The sound victory of Bart de Wever, President of the 'Nieuwe Vlaamse Alliantie' (N-VA) did not only end 90 years of socialist dominance in the city on the banks of the Scheldt, but also signals a new course for Flanders. De Wever sees Flanders as an autonomous entity in a Belgian confederate state, with fiscal autonomy as the biggest prize. Every year, Flanders subsidises Wallonia and Brussels for 11 billion Euros, which is 1,900 Euros per Fleming per year; an average monthly income.
Contrary to the Netherlands, municipal elections are of great political significance. They determine the local power bastions for the next six years from which parties and leaders operate. The Flemish Christian democrats rule the countryside. The liberals have their high castles in East Flanders. The socialists rule the cities. Louis Tobback is the king of Leuven, Johan Vande Lanotte emperor of Oostende and Ghent is the Mecca of leftist Flanders. These traditional Flemish political families are part of the federal government, b now in electoral decline, led by the Walloon socialist Prime Minister Di Rupo. It is "une coalition des misérables".
De Wever has established his party as a party which penetrated in all layers of society. As soon as he is mayor - he isn't yet - he can turn his gaze to 2014 from 't Schoon Verdiep, the mayor's office on the first floor of the town hall of Antwerp. Then there will be elections for the Belgian federal parliaments, the regional parliaments and the European Parliament. "Then", he said, "the timer runs out for Belgium". From 2014 on Flanders has to be in control of itself and in control of its own finances.
The Catalan situation is comparable, though it is polarised more strongly, politically speaking. Flanders transfers 5.9 per cent of its gross regional product to Wallonia and Brussels on a yearly basis. Catalonia transfers no less than 8.7 per cent of its gross regional product to the central government in Madrid, which redistributes the money between the poorer parts of the country. This way, the Catalan level of welfare is skimmed in such a drastic way that the region itself is in decline. Catalans feel robbed and promises by the government in Madrid to change the system turned out to be hollow. All this turns the elections of the 25th of November into a plebiscite on independence. The Madrilenian politician Alejo Vidal-Quadras, also the Vice-President of the European Parliament, suggested that Spain should send the Guardia Civil against the Catalans. This suggestion merits the Nobel Peace Prize of course.
In the Scottish referendum in 2014, the cards are spread. The direction and size of the transfers are not clear. The Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond counts himself rich with oil revenues, which will bring in increasingly lower amounts. All the while, Scotland would not have been able to save the Royal Bank of Scotland without intervention from the British tax payer. It would have ended up in the same position as Ireland. That is why the Scots are in doubt and Prime Minister Cameron deliberately puts the squeeze on them with a referendum in which yes and no are the only options.
What is striking in Europe is that the more Brussels centralises, the more the European citizen diverges. They do not identify themselves with the anonymous bureaucracy that makes the big mistake of installing transfer mechanisms to save the Euro, while the citizens object to precisely those same transfers within their own countries. In name of solidarity, the North/South conflict is institutionalised in the Eurozone. This leads to quarrels over money between Member States, similar to those already existing within those states. Intra-European fights become sharp and hateful, because what does a Finn have in common with a Greek? Mediterranean states demand money by exploiting German feelings of guilt. Quarrels over money revive demons of the past - made in Brussels.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte rightfully resists excessive centralism with uncontrollable transfer mechanisms, such as the ideas of European President Van Rompuy to create a separate budget for the Eurozone, next to the regular EU budget, which will then borrow money. Who will pay? Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and Austria. On a micro level there is amongst citizens a trend toward diversity, to national identity. To the Netherlands, Flanders is the partner of choice. However, the Dutch often look beyond Flanders and the Flemish have the tendency to convert their scepticism regarding their neighbours to the north into a cultivated inferiority complex. Geographically and economically the Netherlands and Flanders are the gateways to Europe. Antwerp has the biggest concentration of chemical industries after Houston.
Yet both operate at different wave-lengths. The Netherlands have constructed the 'Betuwe' train track to Germany. It stops at the Dutch-German border village of Zevenaar and is not economically viable. Antwerp has the 'Iron Rhine' leading to the Ruhr area through the Netherlands, but it is rusting away. The battle on the Hedwigepolder is a puppet show. The Netherlands declared the European Habitat directive applicable on the Western Scheldt, gateway to Antwerp. Deepening of the Western Scheldt requires 'environmental compensation', such as the flooding of a Zeelandic polder. The result: a fight between Zealand and The Hague. Antwerp has to suffer the consequences. The Netherlands developed a system of road pricing; Flanders wanted to implement it together, after which the Netherlands abandoned the entire idea again. Prime Minister Rutte travels to Brussels through the ring road of Antwerp, one of the busiest roads in Europe, for yet another Euro rescue summit. Soon it will be time for a culinary visit to 't Schoon Verdiep.