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To somebody who doesn’t watch international politics, Belgium may seem and sound like a bit player. However, if you look very closely, Belgium is a very important country, especially if you consider the international organizations based there. NATO, both diplomatically and militarily, are head quartered in Belgium. The Diplomats meet in Brussells, and the generals are stationed at SHAPE, in Mons/Bergen. The European Union has many different uses of Brussels, which hosts meetings of the European Parliament on occasion. So, a split into Wallonia and Flanders could cause a massive headache throughout Europe. Sarah Morris, of The Guardian, points out:

…Splitting up Belgium, if it happens, will probably involve a bitter settlement – one which will have to separate intermeshed economies, share out the national debt and decide the status of Brussels, which has a French-speaking majority at the heart of the Flemish region.

Such a process would inevitably take the shine off Belgium’s hosting of the European Union institutions. As former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens put it: “We are the centre of the European Union. How could we give such a bad example to all the member states if we were to split?”

For other Europeans, more important than Belgium’s loss of legitimacy to be at the heart of Europe may be the dilemma of whether any of its breakaway nations can lay claim to be European Union members. Catalan and Scottish nationalists are already lobbying in Brussels alongside Flemish separatists, insisting they are rightful existing EU members even if they form new countries.

Some say the matter is one for European constitutional lawyers. My view is that the question may also be one for European voters. The idea of an independent Flanders used to be only seriously defended by the region’s far right, racist party Vlaams Belang, which means “Flemish interests” in Dutch. If the ideas of that party eventually influence the foundation of any new nation state, its laws and institutions, such a country has no place in the EU.


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