What shall we do?

Goodbye Belgium?

An unstoppable force ?An unstoppable force ?

What shall we do with the drunken sailor? is the opening line of perhaps the most well known sea shanty of all. What shall we do with an unwanted country? is not a long-lost verse of this shanty recently found by a ferreting musicologist-cum-folksong fanatic, but is my question to you; and the country in question is Belgium. These things have a sort of connection, in so far as the music for the shanty was written down in 1825, the Belgian Revolution establishing that country, using bits of Holland and France, was in 1830, and the words for the shanty were first heard in 1891. Some of us are dreamers, and so it could just be that, to keep their spirits up during the revolution, someone did hum the music.Then again, by the mid 1890s perhaps the whole song was popular in the coastal taverns of Belgium - could be.

However, time wore on and it was not kind to Belgium. But then there were problems from the start, stemming from the two predominant languages, Flemish and French, and there is also a very small German speaking group. The people, the components of this construct, were individualists by nature, and have remained so. Belgian cohesion has, from the outset, depended upon Belgian MPs pretending that the country could be forced together at any cost. Many of the voters electing the MPs have put up with this for a long time, but not any more. Belgium could well split. Revert is not quite the correct term, as it is not clear if Holland and France or anyone would welcome, or want, the returnees. So, independence it would seem is the answer. Yet this could create more problems than is solves as, despite the French insisting that Strasbourg is an equal part of the EU governmental hub, the wider world always thinks in terms of Brussels as the sole centre of the EU. Belgium has three regions: Flemish speaking Flanders, French speaking Wallonia, and Brussels. Here the 'residents' tend to speak French but, because of the EU incomers, other European languages are common. This gives an 'us and them' dimension to life. Yet another split is that Brussels is by far the largest city of Belgium, giving a city and country division, common enough in most countries but as already said, here the country is in two bits to start with. So, this is complicated and not without irony. For is it not the EU that would force onto us all, 'an ever closer union'?

An ever bigger problem?An ever bigger problem?

So, first difficult question: "why does it not work at home"? It would seem to be an impossible task for even the most dogged snake oil salesman to push such a product, they ain't gonna buy it. It is no good trying to pass this off as regionalisation, it is a separation. Also, once it starts who knows where it could lead; one can imagine that if 'independence' came about tomorrow, Alex Salmond would be over on the next plane with a notebook. A further consideration is that the major 'components' of Belgium, namely Holland and France, were the two countries who voted down the EU constitution in referendums, stubborn or what? The Flemish politician and Leader of his party, Yves Leterme is, over 170 days after the most recent elections, still trying to form a coalition government. Mr Leterme has described Belgium as "an accident of history". There seems to be nothing for Mr Leterme to do other than slog on till the end and a government is formed. Until then it is the outgoing government that 'runs' the country. But what does that mean? Who, on behalf of the Belgian voters, will sign away their rights under the 'new' treaty/constitution; while at the same time these voters seek to establish their rights on another matter? It's almost funny. After all, the outgoing government lost the last election, so it's not much of a democracy if the wishes of the voters are ignored and power remains with that outgoing government. In Australia for example, the incoming PM Kevin Rudd would be happy for his country to become a republic, while the outgoing John Howard would not, imagine the uproar if it was the latter that had the power of control over this issue. But on the other hand we are talking the EU here with the Belgian question, so let's not bother with the twiddly bits! Mind you Belgium has been longer without a government than Gordon Brown has been PM in the UK, lucky Belgium I say! For the voters of the UK were promised a referendum on the treaty/constitution; I wonder how long the UK voters will have to wait to get what they want?