20 March 2014, 15:05

Belgium on the verge of carve-up: Flanders boosts separatism claims

Brussels, the administrative center of the European Union, is a symbol of united Europe, but paradoxically, Belgium is an expert on separatism. Its northern region of Flanders has claimed sovereignty for years and if it succeeds, there may be no such country as Belgium.

The financial crisis of the late 2000s boosted separatist movements in Europe. Suddenly rich regions of prosperous states started to voice their discontent saying they’re fed up with feeding economically weak parts of the country. This is what happened in Belgium, which is split into the rich Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia. Flemish separatism is rooted in the very formation of Belgium which was united artificially, says the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Fedor Lukyanov.

"Historically Flanders and Wallonia were always interconnected as they were neighbors, but they have different cultural and linguistic traditions. Belgium emerged as a result of tribulations faced by Europe in the first decades of the 19th century. Thus, bringing such different peoples together was a random act".

In the past, Wallonia, with its industry and coal mines, used to be the rich part. However in the post-industrial economy, Flanders became the prosperous one. This added to cultural differences and incited Flemish separatism. However, economic issues are now the major arguments against Flanders breaking away from Belgium, believes the head of the Center for the European Studies at the Institute of World Economy and International Affairs Alexey Kuznetsov. "The main obstacle to West European nationalists is an obscure legal status of a new possibly autonomy within the EU. When will it become a member-state if it will at all? Now nationalism in Belgium, Scotland and Catalonia is mainly economically based: let’s be honest – their ethnic minorities are not persecuted. And if they gain independence but won't be able to join the EU, it will hurt them a lot".

Despite these subtle legal aspects, this year Catalonia and Scotland will see independence referendums. Flanders will certainly be watching them, however it will hardly refer to the cases of Crimea or Kosovo, Fedor Lukyanov believes.

"I think that Flemish nationalists will hardly use appeal to precedents. As for any true Fleming, successor of Till Eulenspiegel, comparison with Kosovo Albanians, some strange Russians or Tatars from Crimea is far from being pleasant".

If Flanders quits Belgium, the country is most likely to disappear from the maps. Having remained alone, French-speaking Wallonia would be seeking the jurisdiction of Paris. Representatives of the Walloon Rally far-right party have long insisted that the region has always been part of France sharing "everything, except the name". Their arguments are not only linguistic but also close economic ties with the neighboring country. By the way, French nationalists back these aspirations. The leader of The National Front Marine Le Pen already said that "If Belgium falls and Flanders declares independence which seems more and more possible every day, France will welcome Wallonia with pleasure".

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