EU = Belgium - 5 years

The EU and Belgium resemble permanent construction sites where the roofs are rebuild to hide a problem with the foundations. Both are busy with the formation of their new leadership after the election on May 25. The Belgian political elite often described the "Belgian model” as a precursor to the EU: "Europe will be Belgian, or it won’t be”. But after the formation of a government in 2010-2011 took 541 days, an absolute world record, that statement dumbfounded. However, it is no less true. If you want to know how the EU will look in about five years’ time, you should look at Belgium today.  

In the Netherlands, the Belgian formation after the elections of May 25 stands in the shadow of the battle for European top jobs. In the meanwhile, the Belgian King Philip appointed, Bart De Wever, leader of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), as informer, charged with looking into possible coalitions. He put then the most politically correct basic text on the table. But De Wever came across a ‘non’. Then the King appointed Charles Michel, chairman of the French-speaking Liberals, as informer, who immediately decided to take the work over the summer. With the previous government formation of 541 days, this formation attempt is obviously still very young and fresh.

The formation of a Belgian government is difficult because Flemish and French-speaking voters went in the opposite direction. In Flanders, the N-VA was the big winner with over 30% of the votes. The Walloon voters marched to the left: the ruling Socialist party lost in favor of a kind of Walloon Communist Party. Flemings voted more to the right; Walloons leftist. The Walloon region immediately formed a leftist coalition; Flanders a center-right. Can there still be made a Belgian federal government?

Elections for the European Parliament showed a similar pattern. In Mediterranean Europe the left won; in the North the right. This makes the distribution of European top positions harder. The EU is heading now to an intergovernmental conference for institutional renovations  ‘à la Belge’.

Both in the EU and Belgium the core problem is in the foundations of the socio-economic development. There is a growing wealth gap between North and South. North believes that the South should hurry up with structural reforms and the South finds the North selfish and antisocial. That has caused polarization within the Belgian state for a few decades, and is increasingly doing so in the EU. The Flemish average income surpassed Wallonia’s in 1966. In the following decades, the Belgian state permanently evolved, but the gap grew as did the cultural historical insults of 'lazy Walloons' and ‘nationalist Flemish’. The Belgian state sought refuge in transfers to the south; the average Flemish worker loses annually a monthly wage to the south.

In the European Union, the introduction of a common currency, intended as a symbol of political unity, has processed the economic opposite and led to an impoverished south, plus stereotype insults between 'lazy Greeks' and' ‘greedy Germans’. The European integration process always knew transfers, such as the structural and cohesion funds, but they were limited in scope. The problems with the euro made enlarged transfers of money and guarantees through emergency funds such as the ESM. The European Central Bank (ECB), however, was the greatest purveyor of transfer mechanisms through cheap money politics, buying up debt and negative interest rates. The ECB is the main bank of Latin Europe and put the EU permanently on the Belgian track.

The political elites in the EU and Belgium make the mistake to denounce the messengers of the problem as its cause. Belgian and European elite entrench themselves behind their Maginot Line against the evil outside world. In 2011, the N-VA was held outside the federal government by the established parties. N-VA might dry out in opposition. But De Wever made big gains on May 25. In 2009 approximately one fifth of the European Parliament was critical of the integration process, or even against. The established political groups ignored any criticism. On May 25, a third of parliament is critical to extreme anti. The signals are ignored to deny the key issue.

Where Belgium goes, Europe goes. Will Belgium be able to build a federal roof? Otherwise, the negative impact is regional and European. However, if the EU continues the Belgian track, the consequences are global. Is useful for europoliticians to look at those puny-looking Belgian government formation.