Belgium: Less than Sum of Its Parts
Inroads 23, 2008
8 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2016 Last revised: 8 Aug 2016
Date Written: January 1, 2008
Belgium has moved from a model to be studied to a counterexample to be avoided. Belgians have superimposed a federal structure on preexisting constitutional compromises between Flemings and French speakers, which has led to a deeply polarized political and social landscape. The combined effect of consociative and federal institutions, along with Belgium’s key role in the European Union, provide much of the context for the Belgian drama. This article examines Belgium’s divisive institutions, such as its linguistically divided political parties, its purely proportional electoral system and its consequential need for coalition governments, its polarized and reductive political debates, its weak federal government, and its divided civil society. It then explores the possibility of Belgium’s units gaining independence within the European context. Finally, it closes with lessons for other divided societies.
Keywords: Belgium, Europe, federalism, divided societies, consociativism, institutional design, bridge-building, autonomy
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