June 18, 2010

WHAT PART OF "CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED" DO FOLKS STILL NOT UNDERSTAND?:

Plucky Belgium is leading the way. Today Flanders, tomorrow Scotland: However much Euro-enthusiasts wish it were otherwise, the craving for lower-tier self-rule refuses to die (Simon Jenkins, 6/17/10, guardian.co.uk)

Since the 1980s Flanders and Wallonia have been given ever more devolution, as has the French-speaking Brussels enclave within Flanders. Each round has yielded a desire for more. Over the past two decades Belgium has ceded to Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels services such as health, education, development, agriculture, even foreign trade treaties. Only taxation and social security are national, and these are the proximate cause of Flemings' anger, since their taxes pour south to finance Wallonia's "social dependents".

During the election Wallonia's socialist leader, Elio di Rupo, ignored Europe's economic crisis by calling for ever more transfers from Flanders, for higher state spending on health and pensions and for price controls on food. Belgium is thus a microcosm of the EU, a treaty state in which political entities claim resources by territorial negotiation. The result was inevitable. Just as German taxpayers are finally fed up with subsidising Greek pensioners, so Flemings are fed up with subsidising Walloons.

In these circumstances Belgium's elite has looked to supranational bodies such as Nato and the EU for its status, even as statehood disintegrates beneath its feet. Despite being the battlefield for Europe's wars throughout history, Belgians have no enemies other than themselves. Why should they be expected to cohabit in coalitions that notoriously take months to form and weeks to collapse?

However much Euro-enthusiasts wish it were otherwise, the craving for lower tier self-government refuses to die. Indeed, it is booming. In Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, even the UK, concession after concession is made to devolutionary sentiment. It is made with a patronising nod at the parish-pump quaintness of separatist leaders, dubbed populist, extremist or right-wing, never just democratic.

To the Economist, de Wever is a "populist bruiser". To the Times, his success has "potentially disastrous implications" for Europe. Similar language is used of the Italians' Northern League, Scotland's nationalists and Spain's Catalans. No one says why. To modern Eurocrats, localists are merely below the salt.

Countries dissolve when the political logic that held them together dissolves. There is no reason why an independent Flanders should not be as resilient as Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland or the Baltic states. Bigness is no guarantee of prosperity, usually the opposite. Big statism is a hangover from 20th-century imperialism and the needs of perpetual war. It is now claimed for globalisation, but as that draws power away from democratic institutions, so the self-governing urge claws it back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2010 6:05 AM
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