit one with strong consociational aspects. Despite an intense process of devolution, ethnic conflict, at least in the political sphere, persists and crises occur with startling regularity. Institutions designed to reduce conflict between Flemings and Walloons are in place, although debate continues over whether they truly do so. The process of federalization was part of the problem. Politicians undertaking reform in 1970 did not have an endpoint in mind. They were acting purely to quell unrest and retain political support in the face of new political opposition. Acting in what Karl Deschouwer describes as the “classical Belgian way,” the system lurched from crisis to crisis, reforming only when absolutely necessary (Deschouwer 2006 p. 903). In consociational tradition, reformers avoid outright disputes, leaving serious issues for the next round of reforms and another group of political elites. However, this piecemeal process only allows the issues, like the status of Brussels and its surrounding suburbs, to fester. When reforms do occur, as in 1970, 1980, 1989, 1991 and 2003, the participating parties work to maintain their grip on power rather than creating viable, long-lasting reforms. Despite the development of mechanisms designed to mitigate conflict, clashes between the linguistic groups persist. This is a result of several factors The existing political actors have found that they can shirk responsibility for economic, social and political conditions by passing the blame to the federal government and presenting further devolution of competences to the community and the regions as the only solution. The far right, at least in Flanders remains electorally significant. This forces actors across the spectrum to co-opt nationalist platforms in order to remain politically relevant. Belgian society is highly segregated, to the point which one can ask if Belgians truly exist. This is the effect of linguistic differences and increasing monolingualism as well as a political system which presents Flemings and Walloons in opposition rather than in cooperation. Although this process of devolution seems unstoppable, several centripetal forces do exist which would indicate that the Belgian state, at least for now is a viable one. - 96 -
Public opinion is increasingly in favor of the maintenance of the existing political system, or at least the maintenance of the Belgian state. Surveys have indicated widespread commitment to the continued existence of Belgium in its current form. Some citizens even advocate increased centralization. Despite some regional variations, Belgian identity is experiencing resurgence.
While the European Union may make secessionism a more palatable outcome, evidence suggests that the EU encourages cooperation between Flemings and Walloons, spurs a distribution of competences between multiple supranational, federal and regional levels which in turn increases independence within the confines of the state.
Brussels is often presented as the child that prevents parents from separating for fear of losing custody. Flanders is unlikely to declare independence and sacrifice Francophone Brussels. However, the issue of the Flemings in Brussels and the Francophones in the Flemish suburbs of the capital may provoke further disputes, as we will see at the conclusion of this chapter.
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Causes and Nature of Ethnic Conflict in Belgium: Belgium as a Divided Society
Ethnic conflict in the land of chocolate and beer rarely attracts international or scholarly attention because of its peaceful nature. In an analysis of Belgian history, Hooghe found that violent disruptions have only occurred when ethnic disparities are combined with other symbolic issues. The royal question juxtaposed deep-seated loyalties and religious sentiment with the school war being distinctly religious in tone and the coal and steel crises was a result of socio-economic conflict. Because of the distinct cultural, religious and economic differences between the regions, these disputes automatically took on territorial attributes (Hooghe, 2006 p. 13). In an increasingly secular Belgium led by a king who is more a symbol than an actor in the political scene, violence because of ethnoterritorial conflict seems unlikely, however the nature of conflict in Belgium is so severe that it threatens the very viability of the Belgian state. The compromise “à la Belge” is not an attempt to foster unity but rather to avoid conflict. Politicians tend to advocate further separation or pillarization to mitigate conflict (Lefebvre, 2003 p. 121). While this has been remarkably effective in preventing violence and general upheaval, Belgium is now a deeply divided society. A divided society is described by Reilly as one which is “both ethnically diverse and where ethnicity is a politically salient cleavage around which interests are organised for political purposes, such as elections” (2001 p. 4). Looking at Belgium, which has willingly separated itself into several economic, political and social entities, one can see the truth behind this. Donald Horowitz outlines three characteristics of a deeply divided society, examining the larger socio-economic implications. 1. Issues of ethnicity and identity are present in many issues, including development, education, labor relations, business policy and taxation. 2. Capital and labor are organized on ethnic grounds. 3. Organizational pluralism is strong in party systems. Belgium failed to generate a sense of unity and after 170 years of existence, meets these characteristics. Education and social policy are the responsibility of the subnational units. Regional disparities are framed in ethnic, linguistic and cultural terms. Investment across linguistic lines is rare, as is employee mobility, largely due to linguistic issues. The party system is deeply divided, at the moment, there is no politically relevant party
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that campaigns across Belgium and the system is set up in such a matter that a Francophone in Brussels cannot vote for a Flemish party. Some scholars question the historical basis of the linguistic and ethnic communities, describing them as the product rather than the impetus of the conflict. Keating et al found that Wallonia does not often employ ethnic and historical justifications when it pushes for autonomy. It seeks to protect and re-develop its autonomy (Keating et al, 2003 p. 75). Flanders, on the other hand, engages in traditional processes of nation building, addressing the oppression of the Flemish people by the Francophone elite. These variations coincide with the historical development and the relationship between the two groups. The French-speaking Walloons did not have their cultural existence threatened by the presence of the Flemish-speakers, while for most of Belgium's history, Flemish speakers were forced to assimilate and adopt the French language to participate in the political and economic spheres.
The Symbolic Role of Language
The linguistic issue is perhaps the most symbolically significant. Language issues get the most attention because they are highly visible and symbolic. Seemingly minor issues, such as the use of language in public spaces can erupt into controversy. The names of cities, towns and regions and the language of leaders have become increasingly important. Signs throughout Flanders have been vandalized, the French translation removed. This conflict is particularly salient in the Flemish suburbs of Brussels. French speakers have encountered difficulties and even hostility when they attempt to speak French. Flemings fear that should they be accommodated, Francophones would populate the district and threaten Flemish control. Belgian citizens cannot communicate with one another nor do they have to. They tend to view their differences as fundamental and irreconcilable, a fact that is exploited by politicians in an attempt to win votes. Debates are framed in terms of us versus them, attributing serious structural and economic problems to the other side, something that is politically profitable but in the long term, unsustainable. “Politicians in divided societies face powerful incentives to play the 'ethnic card' and campaign along narrow sectarian lines, as this is often a more effective means of mobilising voter support than campaigning on the basis of issues or ideologies” (Reilly, 2001 p. 4). The politicization of ethnic demands therefore leads to the “growth of zero-sum, winner-take-all politics in which - 99 -
some groups are permanently included and some permanently excluded” (Reilly, 2001 p. 4). In Belgium, anti-majoritarian principles form the core and can be credited with ensuring that ethnic conflict, although at times virulent, remains peaceful. This ensures that one segment does not dominate the other. However, unpopular decisions are portrayed as being pushed through by a Flemish majority or blocked by a Francophone minority. Federalism has served to soften the linguistic element of strife between Flanders and Wallonia. The two regions are now largely unilingual territories. This territorial division has allowed Belgium to move past the linguistic conflicts that once defined it. However, linguistic issues have been replaced by economic ones “as the economic gap first reversed itself and then grew in favor of the more prosperous Flanders, the ethnic groups have shifted their emphasis to economics” (Hooghe 2004 p. 4).
Scholars debate the influence of economic issues on the continuance of ethnic conflict. However, no one will deny that the process of federalization has shifted attention away from necessary economic reforms. After two decades of economic hardship, Belgium gained ground in the 1990s (Swenden, 2003 p. 14). However, federalization has been expensive and during the reform process, politicians tended to throw money at the regions and communities to ensure acquiescence. Huge economic disparities do exist between the two linguistic groups. Flanders has successfully modernized while Wallonia clings to failing industries and relies heavily on federal support. Many districts of Wallonia have excessively high levels of unemployment. Economic transfers southward are stipulated by the federal government, leading to resentment and stereotyping from the South. Flanders tends to express the sentiment that their economic growth is inhibited by undue restrictions on industry and investment designed to prop up the ailing South; while Wallonia fears that they will be forced to adopt Flanders‟ market friendly tactics at the expense of the worker. The federal government cannot continue to devolve aspects of economic decision making, lacking both the competences and the resources to do so. In 2007, Flemish politicians continued to push for the devolution of competences for healthcare, social security and taxation. This move was resisted by the Walloons fearing it would lead to an end of transfers
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which support the Walloon economy, a larger economic rift and an additional shift in investment. Some scholars view addressing problems of economic equality as key to assuaging ethnic conflict. “If, however, the problem can be viewed as one involving economic inequality, a solution is possible, given the limits of a country's economic resources, and its citizens' will to reverse chronic economic disparities” (Morris Hale, 1997 p. 13). However, others, like Keating and Fraga emphasize the permanent nature of ethnic conflict and the pitfalls of policy making. “State policies aimed at combating the current causes of majority-minority group conflict will not only prove ineffective after a relatively short period, but they may feed new, emerging causes” (Fraga, et al 1992 p. 11). Attempts to address economic inequality that is fueling discontent among one group may lead to charges of favoritism among the other. While in some societies ethnic conflict decreases during prolonged periods of economic prosperity, it cannot be relied upon to quell problems indefinitely (Fraga, et al 1992 p. 12). Economic success may embolden demands for autonomy or independence, as it has in Flanders. Hooghe considers the emphasis on economic issues excessive, finding that territorial conflict escalated in the 1960s, a period of unprecedented prosperity. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a period characterized by stagnation, high unemployment and deficit spending, ethnic conflict once again permeated Belgian society (Hooghe, 2004 p. 81). However, it would perhaps be better to expand our attention beyond numbers and statistics to the perception of economic wellbeing. While scholars once thought that regionalism was spurred by economic underdevelopment, the cases of relatively wealthy Catalonia, the Basque country and Flanders show that this is not necessarily the case. “Both underdevelopment and superior economic performance are invoked as grounds for complaining about the center” (Majone, 1990 p. 72). Perhaps we should shift our attention from economic statistics to the values and perceptions that they represent. In Belgium, Walloons and Flemings are engaged in a competition for political dominance, economic superiority and government resources. The values placed on significant socio-economic norms diverge in substantial ways. Walloons seek to remedy their economic problems while Flanders seeks recognition of its historical status and freedom to employ free market economics. Wallonia began advocating autonomy as Flanders gained power. They feared that in a unitary state, their voice may be cancelled out by those in economically and demographically powerful Flanders. Not only are these objectives difficult to - 101 -
reconcile, but they permeate social relations. Walloons are perceived by Flanders as being lazy while Flemings are considered to be excessively capitalistic. Paradoxically, it was economic differences that kept the Belgian state together in the face of severe political crisis. In 1989, Belgium faced a dire crisis. The government had been beset by economic recession, political scandals and the rise of the extreme right. At this point, a split seems preferable to the constant conflict. However, it did not occur because of important financial considerations. While European integration progressed, the free flow of goods was not yet developed enough to compensate for the loss of the Walloon market for Flemish goods. The public debt was, and remains today, enormous, and that burden would have fallen upon taxpayers in both countries. Walloons would also have seen an end to transfers to prop up its ailing health and pension systems. In true Belgian style, these issues persist today: Flemings resent transfers made southward, and while the public debt has shrunk, the majority of the debt burden falls upon wealthier Flanders. While goods can and do move freely throughout the European Union, Wallonia is still the number one buyer of Flemish goods. As will be discussed later, it was primarily economic disputes rather than cultural or linguistic issues that caused government formation to grind to a halt in the summer of 2007.
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From Consociationalism to Federalism: What Remains
Despite seemingly irreconcilable differences, the Belgian state has proven resilient by forming governments, engaging in European affairs, ensuring economic performance and preventing an outbreak of violence or secessionism. It is enabled by its unique political system in which principles of mutual vetoes and elite bargaining are carried out under the auspices of what Fitzgerald defines as a consociationalist-federalist system and Deshouwer describes as extreme federalism. As Daniel Elazar explained, consociationalism has a limited lifespan. It is natural that as a modern democracy develops, certain consociationalist aspects will have to be abandoned or adapted to ensure economic and political efficiency and democratic accountability. However, consociationalism and the formal federalism that typically replaces it share several important characteristics (Elazar, 1991 p. 24). Belgium, once the poster child for consociationalism, now possesses federalist institutions which are designed to moderate conflict while its political elites operate using the principles of consociationalism that remain deeply engrained in the Belgian political system. Scholars have identified several consociationalist mechanisms that are present in modern Belgian society, including the emphasis on power sharing and the presence of mutual vetoes to ensure the protection of each community, an emphasis on proportionality and parity in government coalitions (Deschouwer, 2002 p. 159). As discussed in Chapter 2, consociationalism and federalism share several important aspects. Both devices are non-majoritarian devices, thus suited for societies in which cleavages, whether ethnic, religious or ideological are severe. As we will see in this chapter, these political systems rely heavily on elites and may create a disconnect between the political and social spheres. They also share several important weaknesses, including a reliance on elite bargaining rather than popular participation and vetoes which can foster political inertia. Swenden argues that the emphasis on compromise and mutual vetoes has resulted in a situation in which the “Belgian center is more confederal than federal due to consociationalist mechanisms” (2006 p. 205). Each group possesses a veto that can bring any policy formation to a halt (Mnookin, 2007). The devolution of competences has expanded to such an extent that the regions see themselves as politically, economically and legislatively viable. “the more successful a multination federal system is in accommodating national minorities, the more it will strengthen the sense that these - 103 -
minorities are separate peoples with inherent rights of self-government, whose participation in the larger country is conditional and revocable” (Kymlicka, 2001 p. 115). Deschouwer contests the idea that Belgium is and was a consociationalist society, defined by political stability, despite plurality. He concludes that upon examination of the characteristics of postwar Belgium, one must agree that "consociationalism is thus not a constant feature of Belgian post-war politics. The picture one gets is very mixed, with fairly long periods of crisis and attempts to solve them in a majoritarian, non-consociational way. Only when the crisis intensifies do elites opt for consociational devices (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 898). In the latest crisis, consociationalist mechanisms are still in place but Flanders has shown itself increasingly willing to flex its political muscle to spur change. Consociational mechanisms that persist are due to path dependency. To solve religious and social issues, Belgium relied on consociationalist principles. “When a pattern of conflict resolution, in this case consociationalism, has existed in a country for decades, it becomes part of the country‟s political culture. Therefore, this pattern of conflict resolution is difficult to break up, and tends to remain the guiding line even when new types of conflicts emerge" (Pilet, 2005 p. 408).
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Belgian Federalism Defined
Federalism has been successful in Belgium. Since the 1990s, political formations have been remarkably stable once the herculean task of governing coalitions is complete. However, it may be considered too successful. Political actors “routinely and systematically present more federalism as the means to put emerging scandals to rest,” often overlooking the possibility of more effective and less costly solutions (Maesschalk, Van de Walle 2006 p. 1014). Johanne Poirier identifies several characteristics of Belgian federalism. 1. It is a centrifugal process and devolution is likely to continue; 2. It is bipolar, reforms being spurred by actions by the two primary language groups; 3. It is multipolar, while two language groups are in contention, numerous federal and federated entities exist, including Brussels. 4. The competences of the federal government, the regions and the community may overlap and will require cooperation. Numerous relationships can take place. 5. Belgian federation is asymmetrical. The Flemish regions and communities are fused, while the Francophone community, which includes Brussels and the Walloon community, is not. It is completely separate and cooperation is complicated. 6. Belgium federalism is based on extremely intricate designs and veiled in ambiguity. This has necessitated a reliance on complex and formal mechanisms for cooperation. Poirier, 2002 p. 25.
Deschouwer speaks of an extreme federalism. The federal level has been nearly emptied, its powers ceded to the regions, communities, and in some cases, the European Union. He attributes this to the dual party system in which no party operates throughout the whole country, leaving the center defenseless against further regionalist attacks (1998 p. 135). “Each [political actor] has the tendency to defend the periphery rather than the center” (van Haute 2007 p. 11). The de-Belgification of the party system “prevented the Belgian population from showing their views on the linguistic conflict. - 105 -
Although they can still choose between Catholic and Liberal Party viewpoints, and even between more or less regionalist parties, they generally cannot choose between the Flemish and Walloon point of view" (Eatwell, 1997 p. 44). While "society, parties and institutions are neatly split along the linguistic borderline” policy making is not so neatly divided (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 908). Despite strong centrigual forces, substate units are rarely able to act unilaterally “it often happens that another authority has crucial policy instruments, that one government‟s action interferes with the competencies of other levels, or that externalities are created” (Hooghe, 2004 p. 75). While this spurs cooperation, it can also bring subunits into direct conflict. “And still some actors have to bridge the division at the elite level and need to do so in a consociational, in a non-majoritarian way" (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 908). Belgium embodies the ultimate in multilevel governance, although perhaps not exactly as intended by scholars. Not only has the federal government been deprived of competences, but it has been deprived of exclusively federal politicians as well. Parties, and party elites are regionally based, although they occupy regional and federal, and often local and European positions (Deschouwer, 1999 p. 103). “Federal representatives act as agents of their language communities because they stand for monolingual parties” (Swenden, 2006 p. 227). In typical federalist democracies, politicians pay their dues at the regional or state level in hopes of rising to the national level. In 1995, the formation of directly elected regional parliaments with increased powers took place. MPs which held offices in both were forced to choose in which body they would continue to serve. A large majority chose to serve on the regional level (Stolz ,2003 p. 237). Power is now concentrated with the regions and the communities. The federal level is now hollowed. it is no longer as politically advantageous to serve in the Senate. (Hooghe, 1995 p. 142). This has created a personal political incentive amongst politicians to push for additional devolution of competences. In order to gain control over the institutional context of their careers, they should be interested in a high degree of institutional autonomy for their region – the autonomy to shape and reshape political institutions within the confines of the region according to their career interests. Such an interest in institutional autonomy may go hand in hand with demands for autonomous competencies in the policy-making process (increasing the power and prestige of regional positions), yet it is not necessarily linked to it - 106 -
Stolz, 2003 p. 225. Belgium lacks clear demarcation between federal and regional party levels and the constant level hopping that occurs leads to decreased democratic accountability (Swenden, 2006 p. 170-1). While multilevel governance is lauded for its connection to the people, Belgian voters feel increasingly disconnected from the elite-driven political process, expressing their dislike for the secret negotiations and bargaining that occurs by disengaging from politics and supporting radical parties.
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Institutions, Mechanisms and Fundamental Principles
The nature of Belgian conflict is peaceful but pervasive. Politicians have used ethnic antagonism to win votes for decades, hence two separate political cultures have developed. Deeply divided societies like Belgium do not have the natural cooperation that others do. Keating explains that Most systems have evolved norms and conventions as to how actors will behave and how their demands are to be limited. This is easier in culturally homogeneous societies, where there is trust and shared identity. The irony is then that those societies in which federalism is most needed, i.e. divided societies without trust and goodwill, are those in which it is most difficult for it to work Keating, 2007 p. 38. Institutions must therefore take the place of a shared sense of purpose and identity. Poirier attributes the implementation of formal, highly developed mechanisms to the fear that "cooperation would not occur spontaneously in this new federalism of „dissociation‟. It is thus argued that the degree of suspicion which gave rise to the federalist movement required the provision of explicit cooperative mechanisms (Poirier, 2002 p. 31). Governmental relations are therefore highly formal, a result of the “antagonistic nature of Belgian politics” and a “distrust of political arrangements" (Poirier, 2002 p. 24). Party elites are reluctant to give the appearance of camaraderie or excessive cooperation which may fuel the claims of ethnoregionalist parties.
The Role of the Legislature
The reform of 1970 had an important influence on the composition and functioning of the parliament. Representatives were asked to choose and represent one of the two language groups. This move assumed “that the country is [was] divided into language groups and that each language group has [had] its own elites, its own representatives" (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 902). This inhibited the development or maintenance of multiple identities. It also ensured that politicians must appeal only to their own linguistic group, not to the majority of the population. The Belgian Senate, a hybrid of the American Senate and the German Bundesrat is composed in the following way: - 108 -
Groups Directly elected MPs
Composition 25 Flemish 15 Francophone
Delegates from the regional and community councils
10 Flemish 10 Francophone 1 German speaker
Appointed by the directly elected MPs and delegates
6 Flemish 4 Francophone
The Senate deals with constitutional reform and legislation involving the organization of the state (Hooghe, 2003 p. 89). DeWitte describes the Senate as the “forum of expression of subnational interests” (De Witte, 2006 p. 205), rather than an institution that represents the Belgian state as a whole. The Senate has actually ceded responsibility in several key areas. De Winter and Dumont describe it as a “reflection chamber,” where federal and regional/community levels meet and interact. (De Winter, Dumont 2006 p. 964). Federalization also led to a reduction in the size of the House and the Senate, effectively reducing the size of the national political class while creating a new class active at the regional and community level. This class has all the constructs of a state, with a minister-president, a civil service and a system to finance parties (Brans, de Winter, 2003 p. 48). MPs operate in an almost schizophrenic environment. Parties in the federal government must play the fairly majoritarian game of regional politics (including the request for even more autonomy) and the consociational game of federal politics simultaneously (van Haute, 2007 p. 11). Constrained by their commitment to the regional party line and delicate coalition agreements, they seek out ways to prove that the are responsive to increasingly skeptical voters, they engage in local politicking, including “case work, local office-holding, pork-barrel politics and local symbolic representation” (De Winter, Dumont 2006 p. 967).
Several mechanisms exist to ensure consensus on issues involving both linguistic groups when such debates take place in the legislative forum. The alarm bell procedure, while seldom employed, is wielded as a political tool. When 25% of the MPs of a given - 109 -
language group, (the Francophones most likely, considering demographics) feel that a given proposal is against their interest, they can activate the alarm bell which would suspend debates and put the matter before the federal government. While never used and rarely threatened, the procedure is an important tool for Francophones but a dangerous one. Should they enact the procedure, it might be viewed as yet another case of a minority suppressing the will of a majority. When the federal or regional governments signal a conflict, the task of solving the problem falls to the Concentration Committee. Composed of the federal prime minister, five ministers from the federal government and six members of the regional and community governments, the committee operates on the principle of linguistic parity. The Committee has sixty days to solve a conflict. Should they fail to do so, the suspension of discussion is lifted and the conflict remains unsolved (Deschouwer, 1998 p. 136). While both these mechanisms are constitutionally enshrined, they are seldom used. Elites prefer the politically safer and private negotiations to legislative actions which may symbolize outright conflicts.
The Principle of Parity
The principle of parity and mutual checks is a traditional consociationalist technique, employed “when parties are not keen to vacate a central policy area." Belgium first adopted this tactic during the school war to deal with the religious cleavage. Deputy Ministers and ministers were from different pillars to ensure balance (Hooghe, 2003 p. 92). As Flanders has gained economic and demographic strength, many nationalists feel that the Belgian system, with its reliance on parity, fails to reflect the true reality of Belgian society. This leads to the rejection of the anti-majoritarian principles under which Belgium has existed. "Demands first cast in terms of parity can ripen into demands for priority or exclusivity" (Horowitz, 1985 p. 197). While the principle of parity, especially in appointments to the political sphere or civil service, is widely accepted, Horowitz finds that it is rarely satisfying to those involved. Minority and majority groups both claim that they are underrepresented. (Horowitz, 1985 p. 225). In Belgium, Francophones resent their lack of influence, especially as the prime minister usually comes from Flanders, while the Flemish realize they have been shortchanged when demographics are considered.
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While the Constitution demands that the principle of parity be respected in the cabinet and the distribution of administrative posts, this is mostly symbolic. Ethnic conflict is unlikely to occur in this sphere. It is, however, likely to occur in the Senate. Therefore, principles of power-sharing and mechanisms which prevent one group acting unilaterally in a way that damages the interest of the others are the most important. Flemish nationalists originally advocated equality for their language, culture and role in political life. Anti-Majoritarianism
All scholars of ethnic conflict emphasis that conflicts are never truly solved but can be accommodated peacefully. It is up to the institutions to “allow conflicts to formulate, find expression and be managed in a sustainable way" (Reilly 2001 p. 5). Belgium has relied on anti-majoritarian mechanisms in decision-making for decades. When Francophones were faced with a Flemish demographic and economic majority, the leadership instituted principles of equality in governing bodies, like the cabinet. While this is viewed by many as ideal, it may perpetuate conflict. "Unlike ranked ethnic groups, which are ascriptively defined components of a single society, parallel groups are themselves incipient whole societies and indeed may formerly have constituted more or less autonomous whole societies" (Horowitz, 1985 p. 23). While a majority of representatives within the Senate come from Flanders, the system of representation requires support from both sides. Should a majority attempt to enact a measure dealing with linguistic or community without the support of both sides, safety procedures exist to slow this process. While these alarm bell and arbitration procedures are rarely employed, the threat of their use forces compromise. However some scholars suggest that the antimajoritarian principles on which the Belgian state relies have played a role in perpetuating conflict. “Even if ethnic competition is "objectively" fair, it is likely to be perceived as unfair whenever it occurs within structures that generate grievances that spoil relations between competitors” (Belanger, Pinard 1991 p. 449). Consociational mechanisms are viewed as serving the interests of the Francophone community and create a situation in which the central state is dominated by the periphery (De Witte, 2006 p. 205). The anti-majoritarian tradition has come under attack due to the lack of of democratic accountability and the unfair advantage held by Francophones. Because of - 111 -
various formal mechanisms, “the francophone political parties have considerable leverage in the national parliament to ensure that their interests are taken into account in any negotiated deal” (Mnookin 2007). Reforms are typically carried out outside of the general political system. The Parliament and general government were usually isolated from the reform process. Negotiations took place between the main parties rather than in the Parliament (van Haute, 2007 p. 10). Flemings would prefer that debates over reforms and ethnic relations take place within the governmental sphere, especially the Parliament where they hold a majority. Francophones insist that reforms take place in institutional forums (van Haute, 2007 p. 13). When Yves Leterme, the politician responsible for government formation following the June 2007 elections presented his conditions shortly before abdicating his role, constitutional reform approved by a majority rather than all political actors was one of them. This was unacceptable to the Francophone Christian-Democrats who feared ceding control over the process. Belgium political elites relied on the survival of the traditional pillar system. While competitors did emerge, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists had the advantage, possessing enormous social capital due to the ability to ensure the distribution of services and funds and appoint civil servants (Maesschalk, Van de Walle 2006 p. 1007). However, as the twentieth century came to a close, the traditional system and society was faced with a shock. Throughout the 1990s, new parties on both the right and the left entered the political arena with surprising success (Deschouwer, 2002 p. 167). Scandals and the appearance of corruption and cronyism were decried by youth who no longer identified or relied upon traditional pillars (Craeybeckx, et al 2004 p. 275). The accountability of the Belgian state was questioned. In addition to threats from upstarts, the traditional system faced defection. The system in which the three parties competed fiercely but cooperated when necessary to retain their grip on power was broken. The Flemish Liberal Party adopted a new name and attacked its former partners, rallying against patronism, clientelism and the deeply embedded system of social supports (Deschouwer, 2002 p. 167). However, the traditional parties retain their influence, despite the fact that Belgian citizens themselves are increasingly disillusioned by the political elite. Researchers found that in 1961, 97.1% of Belgian votes went to traditional parties. In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the share of the electorate fell to 76.1. While this was part of a larger European trend, the percentage change was twice the average (Mair, 1998 p. 85). This disillusionment has led to a shift in identities, towards the localities and the region. - 112 -
The Price of Devolution
The Belgian system does not allow for the drastic reforms necessary for political and economic progress. Problems were solved by disbursing funds (Maesschalk, Van de Walle 2006 p. 1011). As a result, Belgium‟s path towards federalism has been particularly expensive. Funds distributed to one region must be matched in the other. This has led to unnecessary projects and the emphasis on parity has failed to reduce tensions. “the Flemish object to evenly divided allocations while contributing more than one-half of the tax base. In a sense, the meticulous pursuit of equity has provided the fodder for further demands for regional autonomy" (Bruening, Ishiyama, 1998 p. 118) Often, the government seeks to ensure acquiescence and peace by giving each group control over the issues that matter most to them, an effective if expensive technique (Swenden, 2003 p. 14). Belgian conflict brokers traditionally applied this technique to the allocation of ministerial portfolios. They often gave big expenditure departments like defence, public works, or public housing to Walloon Socialist ministers, who could thereby create jobs for the declining Walloon economy. They allocated agriculture and culture to Flemish Christian democrats, who wanted to satisfy their sizeable rural constituency or felt pressure from cultural nationalists. Hooghe, 2003 p. 91. However, the government has reached a point in which there is not much more to give. Flemings continue to advocate the division of the social security system and of healthcare; while Walloons claim that their demands for autonomy have been satisfied and fear the economic burden should they be forced to take on the administration of these systems.
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The Importance of the Party System
The Belgian pillar system was not originally divided along ethnic lines, as discussed in previous chapters. While the Belgian pillar system has been besieged by protest parties and alternative forms of identification, the traditional parties remain socially and politically important. Often, party affiliation is necessary to secure some public goods and employment. Instead of ensuring the maintenance of control by the pillars, this process of clientelism has been increasingly viewed as corrupt, sparking anger amongst those disadvantaged by their lack of participation. In addition, the youth no longer strongly identify with the pillars. There is significant variation in the success of the traditional parties according to regions. Swenden posits this is because a “party‟s general ideology corresponds with the socioeconomic or religious profile of most of the voters who live in that particular region” (Swenden, 2006 p. 145). This is true for Belgium. The Socialist Party in Wallonia has traditionally found its greatest support in Wallonia and continues to do so because of the need for a substantial economic aid to both individuals and industries. The pillar system which defined Belgium‟s political scene shortly after the country came into being is still in existence although it has adopted a linguistic and ethnic flavor. "Belgium‟s pillar parties neatly follow the demarcation lines of these territorially defined subcultures….no pillar party represents more than one subculture" (Deschouwer, 1999 p. 104). The rise of ethnoregionalism challenged the traditional position of the so-called pillar parties. However, liberals, Christian-Democrats and socialists worked, sometimes in tandem, to retain control over the political process. Ruling elites consented to federalist reforms only when they knew that it was necessary to retain their influence. (Hooghe, 2003 p. 93). The parties were unlikely to concede to a political shift which would essentially write them out of office. They enacted reforms from a relatively strong position. Assured of their own bases of support, party leaders often met in extraparliamentary bargaining sessions to negotiate consociational and neocorporatist agreements. These negotiations could bypass parliament and guarantee the stability of the system by limiting the possibly destabilizing involvement of unwanted parliamentary actors or the public (Newman, 1996 p. 60). - 114 -
The Christian Democrats, Socialists and Liberals have retained their organizations despite challenges. They control important aspects of political and social life. The influence of the traditional pillars persists, despite reduced support. They play a role in the composition of electoral rolls; civil servants are often selected from pillar organizations. “the spokesmen of pillar organizations, agencies of socio-economic representation, governmental bodies, mixed or quasi-governmental agencies, and political parties participate continuously in the decision-making process" (Billiet, 1997 p. 67). “The citizens are mainly linked to their pillar organisations and parties by means of patronage rather than by ideological mobilisation" (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 897). In Flanders, the Catholic pillar is comprised of a large number of cultural institutions, hospitals and health insurance providers, schools, trade unions and youth movements. (Billiet, 1997 p. 66).
The Fragmentation of Political Parties
In Belgium, the political system appears at first glance to be highly unstable. Until the 1980s, governments survived their terms and political parties exchanged power frequently. However, the elites remain an influential presence, often serving under multiple governments, sometimes in the very same positions. This was historically true as well, "although there were 13 cabinets between 1944 and 1961, there were only eight Prime Ministers, four Ministers of Foreign Affairs and seven Ministers of Finance" (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 896). This allows for continuity but also PERPETUATES the perception that voting does not actual result in real change. Belgium leads Europe in party fragmentation. It has averaged 6.9 parliamentary parties since 1968 and the average government is formed by 4.4 parties. This results in an extremely long process of government formation. (De Winter, Dumont 2006 p. 958).
The Problem of Government Formation
The lack of a pan-Belgian party system creates serious obstacles for the state and sometimes requires complicated maneuvering. Keating et al cite the lack of visibility at the regional level of policy making as the most important issue. As part of an attempt to ensure the congruency of regional and federal coalitions, elections at both levels were held at the same time. The parties "present the regional and the federal levels as a single - 115 -
political game, as one single reservoir of power for policy making" (2003 p. 80). In 1995 and 1999 this resulted in the formation of symmetrical and congruent coalitions which “an institutional environment very close to the one of the old unitary state” (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 907). The result is a situation strongly favorable to existing political elites and the maintenance of the status quo. Intergovernmental and federal intra-governmental relations will again be a matter of the same small group of party elites, striking an agreement with each other to take on board the issues on which they can find solutions and to keep away the matters on which no agreement can be found” Deschouwer, 2006 p. 908. It is in this context that the consociationalist flavor of Belgian politics is most pronounced, a country which relies on, in the words of Arend Lijphart, an “elite cartel to turn a democracy with a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy” Government formation has always been rife with conflict. Parties split along linguistic lines and geographic disparities when it came to support for the parties. Governments must be formed from the electoral leaders and Flemings were left wondering about the presence of Socialists when they voted overwhelmingly for conservatives. The system may be flawed in that it assumes that electoral movements are the same at both levels. This is not necessarily true, as “the parties in the two party system move in different directions.” It has become increasingly difficult to form a government that reflects the expectations of the voters, resulting in a situation in which “there is no direct electoral control and sanctioning of the central government. (Deschouwer, 1998 p. 130). When the federal and regional elections coincided, government formation was easier. Now that those elections are held at different times, it is even more complicated. The federalization of Belgium coincided with the rise of ethnic nationalism. Certain nationalist groups are considered too radical to be incorporated into the government. As a result, government formation has become increasingly complex. De Winter and Dumont found that from 1946 to 1966, government formation took only 20 days. In elections held from 1968 to 2003, the process took 43 days on average. However, once the difficult process of coalition building is formed, governments since 1987 have been remarkably stable. (De Winter, Dumont 2006 p. 958). These numbers are trumped by the crisis that followed the June 2007 federal elections. In December of 2007, a government had still not been formed and the minister in charge of formation - 116 -
resigned in frustration. Belgian governments often do not reflect the demands and desires of voters. Parties that lose are more likely to be included in coalitions than those who win (De Winter, Dumont 2006 p. 959). In 2006, Peters outlined several characteristics of Belgian politics which would challenge the success and viability of the government. The Belgian party system has always been highly fragmented but the success of Vlaams Belang, which is subject to a cordon sanitaire in coalition formation, has complicated matters. (Peter, 2006 p. 1089). Within the Flemish parliament especially, government coalitions will have to seek support from far outside their ideological family, leading to formations that do not seem to reflect the wishes of the people. Because of the electoral success of the Flemish far right “unusual and large coalitions have to be formed to keep Vlaams Blok out of office” cooperation will become more difficult. (Jagers, Walgrave, 2006 p. 2).
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Does a Belgian Society Exist?
Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist. … The same incidents, the same acts, the same system of government, affect them in different ways; and each fears more injury to itself from the other nationalities than from the common arbiter, the state. Their mutual antipathies are generally much stronger than jealousy of the government. John Stuart Mill
Yves Leterme was asked by a reporter to sing the Belgian national anthem. Instead of singing of “invincible unity,” he launched an appeal to the “children of the fatherland,” in fact, France‟s anthem La Marseillaise. While Rosa Montero, a Spanish journalist, praised Leterme for his lack of nationalism, writing “Imagine a country free of all cheap patriotism, of all that nationalist fervor that has caused so much bloodshed along the centuries. A world where the fact that you are born in such and such a corner of the world is not presented as a personal achievement” She was correct in her assumption that Leterme, someone who had defined Belgium as an “accident of history” did not possess the fervent nationalism of many European leaders. While Belgium is often viewed as a post-national state, nationalism, sometimes extreme, lurks within its borders. If one looked at Flemings and Walloons individually, one could argue that Belgium is made up of some highly nationalistic parts and this nationalism is channeled against the Belgian state, a phenomenon which Hooghe describes as asymmetrical, rooted in Flanders rather than Wallonia and Brussels. Empirical evidence suggests that despite the inability on the part of the Belgian population to sing the national anthem or identify the event that precipitated Belgian independence, Belgian national identity may be growing. Despite regionalization, Belgian identity has increased since the 1980s. “The development of regional governance institutions in Belgium has not gone hand in hand with a deepening of regional identity” Multiple identities can be and are held by Belgian citizens, Hooghe describes regional and national identities as “not exclusive but complementary” (2004 p. 65). However, a lack of widespread regional nationalism has not inhibited the increase of nationalist conflict. Political movements often represent a small but vocal minority. (Hooghe, 2004 p. 66). Before 1986, most Flemings identified with Flanders first. Since - 118 -
then, Belgium has formed the basis of identity. (Billiet, et al. 2006 p. 916). (De Winter, 1998 p. 42).
The Development of Divergent Identities
For quite some time, Belgian society functioned very well despite its bilingual nature. It was led by Francophone political elites. The agrarian and industrial classes of Wallonia spoke Walloon or Picard, but under French rule, underwent increasing francification. Flanders, characterized by rural underdevelopment and a lack of a standardized language was unable to combat this dominance. Ambitious Flemings adopted the French language as a key to social and economic mobility. However, once Flanders began to assert its economic and demographic influence, Flemish language institutions, schools and media developed. The education system was divided and parents were often restricted in their school choice to avoid increasing francification. This impaired cultural, political and economic exchange, making total separation seem less implausible. As a result, the linguistic borders became increasingly entrenched. The political leaders who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s were educated in Flemish schools and spoke Flemish as a matter of principle, although they were often fluent in French as well. However, out of these borders arose two separate societies with divergent interests, ideologies and cultures. Flanders turned towards the Anglo-Saxon model, promoting English-language education to achieve an economic edge. Francophones, never particularly interested or proficient in Flemish, found themselves disadvantaged by laws which required bilingualism in Brussels. As a result "two different cultures have gradually emerged, with diverging social sensitivities, fashions and customs. This trend towards cultural divergence was institutionalised and, at the same time, enhanced by the subsequent reforms of the state" (Billiet, et al. 2006 p. 914). The ideal Belgian citizen who would read a Francophone paper in the morning and watch Flemish news at night has been replaced by a Fleming, Walloon or Bruxellois who is almost wholly centered on his or her region, rarely following or even attempting to understand the perspectives of other parties in the federalist system.
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Flemish Nationalism as the Threat to Belgitude
Flanders has experienced significant ethnic mobilization. Many Flemish citizens partake in social organizations and institutions that “act as agencies of cultural reproduction of regionalist feelings” (De Winter, 1998 p. 42). Flanders has historically aligned itself politically with Christian Democrats and has shown civic engagement with Catholic auxiliary organizations and a Christian-democratic trade union. Keating et al cite the electoral strength of the Christian-democratic party and the position of Christian organizations operating within Flemish society despite the drop in popularity of Christian Democrats. (Keating, et al 2003 p. 79). Flemings, who have fought to develop and preserve their cultural identity tend to be more insular when faced with foreigners. (Billiet, et al. 2006 p. 924). This has translated into electoral gains for the right. Flemish nationalism draws from several segments. Stereotypically, the young, undereducated male tends to support highly nationalistic parties. However, Vlaams Belang also draws from the children of Flemish nationalists who fought for political representation in the 1960s and 1970s. (Hooghe, 2004 p. 83). Support from this segment may diminish as in unilingual, prosperous Flanders they are unlikely to face discrimination and may be turned off by Vlaams Belang‟s overt xenophobia. “Unlike their grandparents or even their parents, young adult Dutch-speakers who live in Flanders cannot reasonably invoke any discriminatory practices which may be linked to the language which they speak" (Swenden,2003 p. 15). Keating found that although Flanders expresses a greater level of support for decentralization than Belgium as a whole, there exists a significant segment of the population that supports a return to centralization. However, elites have failed to reflect that change in public opinion. (Keating, 2004 p. 87). This is a result of a process that “estranges national politics from the electorate, which has only a rather distant control over the whole process” weakening federal culture. (Keating, 2007 p. 21). Staunch pro-Belgian sentiment or “Belgitude” does exist. However, the source of it shows the vast social divide between the North and South. In Flanders, progressive political actors support the continued existence of the Belgian state. Among Walloons, support is concentrated amongst traditional citizens, especially older ones, who remember and perhaps yearn for the days of Francophone dominance, both political and economic. (Hooghe, 2004 p. 85).
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The Role of the Monarchy
While distrust of politicians and the political system is rampant, Belgium's monarchy has remained a point of unity. In a study conducted in 2003, 52 percent of Belgians agreed with the statement posed by surveyors "we should be happy that we have a King because the country would fall apart otherwise" (Billiet et al. 2006 p. 919). In a remarkable reversal of circumstances, Francophones whose vociferous protests forced the abdication of King Albert following World War II, now look to the King as a source of unity. Jaaks Billet and his fellow researchers discovered significant regional discrepancies however. In Flanders 43 percent of those polled agreed that the King is a source of unity while in Wallonia 63 percent agreed. They attribute to this to the fact that autonomist sentiment is much more widespread in Flanders than Wallonia. (2006 p. 919). The King, anxious to ensure the unity and survival of the Belgian state, rejects autonomist calls and speaks out in favor of Belgian unity, leading Flemish nationalists to believe that he panders to Francophones. These different approaches were clear when Crown Prince Phillipe criticized extremist Vlaams Belang. Flemish parties condemned him for breaking the royal tradition of silence on political matters while Francophones praised him for his involvement. (Erk, 2005 p. 500).
The Disconnect between the Belgian Public and Politicians
Belgian citizens, broadly characterized by distrust of traditional leaders, have become increasingly apathetic to a government, disillusioned by the appearance of inefficiency and clientelism, and angry with the federal government‟s failure to respond to pressing social and economic concerns. They have become increasingly radicalized, turning towards newer parties, including environmental parties and to the extreme right. These votes, whether originating out of a sense of protest or a sense of ideology, are nevertheless highly influential in structuring the Belgian state. As a result of decreased bilingualism, political isolation and social distrust, a huge gap has emerged between Flemings, Walloons and Bruxellois. However, a lack of affiliation with the Belgian state and the impetus towards further devolution has perhaps been overstated. The Belgian populace as a whole, whether in Flanders and Wallonia, has moved away from regionalist identification, towards stronger affiliations with class, locality, the Belgian state and Europe as a whole. Yet, regionalist parties and demands - 121 -
for regionalization persist. Research has shown that despite the predominance of demands for reforms on the basis of a need for regional autonomy, citizens are becoming actually less attached to the regions. They are, however, demanding changes in employment, economic and social policy which political elites must satisfy. The fact that the federal center has been divested of these competences by both the subnational units and the supranational European Union can only fuel resentment of the center which is unable to respond to voters‟ demands.
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The Most Europeans of the Europeans: Belgium in the EU
For Belgium, as for several states, the European Union is a way not only to forget an unhappy history, but also to smother the internal difficulties of the present Barker 1998.
Europe is OK and Europe can always go on. In the meantime, Belgium is dealing with its own problems Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 8
The Most European of the Europeans
While its neighbors are plagued with intense and divisive debates about the role of the European Union, Belgium has remained staunchly committed to a highly integrated Union. Criticisms that do emerge mainly focus on the fact that treaties and conferences have not gone far enough. The public is remarkably free of the Euroskepticism which plagues France and the Netherlands. It is a result, some argue, of wider disillusionment with the Belgian political system which is dominated by elites and their interests. This, Beyers and Trondal assert, manifests itself in two different ways, inspiring calls for greater devolution of the Belgian state, but also facilitating the transfer of competencies to the European Union. (2006 p. 936). Even nationalist parties, which in other European countries tend to reject the process of integration which infringes on sovereignty, adopt pro-European standpoints. The ethnoregionalist Vlaamsunie originally resisted European integration, hoping to achieve an independent state. However, as the Community began to take on additional competences and gain economic strength, VU adopted a pro-European stance, believing that “Flanders could more easily achieve full independence yet still prosper economically and remain integrated in the international political community within the framework of a politically and economically united Europe” (De Winter 1998 p. 35). “Not all of them vote in favour, but those voting against use more or less the same arguments as those voting in favour" (Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 11). Voices of dissent often criticize treaties for not going far enough. Interestingly, Belgium‟s path for devolved federalism roughly mirrored the development and integration of the European Union. “Flemish demands for federal - 123 -
reforms have followed the schedule of economic, political, and monetary integration of the European Community” (Lefebvre, 2003 p. 128). Michael Keating argues that Belgium is uniquely suited to European integration, as history has left to Belgium a relatively weak sense of national identity and that, unlike in France, elites failed to build a unified and culturally prestigious nation state, so that the transition to a post-sovereign political order in Europe has been less painful as a result 2004 p. 53. While support for European integration is nearly universal, the reasons for strong proEuropean sentiment, like most policy issues, are subject to regional variation. Flanders views the Union as a positive force than may spur further devolution, while Wallonia expects European funds to revitalize the region. (Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 19).
Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces
Some see Europe as the glue that holds Belgium together while others feel that it introduces additional centrifugal forces, that the federal government is being hollowed from above and below. Many scholars, including Donald Horowitz argue that federalism is best suited to competitive situations in which there are more than two religious, ethnic or ideological groups engaged in conflict. The insertion of the European Union into the Belgian political relationship may exacerbate existing problems or reduce them. According to Liesbet Hooghe, Belgium‟s participation in the Union has had several ramifications for Belgian federalism. It holds the country together by reducing the expected benefits of separatism and “constrains policy divergences among Belgian actors.” (Hooghe, 2004 p. 82-3). “Europeanisation mitigates or softens the dual nature of Belgian federalism and it has stimulated a gradual development towards more cooperative forms of formal and informal governance" (Beyers, Bursens 2006 p. 1075). While Flemish nationalists speak of control over important issues like immigration and economic policy, an independent Flanders or Wallonia would likely face similar restrictions on its sovereignty. However, a very small state seems viable within a European Union, effectively reducing the costs of separatism. (Hooghe, 2004 p. 82-3). Keating predicts that “As the Union strengthens, the Flemish movement will strengthen its resources to be prepared for the eventual disappearance of the Belgian - 124 -
state” (Keating, 2004 p. 84). As discussed in the review of literature, the devolution of powers and competences can allow a substate entity to take on the trappings of the state. While this may undercut demands for secessionism at times, these regions realize that the larger state is not necessary for economic and political viability. This is true for Belgium, which has divested many powers to both the European Union and the regions and communities that form the federal state. The participation of the substate units at the European level may embolden the regions. The Flemish community and the Walloon region especially have proved to be viable administrations, capable of organizing society and economy as effectively as the Belgian state. They could probably take care of their external relations as efficaciously as the Belgian federal State, which can command only slightly more resources within the context of the European Community Hooghe, 1995 p. 136. Even the far right, which in most member states tends to be skeptical of European integration and even anti-Europe, may benefit; both the Front National and Vlaams Blok gained legitimacy when they received seats in the European Parliament in 1989. (Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 10). In addition to the increase in political profiles, it put them into contact with other European populist movements.
Multilevel Governance and the European Union
While the European Union requires Belgium to adopt a unitary stance, Belgium retains its dualist characteristics even when participating in European affairs and has shown itself willing to forfeit its vote rather than force a compromise. The Directorate of European Affairs, the so-called P11, coordinates Belgian positions taken in European institutions. 25 participants from the all levels of government meet frequently. The regions and community representatives were included following the treaty of Maastricht. Decisions require consensus, ensuring that the federal and federated units are accorded equal standing. However, this can create conflict as the units work to protect their powers and leads to a situation in which theoretically, a small minority can block progress. “In matters that fall within Community competences even the Germanspeaking community – which accounts for roughly 65,000 German-speaking Belgians – could theoretically block a decision" (Kovziridze, 2002 p. 137). Because Belgium must speak and vote with one voice in the Council of Ministers, should they fail to reach - 125 -
consensus, Belgium would be unable to participate. (Beyers, Trondal 2006 p. 936). This occurs fairly frequently, according to Kovziridze, as competences are often held exclusively by the community and region. Each entity has different goals and means of operation. To avoid outright internal conflict, the government may decide to avoid taking a stance on a particular issue. (Kovziridze, 2002 p. 139). The Council of Ministers, in which Belgium has five votes, proves to be the most contentious area of interaction as Belgium is prohibited from splitting those votes and must come to an agreement in order to act effectively within this body. (Hooghe, 1995 p. 146). While they must promote a Belgian line, according to Keating, they often “use the opportunity to press their own concerns" (Keating, 2004 p. 156). Elections to the European Parliament are determined according to linguistic affiliation, rather than residence. Two constituencies were created, Flemish and Francophone. Residents of Brussels were divided according to their primary language. (Deschouwer, 2006 p. 903). Although the first direct elections took place in 1979, when Belgium was just beginning its process of federalization, the voting regions were strictly divided. There was no question of a multilingual election, a precursor of what was to happen in statewide and regional elections. Belgium has 24 seats in the European Parliament, one of which is reserved for the German-speaking community. Francophone voters in Wallonia and Brussels elect nine, while Flemish voters elect fourteen. (Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 8). When seeking European funds and development assistance, the regions have constitutional rights to participate at the European level. The Constitution allows the regions to submit development plans directly to the Commission, while regions in all other member states, besides Germany, must go through their national government. (Balchin, et al 1999 p. 159). However, conflicts at the EU level do exist. A significant portion of policy competences has been devolved to regional and community authorities. At times, the actions of the regions or communities can bring the Belgian state as a whole into conflict with the ECJ. The federal state lacks the enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance. As the EU expands its input into social and cultural policy, conflicts are likely to occur more frequently. Certain European Union and European policies have threatened to upset the delicate political balance. The Council of Europe‟s voluntary Charter on Regional and Minority Languages has yet to be ratified in both France and Belgium. Belgium fears - 126 -
that should they sign the charter, which encourages the recognition and promotion of minority languages, Francophones in the Flemish periphery of Brussels would assert their rights, upsetting the fragile settlement. (Keating, 2007 p. 17). While some speak of Belgians as the ideal Europeans, willing to sacrifice nationalist attachments for the grand European project, “public opinion is more characterised by indifference instead of articulated support or opposition" (Beyers, Trondal 2006 p. 936). The public is positive towards Europe, perhaps because it has no other choice, viewing its own government with distrust. Regions, protective of their hard won responsibilities, may begin to feel threatened by the European Union‟s extension of competences. Surveys show that while many Belgians push for the federal government to cede control over taxation, social security and health care, they do not wish for the European Union to be given these competences. Should Belgium experience economic decline or an influx of outsiders, the Flemish far right could potentially mobilize against the European Union, leading to the adoption of Euroskeptic or even anti-EU views. (Deshouwer, Van Assche 2005 p. 5).
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The Problem of Brussels
Like a father who never files for divorce because he is unwilling to give up custody of a child, many Flemings--who might otherwise favor independence--would prefer to stay in an unsatisfying Belgian marriage, where the spouses are leading separate lives, than give up Brussels Mnookin 2007.
Brussels, like the EU it houses, has an interesting role in ethnic relations and the survival of the Belgian state is debatable. Brussels, the “meeting point of the Flemish and French communities” is also a site and symbol of considerable conflict. (Swenden, 2006 p. 258). Although many theories have been set forth on the division of Belgium, the role of Brussels and its periphery have never been clearly addressed. The Manifesto for an Independent Flanders in Europe argues that the two new countries which would result from the division of Belgium should share responsibility for the city along with the European Union. Others propose that Brussels should become the ultimate capital of Europe, a free city supported by the European Union. (Mnookin, 2007). A Francophone city in the heart of Flanders, Brussels has a highly international character, due to the institutions and diplomats who have taken up residence there. Neither side would cede control of Brussels easily. The failure to definitively resolve the status of Brussels has perhaps held the country together. “Without Brussels, an institutional hyphen in which the Flemish and French communities take a strong interest, the case for two independent states, Flanders and Wallonia, could be made more easily” (Swenden, 2006 p. 255). In the largely homogenous territories of Flanders and Wallonia, ethnic conflict is restricted to political jibs and the occasional vandalism of bilingual street signs. However, in the periphery of Brussels, conflict is most salient. As the city grows, Brussels natives and foreign diplomats have sought housing in the suburbs of Brussels, which is Flemish territory and offers facilities only in Flemish. The Flemish view this growing Francophone minority as a threat to territorial homogeneity and their control over the area refer to Brussels as an “oil stain” (Newman, 1996 p. 60). Issues have arisen over the treatment of these Francophones and have prompted a significant crisis in Belgian politics which will be discussed in greater detail in the following chapter.
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CHAPTER SIX THE FUTURE OF THE BELGIAN STATE
Bye-Bye Belgium? December 2007
We are two different nations, an artificial state created as a buffer between big powers, and we have nothing in common except a king, chocolate and beer Filip Dewinter Vlaams Belang
Living together in a one country is impossible if year after year the minority prevents the majority to realize its most important desires Het Laaste Nieuws
As this work neared completion, the Belgian state experienced a severe crisis which threatened the long-term viability of the state. Federal elections held in June 2007 failed to yield a clear leader, and coalition talks were undermined by gaffes by the minister in charge of governmental formation and demands from the Flemish community which Francophones in Wallonia and Brussels deemed unacceptable. The Christian Democrats and Liberals together won 81 of the 150 parliamentary seats and agreed to form a coalition, but demands from the Flemish for more autonomy and the redrawing of Brussels-area districts have presented serious obstacles. While the failure to quickly form a government may represent a minor bump and is certainly not a new occurrence, this crisis is unique for both its length and nature. Belgium “beat its post-war record for squabbling” The previous record for government-formation was 148 days set in 1988. (The Economist 8 Nov 2007). As this thesis was being completed, the parties were still in negotiation, complicated in November by a move by Flemish parliamentarians to strip Frenchspeakers living in the Flemish districts of Brussels of certain privileges. The current situation should not be surprising. The run-up to the elections was especially contentious, issues were framed in ethnic terms and it was clear that the existing financial system and the status of Brussels would be challenged. The financial implications of federalism emerged as contentious political issues in the spring of 1999 - 129 -
when the Flemish Parliament voted to increase financial and fiscal autonomy and defederalize parts of the social security system. Francophones viewed this move as a “clear and deliberate attempt to reduce or even to break the financial solidarity between north and south and thus as a direct attack on the viability of the Walloon region." While some steps towards fiscal autonomy were taken, they were small and the issues became an important part of the June 2007 federal elections and the subsequent government formation. (Deschouwer, 1998 p. 137). In 2006, Karl Deshouwer described a situation in which government formation at the federal level would be a time for intense and lengthy negotiations. “The formation of a new federal government furthermore could remain a moment at which the segmental elites can force each other to accept negotiations. The default option is then no federal government, while the regional governments can be formed or can go on. This situation has so far never occurred, but one can imagine that it could be easier than before to live – at least for a while – with a caretaker government at the federal level” Deschouwer 2006 p. 908 Just one year later, a remarkably similar situation occurred. Although his methods were characterized as inflammatory and irresponsible, it is necessary to grant him credit. After extensive interviews and research, Dutilleul spoke of a possible crisis that would destroy the Belgian state, a stalemate in which demands were so strictly entrenched that it would force dissolution. The film envisioned a scenario in which, faced with a failure to form a coalition, the Flemish parliament would vote for secession. Vlaams Belang did so in October but the move was firmly rebuffed by mainstream parties, symbolizing a commitment to the Belgian state, if not in its current incarnations. Belgian life continues despite the lack of government, lending support to those who say that the federal government is a hollow shell and has no real influence on day to day affairs. Former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt rules in a caretaker capacity, allowed to implement existing laws but not enact new ones. (Hans, 2007). “The country is governed largely by a patchwork of regional bureaucracies, so trains run on time, mail is delivered, garbage is collected, the police keep order” (Scolino, 2007). However, pressing issues do exist, including the drafting of the 2008 federal budget and the signing of the Lisbon Treaty. (Hans, 2007). In early November, there were signs that the crisis was abating. Agreements were formed amongst the Flemish and French parties in the proposed coalition on issues - 130 -
of labor and social policy, judicial reform and immigration. However, just a few days later, Flemish parliamentarians employed their majority to vote in favor of curtailing the rights of 150,000 French-speakers in the 35 hybrid communes in Flemish Brabant, the suburbs of Brussels. Brussels, and its increasingly Francophone suburbs, have been an issue of contention for decades. Flemings fear the expansion of the French community into Flemish territory. During the 1970s, the two groups agreed to accord Francophone speakers rights as linguistic minorities but allow Flanders to maintain regional jurisdiction. (Stroobant, 2007). While the demographics have evolved, politicians are reluctant to address the issue, fearing that it would lead to ill-will and outright conflict. The move would effectively strip French-speakers from the Halles-Villvorde of B-H-V of the right to vote for French-speaking politicians in Brussels and have court cases heard by French-speaking judges. This move was significant when the “Belgian pact” Belgium‟s tradition of antimajoritarianism and consociationalist bargaining is considered. (The Economist 8 Nov 2007). This was the first time that Flanders wielded its political weight to push through a measure rather than engaging in negotiations. (Hans, 2007). Francophones viewed the move as “an act of grave political aggression” which “severed national unity” and the Francophone community parliament voted a “conflict of interest” which would prevent the move from taking place for 120 days. (Stroobant, 2007a). They stormed out in protest of the bill and may also activate the alarm bell procedure which would allow them to block the move for another two months. More immediately, liberal and centrist Francophone political parties withdrew from the process of coalition formation. During the months of negotiation that led to the rift, Belgians “could pretend that five months of talks over forming a new government were merely an extreme form of business as usual” (The Economist, 8 Nov 2007). On November 30th, Yves Leterme set forth an ultimatum to the parties which were meant to form the governing coalition. It consisted of three conditions, all of which must be accepted by the parties. His plan included a constitutional convention in 2008 which would consider the devolution of responsibilities for social security and taxation from the federal to regional government. The reform would be subject to a majority vote rather than subject to minority vetoes. (Coppi, 2007). The Flemish Christian Democrats and liberals on both sides backed the plan but the Francophone Christian Democrats refused, largely due to the threat to social security.
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As a result, the King designated outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to resume coalition talks. The Flemish-speaking PM, who resigned following his party‟s decline in the June elections, has experienced resurgence in popularity. Belgians that were polled expressed greater confidence in his ability to lead than Leterme, who was a controversial figure. He will seek special powers from the Belgian Parliament to act on crucial economic issues and been defined by crisis and subsequent compromise. He will attempt to gather enough support from both sides to begin the process of Constitutional reform. Should this occur, Flanders should be sufficiently appeased and a governing coalition can be formed. He has unofficially given himself one month to do so, although some commentators predict that he will stay in office in this limited capacity until the regional elections in 2009. While 30,000 Belgians marched on Brussels to express their unity, Belgium‟s future is uncertain. The constant discord has led to further disillusionment amongst voters and many may be driven by the right. The differences between Flemings and Walloons now seem irreconcilable, as a result of the political posturing and attacks that emanated from both sides. Flemish Christian Democrat Mark Eyskens said that “saliva flows, but not blood” indicating that the conflict is dramatic but peaceful. However, should it continue, tensions will flare and agreements between parties and citizens will become more difficult. What Comes Next…
This failure to form a lasting government may represent a minor bump and is certainly not a new occurrence; similar crises have occurred in previous years. However, the nature and magnitude of this crisis indicates a fundamental shift and may have unintended consequences for the existing political system. However, the demands have never been so clearly stated by both sides and political actions seem to indicate a rejection of anti-majoritarian principles. Belgium has long been ruled by consociational practices, avoiding direct conflict by secret negotiations which take place in remote locations. This excluded the far right from participation but also excluded the Belgian public, who found themselves increasingly isolated from both the policy-makers and the policy. Judging from the recent crisis, anti-majoritarian principles have failed to prevent ethnic conflict.
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Most agree that a substantial reform of the state is necessary, not just to deal with community conflict but to address economic and social problems. However, the nature of the reform is up for debate. It is clear that these problems cannot be pushed aside. It seems bizarre that ethnic relations in Belgium have reached arguably their worst crisis at a moment when Belgians themselves are feeling increasingly attached to the Belgian state, lending credence to the theory that ethnic conflict may be engineered by politicians, rather than a result of inherent differences between the two groups. The political sphere does not necessarily reflect the demands of the voters, which can be dangerous and have potentially dramatic consequences for Belgium. There has been discussion amongst politicians and scholars dealing with ways to bring the political sphere closer to the public one. While many politicians advocate further devolution, scholars theorize that fundamental changes in the political structure may be more helpful. Deeply divided societies are unique in their structure and support "voters are normally ethnic voters, who are no more likely to cast their vote for a member of a rival group than rival ethnic parties are to court their support" (Reilly, 2001 p. 10). In Belgium, this is true, the unitary Belgian party, the Belgische Unie-Union Belege (BUB) receives fewer votes than the Maoist party. However, Donald Horowitz emphasizes the necessity of reforming the electoral system of a divided country in such a way that parties must seek support outside their ethnic, religious or linguistic group to gain power. (Horowitz, 1985 p. 598). To build support from other groups, candidates must behave moderately and accommodatively on core issues of concern. In ethnically divided societies, this means that electoral incentives can promote much broader changes in political behaviour even small minorities have a value in terms of where their votes are directed, as small numbers of votes could always make the difference between victory and defeat for major candidates Reilly 2001 p. 10. This could perhaps be a viable solution for Belgium; politicians would be forced to eliminate their reliance on nationalist and regionalist rhetoric to inspire voters. However, it seems impossible to imagine Belgium‟s core parties willingly increasing their competition when a system of divide and conquer has served them so well. To avoid the present difficulties inherent in government formation, “it seems more logical and easier to abolish federal elections and to make the composition of the - 133 -
federal parliament dependent upon regional elections than to persuade the linguistically split parties to join forces again” (Swenden, 2006 p. 285). However, Flemish and Francophone politicians are perhaps moderated by the fact that they have to see and interact with their rivals at the federal level. Should all decisions be made at the regional and community level, they would not be held accountable to their governing partners. Often, issues are hashed out during this period and they emphasize the importance of compromise to the parties engaged in the process. The referendum is used successfully in several other states, Switzerland especially, to guide policy and ensure that the voters consent to and support constitutional change. Referendums have not been employed in Belgium. Belgium has worked to avoid the possibility of direct confrontation. Political activity is likely to take place behind closed doors where it is revocable and subject to elite bargaining. The historical precedent does not bode well for their employ. When a referendum was held on the return of King Leopold III following World War II, the only sectarian violence that Belgium has ever witnessed took place. (Swenden, 2003 p. 6). While Flanders voted to allow the King to stay, 57% of Francophones voted for his removal. “The result of the referendum was thus not respected and a typically consociational and negotiated compromise was reached to get out of this so-called King‟s Question" (Deschouwer, Van Assche, 2005 p. 8). While it appears that Belgians would vote overwhelmingly for the maintenance of the Belgian state, should they not or should significant regional disparities exist, it would be difficult to foster political cooperation. Ambiguity is one of the keys of Belgian politics and politicians are reluctant to cede their right to engage in quiet negotiations. Whatever the method, it is clear that Belgian federalism is in peril. While it is likely that Belgium will survive this conflict and form a government as soon as political leaders realize that it is disadvantageous for the conflict to continue, serious damage has already been done. Without a significant reform of the political system, the next crisis will come sooner rather than later and the tradition of peaceful compromise may be broken.
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