07 September 2007

Belgium on the brink of break-up?

I've long been aware of the two contrasting halves of Belgium.

When I was 12/13 I was sent for a few weeks to stay with a French-speaking Belgian family in Mons who were friends of my parents (very longstanding friends as things turned out. Only death and old age has finally stopped them being travelling companions.) And it was there I first began to realise there was a rift between them and their northern neighbours.

Over the years I visited a number of times, both along the coast (as a sailor) & inland (as a travel journalist), and during that time I've watched as the ancient differences between the Flemish and the Walloons have become more formalised and pronounced.

Particularly noticeable in my line of work was the break up of the national tourist board into Tourism Flanders-Brussels and Belgian Tourist Office - Brussels & Wallonia.

And I'm ashamed to say that only this week, in my own small way I even exacerbated the situation by cracking a (mild, but rather witty) anti-Walloon joke with a Flemish friend.

I mention this because in the context of the European Union, the idea of individual would-be states asserting their independence (Scotland for example) hasn't really seemed terribly disastrous.....or imminent.

But I was brought up short this morning, reading this appraisal of current Belgian politics which suggests that the 'unlikely' might become 'likely' rather more quickly than anyone had supposed.









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