Belgian TV dissects blunt realities of political divorce

21st November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Millions of Belgians tackle the ultimate taboo Sunday as experts dissect the blunt realities of political divorce in a public TV special shown across their country's language divide.

"Plan B," analysing the break-up of the federal state, sees 11 Flemish professors place life after separation under the microscope, looking variously at social security, national debt, the army, the king and the bilingual European island of Brussels.

It will address the challenges, the opportunities, who would win, who would lose... and for the first time in decades of linguistically-devolved broadcasting, air a Flemish production simultaneously across French-speaking parts.

"In this divorce, the house is Belgium. We can't say: Mister keeps the house and Madame takes herself off to Luxembourg. We need to organise separate apartments," the head of news at the French-speaking TV arm, RTBF, Jean-Pierre Jaqmin, told Le Soir newspaper at the weekend.

His VRT station counterpart, Kris Hoflack, holds an equally frank view that separation "is complicated, yes, very complicated, but possible," underlining the prospect of interminable negotiations: "I no longer sense the will to get anywhere, on either side."

The country that hosts European Union and NATO headquarters is in a mess, with a string of royal-appointed negotiators failing to form a government since parallel June 13 elections won in Flanders by the nationalist N-VA and elsewhere by French-speaking Socialists.

Flemish socialist senator Johan Vande Lanotte, 55, currently holds the title of royal "clarificator" and will present his latest compromise proposals over coming days.

But the poll-winners on either side have already moved dramatically, French-speaking Socialist Laurette Onkelinx warning people to "get ready for the break-up of Belgium," and Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever announcing in Latin "Fabula acta est" ("the curtain has fallen").

The VRT broadcast begins at 1910 GMT, subtitled on RTBF, and is followed by debates among Flemish and French-speaking politicians, which the latter is showing on its website.

The idea, according to the documentary-maker Ivan De Vadder, is to "calculate how much the split would cost and who would emerge as the winners and losers."

He admits: "No-one will be happy. Radicals will say we haven't gone far enough, whereas unionists will reckon the simple fact of producing such a programme already goes way too far."

In terms of wealth per inhabitant, national income tax returns show the Dutch-speakers way out in front -- set against an average index of 100, Flanders sits on 109, compared to 87 for Wallonia and 86 for the Brussels region.

Belgium has a 6.2 million Dutch-speaking majority, compared to 4.5 million French, but how would its national debt -- in 2009, pegged at 326 billion euros -- be partitioned? Likewise, who would pocket the huge EU influence on the Brussels economy?

The likes of Spanish and British television executives will monitor the broadcast's impact closely, given political trends in places like heavily-devolved Catalonia or Scotland.

© 2010 AFP

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