A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘wallonia

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • blogTO recommends some Toronto-related Vine clips.
  • Centauri Dreams notes a SETI study of Boyajian’s Star.
  • Crooked Timber criticizes one author’s take in the politics of science fiction.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining the auroras of hot Jupiters.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper finding that atmospheric methane did not warm the early Earth.
  • Joe. My. God. reports on how a Scottish hotel owner’s homophobic statements led to his inn’s delisting.
  • Language Log links to a linguist trying to preserve dying languages.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money takes issue with Nate Silver’s polling and prediction methods.
  • The LRB Blog notes the background behind Wallonia’s near-veto of Canada-EU free trade.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at how economic issues do not correlate with support for Trump.
  • The Planetary Society Weblog shares photos of the Schiaparelli crash site.
  • pollotenchegg notes the degree to which economic activity in Ukraine is centralized in Kyiv.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes a poll suggesting conservative views are unwelcome at Yale.
  • Both Window on Eurasia and the Russian Demographics Blog note a projection that Chinese will soon become the second-largest nationality in Russia.

[LINK] “Belgian heart of French resistance”

Colin Randall’s article–found in the UAE’s The National–describes how the obscure Walloon village of Néchin has become a destination for migrants from France, for wealthy French citizens seeking to escape high taxation in France.

I’m curious: Why Néchin? What attracted Frenchpeople to this particular village in the first place?

A small Belgian village has become an unexpected symbol of French resistance for wealthy refugees from the high-tax policies of François Hollande’s socialist government.

Néchin, just 3 kilometres from the French border and a little more than an hour by road from the Belgian capital Brussels, is no Monaco or Geneva.

The surrounding countryside is pleasant but hardly breathtaking. There is a medieval fortified castle, a centrepiece church built after the original was destroyed in the First World War and a cafe whose name translates as “friendship”.

But this unprepossessing fringe of Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region has become a magnet for French people determined to keep Mr Hollande’s hands off their fortunes.

Prosperous French families have bought homes there, enabling them to take advantage of a fiscal regime that was already less punitive of the rich; more are reportedly intent on following as the socialists prepare to introduce a 75 per cent tax on all earnings above €1 million (Dh4.7m) a year.

The flight of wealth coincides with fierce debate in which Mr Hollande and ministers passionately defend their policies as critics portray France and its economic management – or, as they would have it, mismanagement – as central to the euro crisis.

Prominent socialists have reacted angrily to a cover story in The Economist likening the French economy to a time bomb.

The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said that France was “not at all impressed” and the Hollande-supporting daily newspaper Libération ran a sequence of past covers of The Economist critical of French politics.

One showed the former British conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 2006 with the slogan “What France needs”. This year, “the rather dangerous Mr Hollande” was depicted on the eve of his election as a slightly shifty figure emerging from behind the French tricolour.

[. . .]

But back on the Franco-Belgian border, one in four of Néchin’s population of about 2,000 is already French. High-profile residents include members of the Mulliez family, the owners of the Auchan supermarket chain.

The actor Gérard Depardieu, who has starred in scores of films in a career spanning more than 40 years, is reported by the Belgian press to be on the point of completing the purchase of a mansion in Néchin for €520,000. Depardieu, who grew up in a poor family and was a delinquent truant in his early teens, supported Mr Hollande’s centre-right predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. He has not commented on the Belgian link but news of his gesture, if correct, speaks volumes.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 13, 2012 at 5:02 am

[BRIEF NOTE] A German Wallonia?

Belgium has been without a government for three hundred or so days, and it’s unsurprising that the speculations about the future of Belgium’s major components–Netherlandophone Flanders, Francophone Wallonia, and nominally French/Dutch bilingual but predominantly Francophone and increasingly English-usiing Brussels–are continuing. Most of the possible permutations of post-Belgian boundaries, save those involving the German-speaking enclaves in eastern Wallonia, have been laid out in maps at this pro-independence Flemish site, with either Flanders or Wallonia or both annexing themselves to their colinguals in the Netherlands or France respectively, or to Brussels, or not at all. There has been a fair amount of speculation that Wallonia would not opt for sustained independence, that its relative poverty would see it end up merging with France.

Arte those the only choices? An article last October in the newspaper Libération, “Un ministre belge préfère voir la Wallonie allemande plutôt que française” (“A Belgian minister prefers to see Wallonia German rather than French”), came up with something new. My translation, having aimed for idiom, is below.

If Belgium is divided, Francophone Wallonia has an “interest” in attaching itself to Germany, because France has “a culture diametrically opposed to ours,” said Thursday the Belgian Francophone Socialist Minister of Energy and Climate Paul Magnette.

“If we must attach ourselves to someone one day, it would be Germany. That’s more in the interest of industrial Wallonia,” Paul Magnette, rising figure of Francophone Belgian Socialist Party (PS), said in the newspaper La Libre Belgique.

“When I see the situation in France, I know that there are only three rattachistes in Wallonia,” added the minister, referring to the moovement, a very small minority, which advocates the union of the Francophone region of southern Belgium and France.

“Being attached to a country with a culture at odds with ours, it’s ridiculous. With us, there is never a car that burns because we negotiate, because we have a culture of dialogue. We will not suddenly be forced into a pension plan by an authoritarian government,” stressed Paul Magnette, a former political science professor and chairman of the right arm of PS Elio Di Rupo.

“There is a cultural break with the French,” says he again, while like the Belgians “the Germans are in a federal system, proportional” and “social” and they “know how to do coalitions.”

Paul Magnette cautions that “these ideas are completely crazy.”

Completely crazy, but amusng and certainly creative.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 8, 2011 at 10:45 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On regionalism vs separatism

Articles like Morgan Meis’ “Death to Belgium!” (found via 3 Quarks Daily) reminds me why facile analyses of transnationalism–here, examining the consequences of Belgium’s implosion on European identities–annoy me. Forgive me the extended quote; it’s important.

Louis was smoking a cigar the size of a small tree trunk and holding a glass of tequila. He has spent a lifetime traveling the world, thinking about how it is that human beings govern themselves and one another. He peered at me across the table. “Why,” he asked, “why do you need Belgium anymore?” The question took me off guard. I hadn’t thought about it exactly that way before. Louis was right that the complexity of Belgium’s government is overwhelming. There are so many layers of governing you don’t know where to start: local, city, regional, national, federal. Adding the EU to the already complicated mix seems cruel. The question is whether the entity we call “Belgium” is really contributing anything to the equation anymore.

In more radical terms, this would mean that the nation state in general, in Europe, could become superfluous. A shocking thought, no doubt. But with the EU providing a federal role, and local and regional governments doing the rest, what good is the nation? The nation state can simply be replaced by direct regional relationships with the transnational body called the EU. If Catalonia is part of the EU, what need for Spain? If Sardinia is an EU member, why the extra baggage of Italy? This isn’t to say that all national entities must be dissolved, simply that many of them have outlived their usefulness.

That is exactly what Bart De Wever is calling for. Hardly parochial, he and his party are firm supporters of the EU. What his party supports is not the mass extermination of the Walloons, but the “evaporation” of Belgium and the direct absorption of two new states — Flanders and Wallonia — into the EU. There is no need for that extra entity, Belgium, at all. In a sense, De Wever wants Belgium to get smaller so that it can get bigger. This is not your father’s separatism, not the retreat into prejudice and closed-mindedness that the word so often invokes.

This new separatism makes for another interesting chapter in the unfolding story that is the EU experiment. The chapter has far-reaching implications for what national identity is in a global age. The withering away of the nation state means, potentially, that individuals in the EU can simultaneously identify with their local region and with the continent as a whole. When it comes to day-to-day affairs, a Flemish person can concentrate fully on being Flemish — the specific traditions, foods, language, history, stories, and anything else that makes a woman feel Flemish. But a Flem still has that EU passport. The EU passport means she is also European, and this transnational kinship allows her to go all over the continent with the freedom and confidence that such a trans-national identity provides. It also means that she agrees, in principle, to protect the greater project of the EU as the umbrella under which all the little regions of Europe get to be who they want to be.

I agree with Meis that the European Union is facilitating the ongoing political shenanigans in Belgium, by providing a safety net via the functions of the national government safely removed to the European level–the currency crisis that certainly would have hit the Belgian franc by now hasn’t hit a Belgium with a GDP that constitutes a low single-digit percentage of the Eurozone total.

I disagree with Meis in seeing this to be that notable a phenomenon. You’re not seeing a very big push towards the regionalization of national powers, and the disappearance of the central state, in regions of European Union member-states like Yorkshire, or Aragon, or Lower Saxony, or Silesia. You’re seeing this push in regions of European Union member-states like Scotland, and Catalonia, and Flanders, i.e. in places where large majorities of the population think that they live in non-sovereign (though autonomous) nations and large minorities think that their nations should become sovereign nation-states … sovereign within the European Union.

Why is this distinction important? Nation-minded regions of existing member-states of the European Union may hollow out some of the functions of some of said member-states’ governments, and non-nation-minded regions may well do the same–the competitive federalization of Spain comes to mind as an example of this–but the difference is that, for the non-nation-minded regions, the idea of independence is a complete non-starter. Is there any sizable constituency in Yorkshire that yearns for independence? Do Lower Saxons want to constitute a state independent from Germany?

If Scotland and Catalonia and Flanders and the other nation-minded regions of Europe all became independent from their parent states and members in good standing in the European Union, all that would do would be to create new nation-states as relatively homogeneous as the old: in Flanders, there might be a resurgence of the Ghent versus Antwerp rivalries that Meis starts his article with. The idea that Flemish independence could augur an era where Europeans would identify with Europe and their region of residence more than with their nation-state strikes me as so false. There wouldn’t be a decomposition of Europe’s nation-states, but rather a recomposition. The distinction matters.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 12, 2010 at 10:08 am

[BRIEF NOTE] On food and secessionism

In the past few months, I know of at least three Belgian waffle shops that have opened along Yonge Street below Bloor. I am not sure what is going on with this, perhaps it’s related to a recessionary need for sugar-rich sweets, but they’re there nonetheless and Sunday Jerry and me sat down at one of these three locations to try things out.

That was the most Belgian place I’ve ever seen. There were at least a half-dozen black-yellow-red tricolours hanging pennant-like around and coloured pencil sketches of Brussels scenes like the Maison du Roi. The menu answered the question of what Belgian waffles would be called if Belgium ever broke up: it showed the D-shaped Liège waffle and its rectangular Brussels counterpart, but there wasn’t a single waffle on the menu in the style of Antwerp, or Ghent, or Bruges. The Walloon waffle, perhaps?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 15, 2010 at 11:05 pm

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[DM] “Some more links”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters that’s a link post, covering everything from Tibetans in Beijing to the mass emigration of Kyrgyzstan’s men to Wallonia’s history of immigration. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 2, 2010 at 11:59 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Canada, Belgium?

agirlnamedluna has an excellent run-down on the Belgian situation,, exploring how, after months of gridlock thanks to the political parties’ inabiloity to form a government, a terribly bungled reaction to the global financial crisis is bringing the latest government. under Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, to its end.

Leterme and his party had won the elections by pointing out the “all talk but no action” politics of his predecessor, but he himself was not capable of doing anything due to the conflicting views of his coalition partners and the sheer incompetence of several members of his government.

When the financial crisis rolled around, it was his last chance to prove he was capable of governing the country. He came up with a plan, but was confronted with the threatened bankrupcy of several of Belgium’s biggest banks. One of those, Fortis, was the first to go. The Dutch, Luxemburgian and Belgian leaders came together to save the bank, but after the plan had been accepted the Dutch did a total u-turn and ended up only taking up the Dutch part. This left Belgium with only part of the bank, which they sold to French player BNP Paribas.

Leterme finally had a concrete result to show, but in his haste to solve the problem he had overlooked the shareholders of the bank, who took action in courts to be heard. A first ruling stated that the Belgian government had acted correctly when selling the bank post-haste, but a second ruling in appeal froze the sale, acknowledging the shareholders and their right to vote on the matter.

As this was the worst scenario thinkable for the government, pression was exercised on the judges who were making the decision. The past few days more and more evidence has been gathered to show that the separation between executive and juridical powers had not been respected by the government, notably by the Prime Minister’s cabinet as well as by the Minister of Justice.

Leterme held on to power for a few days more, as he had already done the previous months, even though his position has weakened ever since he won the elections, there have been many more cases in which he showed a total lack of ability to govern and take decisions. This scandal, however, has been the last drip. New facts are still unfolding, but as of late this afternoon it is official: after Minister of Justice resigned during the day, it was now the entire government resigning.

I can’t say how much this reminds me of the recent political tumult in Canada: the pronounced regional divisions preventing the formation of stable national governments, the general lack of trust in the good will of the aspiring governing parties, the terrible additional factors thrown into domestic political calculus by the global economic crisis. Canada, Belgium–who next, I wonder? (I’m tempted to say Italy, but Italy’s been that way for a while.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 19, 2008 at 8:11 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] La question belge, une fois de plus

One of Spiegel Online’s more recent news roundup sfrom German newspapers was “‘Belgium Is the World’s Most Successful Failed State'”.

The Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme threw in the towel late on Monday night, saying he could not force through a consensus between the Flemish and French-speaking coalition partners.

Leterme offered his resignation (more…) to King Albert II, who has so far not formally accepted it. The king is now holding consultations with lawmakers expected to last several days.

In his statement, Leterme, head of the Flemish-speaking Christian Democrats, said the “federal consensus model has reached its limits” — raising the specter of Belgium breaking up for good. The prime minister had a self-imposed July 15 deadline to come up with an agreement on constitutional reform.

The Financial Times, The Guardian, and Agence France-Presse all have more coverage, basically boiling down to the suggestion that Leterme was frustrated by his inability to forge a workable governing coalition, and, certainly, the ongoing disputes over Brussels and its frontiers doesn’t help.

A question to people in Belgium and in surrounding regions: Are there any other themes that I’m missing to all this?

Written by Randy McDonald

July 16, 2008 at 11:14 am

[LINK] “A ‘Francophone Corridor’ to Link Brussels and Wallonia”

Strange Maps has a small map from Belgium’s Le Soir purporting to show one part of a solution under discussion to resolve the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde language crisis (increasingly francophone uburbs of Brussels encroaching on territory under Flemish jurisdiction). In order to create a Francophone corridor to link Brussels with Wallonia, this map suggests that a narrow stretch of the forêt de Soignes would be transferred from Flemish jurisidiction to Walloon jurisdiction, possibly along with the contested community of Sint-Genesius-Rode/Rhode Saint-Genèse. By creating a direct territorial link, the thinking seems to be, a Wallonia-Brussels federal unit that would have jursidiction over cultural and terrtorial matters like Flanders’ could come into being.


Written by Randy McDonald

June 24, 2008 at 9:44 am

[BRIEF NOTE] There’s rattachisme, then there’s less likely outcomes for Belgium

Paul Wells, writer for Canadian newsmagazine MacLean’s, was the first person I read who pointed out that Luxembourg has been asked to solve Francophone Belgians’ existential crises should Flanders leave.

The other day a reporter asked the prime minister of Luxembourg whether he’d like to take over most of Belgium if that country should fall apart. Jean-Claude Juncker sounded surprised. He should, because his tiny grand duchy is less than one-sixth the combined size of Belgium’s Wallonie and Brussels regions. Taking them over would be like the goldfish swallowing the cat.

The reaction of Luxembourg’s prime minister was reported in greater detail by Belgium’s Le Vif.

Le Premier ministre luxembourgeois, Jean-Claude Juncker, estime samedi, dans une interview au Soir, que la crise politique risque de faire subir une perte de crédibilité à la Belgique.

“La crédibilité européenne de la Belgique risque d’être mise à néant si on n’arrive pas à faire en sorte que ce pays se ressaisisse”, dit Jean-Claude Juncker. Interrogé sur le scénario qui évoquait un rapprochement des Communautés française et germanophone avec le Luxembourg, M. Juncker le trouve étrange. “Le Grand-Duché n’a pas vocation à dépanner une Belgique qui se cherche. Je crois que la réponse à la question belge réside en Belgique”, dit M. Juncker. “Sans vouloir interférer dans ce genre de débat belgo-belge, j’ai beaucoup de sympathie pour la réaction de la communauté wallonne et francophone face aux exigences flamandes. Mais il faudra que la Belgique se ressaisisse. Qu’elle donne vers l’extérieur l’image d’un pays le plus uni possible”, dit M. Juncker.

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said Saturday, in an interview with the Soir, that the political crisis threatens Belgium’s credibility.

“The European credibility of Belgium is at risk of being completely eliminated if no one bothers to put this country back together,” said Jean-Claude Juncker. Asked about scenarios about uniting the French and Germanophone communities with Luxembourg, Mr. Juncker found them strange. “The Grand Duchy does not have vocation to repair Belgium which seeks itself. I believe that the answer to the Belgian question resides in Belgium,” said Mr. Juncker.

I’d mentioned earlier, in my series of brief reports on Belgium’s recent crisis, about how the idea of a Franco-Dutch partition of a failed Belgium on language lines was quite popular in those two countries even though there was very little sign that that sort of a partition was popular among Belgians. Recently, more fantastical scenarios still have begun to appear. The suggestion that Luxembourg might take on Francophone Belgium is one. Another came from The Brussels Journal, a far-right English/Dutch weblog associated with Flemish nationalists, which recently suggested that after Flanders leaves Wallonia might fall apart. Not only, the weblog argued, was Belgium’s Luxembourg province likely to merge with Luxembourg, reversing the 1839 partition of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg between a Francophone west that became Belgian and a Germanic rump in the east that remained placed under Dutch suzerainty until 1890, but the “conservative and Catholic” province of Namur is “likely” to join the Grand Duchy, leaving only the provinces of Hainaut and Liège (and, as the blogger forget, Brabant Wallon) inside Wallonia. Like Greater Luxembourg, this second schema has also started to seep into the mainstream media, never mind that there seems to be little interest in the idea of Luxembourg reunification and I’ve never heard of Namurois separatism.

All these scenarios for the future, eccentric as they might be, seem to reflect the scenario-makers’ common interest in predicting the futre that they would like to see. Yes, France and the Netherlands will be enriched by their new common border; yes, without Flanders Wallonia will fall apart; yes, Luxembourg will be happy to handle everything for Wallonia and Brussels. The problem with this wish-fulfillment school of futurology is that, as a rule, it doesn’t seem to work very well in the face of reality. Some might find that a pity, but that would be a mistake.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 13, 2007 at 6:50 pm