Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Poppies and Discontent in Flanders Fields

The WSJ carries an editorial today titled "The Accidental Country" about the recent election in Belgium and it's likely consequences:

Only last year, Yves Leterme said Belgium was an "accident of history" and of "no intrinsic value." Now, the 46-year-old Flemish politician is the country's likely new prime minister. If he follows through on his campaign promises, he might just end up strengthening the union.

The problem is that the country is divided between Flanders and French speaking Wallonia. The Flemish pay taxes which subsidize the Walloons to the tune of billions of euros. And they are tired of it:

Belgian unemployment is about 8%, but this figure masks huge regional differences. Joblessness is 6.6% in Flanders and almost triple that in Wallonia, at 18%. Flemings fret that their high taxes and work ethic subsidize the Socialist lifestyle of their southern brothers.

The answer lies in providing more autonomy to each region:

Mr. Leterme suggests that the two federal regions should have a greater say over economic policies, including labor and health policy. The Walloons would then have to assume greater responsibility over their affairs. Devolution is more democratic, too, bringing government closer to the people. With the rise of the EU and smudged borders, regions from Scotland to Catalonia have felt emboldened to wrest powers from national capitals.

I think this is a trend that will accelerate in the future as smaller governmental entities question the value they are receiving from their centralized federal governments. And I don't think it will be confined to places outside the US. Federalism is how the founders envisioned the US; maybe with Belgium providing the example, we can move back in that direction.

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