The families enjoying Ostend’s beaches last weekend did not seem overly concerned about Belgium’s potential political meltdown just a week away.
Some sipped from beer cans emblazoned with the national football team – one of the few things uniting the linguistically divided north and south, but unlikely to prevent a surge in support for separatist parties at tomorrow’s polls.
Ostend is in the Dutch-speaking province of Flanders, where 6.5 million Belgians live. They are increasingly at odds with the 4.5 million Francophones in southern Wallonia, which contributed to Belgium going a world record-beating 541 days without a government after the last elections in 2010.
That horse-trading ended with a six-party coalition excluding the main Flemish separatist party, the N-VA, and installing the socialist Elio Di Rupo, as Prime Minister. He has devolved more power to the regions, but N-VA’s support has grown. Belgium has suffered during the economic crisis, and many in richer Flanders feel they are supporting people in Wallonia, once the country’s industrial heartland.
The N-VA is expected to get the most votes, but not enough to form a government and push through devolution. This is stoking fears of another lengthy crisis as smaller parties fight to keep it out of power.