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Il Belgio è senza governo da un anno esatto

Record belga: lunedì senza governo da un anno esatto. L’articolo del Guardian del 12.6.11:

Belgian waffle: after a year of talks, coalition seems no closer

One of the country’s staples seems aptly suited to the current national condition of being without government for a year

Leo Cendrowicz in, Sunday 12 June 2011 17.47 BST

Article history

In the bars and boutiques around the splendidly gothic Grand Place in Brussels, tourists and locals can savour beer, chips and chocolate.

They can also enjoy waffles, another Belgian staple, and one which is aptly suited to the current national condition. Thanks to epic political waffling, Belgium on Monday will have been without a government for a year.

A caretaker government has been running Belgium since elections on 13 June 2010, but despite countless negotiations among the fragmented political parties, the country’s leaders are not even close to an agreement on a new coalition.

The deadlock reflects a widening split between French and Dutch-speaking communities who rarely intermingle, and increasingly refuse to learn each other’s language. In last year’s elections, the biggest proportion of votes, some 17%, went to the N-VA, a Flemish nationalist party founded only 10 years ago that calls for independence for Flanders. Despite his belligerent rhetoric, N-VA leader Bart De Wever is involved in seven-party talks on a new coalition, but there is a suspicion – and not just on the French-speaking side – that he is systematically sabotaging them for his own political ends.

Language bickering infects almost every political issue, to the extent that Belgians cannot even agree on what music to play in the Brussels metro. Last month, complaints about an apparent bias towards Jacques Brel and other French-language singers forced the public transport authority to restrict its playlist to English, Spanish and Italian songs.

Some say Belgium’s 180-year history, as a shotgun alliance of French and Dutch speakers, means the country lacks a sense of national purpose to push people together during a crisis.

“We have an awkward democracy, which is quite conflict prone,” said Carl Devos, professor of political science at Ghent University. “If you don’t have a national identity, everything is defined as them and us. Belgian problems don’t exist: it’s only French and Flemish problems.”

Yet for most Belgians these tiffs matter little. Thanks to well-functioning bureaucracy, rubbish is collected, buses run on time, and taxes still have to be paid. This is partly because many powers have already been hived off to Belgium’s regional governments and linguistic communities, who handle day-to-day responsibilities like transport, the environment, and local economic projects.

At the federal level, the caretaker administration of the outgoing prime minister, Yves Leterme, has kept things ticking over. It deftly helmed Belgium’s six-month presidency of the European Union last year, pushed through bold budget-cutting measures in February, and also dispatched fighter jets to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. The country is recovering well from the downturn: business and consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2007, and last month the government forecast economic growth of 2.2% for this year and 2012, well above the average of 1.7% for the eurozone.

“You could say that Belgium has invented a whole new form of governance: Nogov, ” says Dave Sinardet, a politics lecturer at Brussels Free University (VUB). “The fact that Belgium has not done so badly in the past year, does in a way prove that the country is not a complete non-functioning mess, as some in Flanders claim it is.”

The scant impact deadlock exerts on everyday life is probably why most Belgians shrug off the stalemate, even making light of it at times.

Earlier this year, tongue-in-cheek efforts to resolve the crisis included a campaign to get Belgian men to quit shaving until a government is formed and a suggestion by one MP that politicians be denied sex until they can agree on a coalition. When Belgium broke the world record for its government impasse, beating Iraq’s 2009 marker as undisputed dithering champion, it was greeted with ironic celebrations across the country.

There will probably be a few more mocking celebrations on Monday. It may well be another year before the crisis is resolved, but if Belgians continue to laugh at their bizarre condition, it probably means there is hope yet.


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