Every July 12, Belgians celebrate their nation – but this year’s party could be muted as calls to split the country in two grow louder.
Born out of the protestant Netherlands as a united Catholic state in 1860, Belgium has evolved into federalism to try to calm tensions between Dutch-speaking Flanders and francophone Wallonia.
A total of five reforms since 1970 have resulted in three linguistic communities – there is a small region where they speak German – with responsibility for education.
And there are three regions; Flanders, Wallonia and the bilingual capital, Brussels. They have power over the economy, transport and the environment. Some 60 per cent of the population lives in Flanders.
The federal state is responsible for sovereign matters such as foreign policy, defence, justice and finance but also welfare benefits, much of the health system, pensions and unemployment.
Turning social security over to the regions is one of the main reasons for the row between the communities. The wealthier Flemish want devolution – the Walloons vehemently oppose it.
But should differences become irreconcilable to the point where Flanders actually files for divorce – who gets custody of the bilingual enclave of Brussels?
No problem says the big winner of the elections, separatist Bart De Wever.
“Brussels is the child of the Francophones and the Flemish in Belgium,” he told reporters. “And if you divorce you have to take care of the kid together, you have to take care of its well being together. That could be a solution for the problem of Brussels.”
The other big issue with most break-ups is money. How would the two parties divide up the country’s national debt tipped to exceed 100% of GDP this year or next?
But de Wever says this is just a technicality and cites the “Velvet Divorce” that saw Czechoslovakia dissolve into Slovakia and the Czech Republic.