While I was on holidays in Belguim last Christmas I wrote a long essay on the state of Belgium and tried to give some insight into the on-going political crisis there. I concluded that Belgium would probably continue to exist but as a very loose federal state with Flanders having a lot of autonomy. I had been thinking in terms of just two options for Flanders, remain in some form of Belgium state, or go it alone as an independent state within the EU. It turns out there may be a third option which I hadn’t considered at all, become part of the Netherlands. In many ways it makes sense, Flanders and the Netherlands share a common language and they are also culturally very different. The biggest difference between them is religion with Flanders being predominantly Catholic and the Netherlands predominantly Protestant. However, judging by church attendances, religion doesn’t have a very prominent place in the hearts and minds of either the Flemish or the Dutch. Fifty years ago such a merger would have been un-thinkable, what about now?

[tags]Belgium, Flanders, Netherlands, politics[/tags]

A cousin of mine from Belgium sent me a very interesting link yesterday (thanks Inne) which reported on a recent speech by a Dutch politician in which he made a very good case for the union of Flanders and the Netherlands. He pointed out quite correctly that the Flemish have an awful lot more in common with the Dutch than with the Walloons. He also pointed out how both Flanders and the Netherlands could benefit economically form the merger. Nothing in the article made me think he was a looney or that he was spouting rubbish. It all seemed very sensible and very reasonable.

So what do the Flemish think? A poll run by a leading Flemish news paper (De Standaard) gives us a small insight. This is of course just one poll on the site of one newspaper and they choose a rather woolly question but I still think the results are interesting. The question basically translates as “can you see such a merger working”. The important thing to note is that the question was not asking whether or not people were in favour of such a merger, just whether they thought it could work. Yesterday the results were split pretty-much 50/50, today the no’s have take a fairly clear lead and it now stands at 55% who say it couldn’t work and 45% who say it could.

Clearly this is not a resounding vote of confidence in the idea but it’s also not an out-right rejection either. The idea is clearly not considered total lunacy but equally clearly not considered the obvious solution either. My gut feeling is that it wouldn’t work. The Flemish are too used to having their own parliament and their own structures within a federal state to just give all that up and join the Netherlands. I can’t see the Dutch adopting a complex federal structure just to accommodate the Flemish, and the Flemish nationalists won’t settle for anything less than nation-hood anyway. For all these reasons I think this idea is a non-starter in the short to medium term, but I think it’s one to keep an eye on in the long term.