In the run up to the election there, some Flemish parties have said they would like to see major changes in how Belgium’s social security system is financed.
Currently it is federal, which means the more prosperous Flanders underwrites the cost of unemployment and pensions in Wallonia, the French-speaking south.
Places like Charleroi currently benefit. Abandoned factories dominate the city’s landscape and unemployment is high, particularly among the young.
There is strong opposition in Wallonia to the idea of changing the system.
Locals, like Christofer Donazzon, said there are no jobs.
He told euronews: “I was trained as a security guard after being out of work for six months. Straightaway then I got a three month contract, and after a three month contract they have to give you a full time job, but they don’t do that, instead they tell you directly – you should work off the books, don’t declare your income.”
In the area of Belgium where he lives 28 percent of the working population is without a job while in Flanders it is just five percent.
But youth work councillor, Antoine Thioux at the ‘Centre des Jeunes’ in Charleroi, pointed out the situation is not that simple.
He explained: “The Flemish political parties – not the Flemish people I think – but the Flemish politicians want greater autonomy for this sort of thing. I think that is short term thinking, and there are several elements which will have to be taken into account. For example there’s the question of pensions. We know that in Flanders, for example, the population is aging much more quickly and so the cost of pensions is going to be much higher.”
In contrast to Wallonia, it is older people who cannot find work in Flanders.
An Meert has been unemployed since 2008 and in her quest for a job she has sent out over 1,000 letters, without success.
She believes that Flemish people like her without jobs would benefit from a change from federal to regional funding for things like unemployment.
She said: “That could be a good idea, but I think it won’t be that easy to make it happen, and on the other hand I think they should give some more stability to the older unemployed people, for example by effectively helping people to look for jobs or by forcing companies to hire older unemployed people as has been done with disabled people.”
Pensions and employment are central to the debate over the economic relationship between the Dutch speaking north and the French speaking south.
Philippe Ledent, an analyst at ING bank, told euronews: “The idea is that, if you have different taxation levels in different regions, then it’s possible that there’ll be competition between those regions and obviously as soon as there is more business activity in one region, then it has the means to lower taxes, that obviously is a little bit of a risk, but even if that might be wrong, as soon as we don’t have to pay for those poorer regions, then there is the possibility of lowering taxes.”
This particular debate is on who pays for what, but the sub-text is the future of the country’s federal structure.