Belgium moves to federal state

BRUSSELS - Belgium yesterday took the first step towards constitutional change in an effort to stop the country tearing itself apart, but hardline Flemish nationalists hope the reform will be but a stage on the road to independence, writes Sarah Lambert.

Under the new plans, introduced in parliament yesterday, greater powers will devolve to the regions, which will now be in charge of their own policy in areas such as trade and agriculture. Financing has been changed to ensure a region keeps most of what it earns. By the time two-thirds of both houses of parliament have approved the 33 constitutional articles some time in June, Belgium will be a federal state.

The reform makes explicit the split between French-speaking Wallonia and Flemish-speaking Flanders which has underpinned growing political unrest.

The Wallonia-Flanders border cuts the country roughly in half. Traditionally, the southern cities of Wallonia, Charleroi and Liege were the home of Belgian coal- mining and heavy industry and hence the economic powerhouse of the nation. But in recent decades the balance has shifted in favour of Flanders' commercial know-how. The Flemish believe this change has not been properly reflected in the country's political make-up and have demanded a greater say in their own affairs.

Tensions run highest in the Belgian capital, Brussels, which straddles the border and is officially bilingual. Unofficially it is the Francophone culture that dominates. The most desirable residential areas are in Flanders, their native inhabitants Flemish-speaking and ready to do anything to prevent what they see as the colonisation and ultimate conquest of their culture.

These fears found expression in the strong support shown for the neo-fascist Vlaams Blok in the 1991 general election. This forced the other Flemish parties to adopt a more strident approach to the issue - so that commentators now discuss the scenario that no one dare contemplate: the separation of Belgium into two states. For many Flemings this is still the long-term goal, and the reform is for them a first step in that direction. It is now up to Wallonia to help make a federal system work so well that their Flemish neighbours decide to bury the hatchet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent