By Gregory – Two weeks ago on the night of the local elections, Bart De Wever, the leader of the Flemish nationalist party (N-VA) and biggest party in the Belgian federal parliament declared that he want to see Belgium evolving from a federal state, its current form, into a confederation. At first sight I could feel a sense of relief as by declaring himself in favour of a confederal state, Bart De Wever seemed to be signalling that there was still a place for Belgium on the European map.
However, after taking a closer look at the definition of a confederation I can say that I am getting more than worried. Others should be worried too, as a majority of Belgians don’t want to see Belgium dissolve into two independent states, Flanders and Wallonia, leaving a big question mark over Brussels.
The essential aspect of a confederation has not yet been explained by the N-VA whose raison d’être in Belgian politics is to seek independence for Flanders. Therefore I think it’s about time I shed some light on the issue.
A confederation is a union of independent states that are entitled to step out of the union at any time. A union between states that retain their own sovereignty but agree to work together in their own interests on certain matters where common grounds can be found such as, for example, foreign policy and security.
Therefore the difference between a federal state and a confederation is that the emphasis of the confederation does not rest on the union as a whole, as is the case in a federal state, but on the individual states that form the union and the treaty binding them.
Such a confederation treaty can be unilaterally terminated by one or more of its members. In contrast a federal state such as Belgium could only see its constitution changed by a majority vote by its federal institutions.
When is the N-VA going to tell the Flemish people that before turning Belgium into a confederal state there needs to be an agreement to dissolve Belgium and force the current federal regions Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels into independence? The question that remains is that of Flemish independence. Is the N-VA and its current leader really interested in Belgium as a confederation or are they using the pretext of a confederation to make Flemish independence digestible for the wider Flemish public.
Before we can speak of Flemish independence I would like Bart De Wever to answer the following questions:
Where does Brussels stand in a Belgian confederation, inside Flanders’ borders or outside of them? Is he going to claim Brussels as Flanders’ capital? Historically Brussels is a Flemish city, however currently inhabited by more than 80% of French speakers.
How is Bart De Wever going to ensure that an independent Flanders can remain part of the European Union without having to submit a Flemish application for membership? Currently the Flemish region is part of the EU only because Belgium is a member. With Belgium dissapearing, Flanders would have to enter lengthly negotiations with the EU that could take several years only after first gaining unanimous consent from all other member states.
That brings me to the next question. What will happen with the Europen Union headquarters in Brussels when Brussels temporarily will not be part of the EU? Can you imagine Washington DC no longer being part of the United States but still being the host city for its institutions?
How is he going to resolve the issue of the Belgian national debt. Is he going to seek a settlement with Flanders’ french speaking neighbours in Wallonia?
These are only a few examples of so far unanswered questions. It is one thing to proclaim Flanders would be better off being part of a Belgian confederation. But it is another thing to be less populist and explain the wider impications of such a move. Belgian confederalism means Flemish independence. I respect everyone’s beliefs, but the least Bart De Wever can do is to be honest about the wider implications of a Belgian confederation.