Belgium is the home of Dutch, French and German speakers. Other languages are also spoken here, but these three are the ‘native’ tongues. The Dutch speakers are in the majority and their part of the country is economically stronger. Brussel or Bruxelles is within the Dutch speaking area, but has become majority French speaking and is a separate region.
The Dutch speaking provinces are West and East Flanders, Vlaams Brabant, Antwerpen en Limburg. French is spoken in Brabant Walonne, Namur, Hainaut, Liège and Luxembourg, not to be confused with country of Luxemburg. Then there are the German speaking Ost-Kantons, along the border with Germany, which are small and thinly populated.
The fundamental problem that faces modern Belgium is that Flemish (Dutch speaking) nationalists either want to change the country into a loose confederation or want to go all the way to an independent ‘Flanders’.
These sentiments are caused by the dominance that French speakers used to have in this country, when the south and south-east was industrialised and the Dutch speaking area mostly agrarian. In those days Dutch (Flemish) was considered to be a farmer’s language, which even the Flemish bourgeoisie did not like to speak.
These days the industrial areas of Wallonia are ailing, they have higher unemployment then in the north and west and the nationalist Flemish politicians complain that they have to subsidise the French speaking region.
Most French speakers are in favour of a strong Belgium, while the Dutch speakers want a weaker federal government and more power to the regional governments. Many people hope or fear that the main party in the Dutch speaking area is actually pushing so hard for more reforms, more power, more money for the regions because they want to go all the way and become independent.
Where that leaves Brussel/Bruxelles, the federal and European capital and the Ost-Kantons nobody knows. Who will inherit which assets and which liabilities is anybody’s guess. The divorce will be even messier than the present attempt to get parties with opposite agendas to form a government with a sound economic programme and a division of powers on the various levels that all can live with.
Federal governments need to have a majority in both sides of the country, and if you want constitutional change you need a ¾ majority in the Houses of Parliament. The biggest party in the south is the PS, left-wing and pro Belgium, the biggest party in the north is the NVA, which is right-wing and wants autonomy or independence for the Dutch speaking provinces. To get the required majority for constitutional reforms the attempt to form a government involves seven parties, including the two big antagonists. Is it going to be curtains for Belgium in 2011, a country that only came into being in 1830 ?