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Freedom for the Flemish?

The frontrunner in the Belgium election is calling for breaking up the artificially created nation. Belgium has 6 million Dutch living in Flanders and 4.5 million French in Walloon. However the constitution gives the numerically inferior Walloons half of the parliament, which keeps a Socialist francophone government lording over the Flemish. The Flemish have embraced free enterprise and are much more prosperous than the socialist Walloon. However the Flemish pay high taxes to subsidize welfare in Walloon.

A few members of the CofCC national board of directors met the leaders of the far-right secessionist Vlaams Belange in Washington DC a few years ago. Vlaams Belange is polling 15% in Flanders ahead of the election this weekend.

From Antiwar News

Despite its status as the home of the European Union, Belgium itself has long struggled with divisions between its 6 million Dutch-speakers and 4.5 million Francophones but until recently talk of a breakup has been limited to extremists.

Now, Bart De Wever of the centrist New Flemish Alliance is pressing for exactly that. What once seemed a preposterous fantasy of the political fringes has, in the mouth of a man seen as a possible prime minister, suddenly takes on an air of plausibility.

“We are in each other’s face,” De Wever told 800 party faithful packed into a sweaty theater here ahead of Sunday’s elections. “And together we are going downhill fast. Flanders and Wallonia must be masters of their own fate.”

The consequences of a precedent-setting split would be felt as far away as Spain: wealthy Catalonia has engaged in a long-standing campaign for independence and Basque separatists still set off bombs in their quest for autonomy.

Italy’s Northern League, which is in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right party, has also advocated a split between the rich north and the impoverished south.

Then there’s the euro — what would happen to the European common currency if one of its founding members fell apart? Would prosperous Flanders be allowed to join but poorer Wallonia be kept out? Or would both inherit Belgium’s right to the currency — even though Belgium itself now no longer meets criteria on issues like the deficit?

De Wever’s curtains-for-Belgium campaign finds resonance far beyond the medieval gables and cathedrals of this centuries-old city of 600,000 in the Flemish heartland. Across the nation, both Dutch-speakers and Francophones have tired of the petty linguistic squabbles that have mired government after government in political stalemate.

Carving up Belgium has been a cherished dream for the far-right in Flanders, Belgium’s economically dominant north, and a nightmare scenario for poorer French-speaking Wallonia.

Flanders has half the unemployment of and a 25 percent higher per capita income than Wallonia, and Dutch-speakers have long complained that they are subsidizing the lives of their Francophone neighbors.

De Wever’s party is forecast to win 26 percent of the vote — way up from 3.2 percent in 2007. That means his party will likely emerge as the biggest in parliament with the right to try to cobble together a coalition government. He will unlikely get other mainstream parties to vote for a Belgian breakup.