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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Belgium

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Belgium, 11 March 2008, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Disputes between Belgium's majority Flemish and minority Walloon linguistic communities brought the country to the brink of a break-up in 2007. The wealthier Dutch-speaking Flanders region resents subsidies for the poorer francophone Wallonia region. This resentment builds upon memories of historical French and Walloon political, economic and linguistic dominance that lasted to varying degrees until 1970.

Over five months after June 2007 parliamentary elections, Flemish and Walloon legislators still were not able to agree on a new government. At issue were Flemish demands for greater regional autonomy and a cut in financial support to Wallonia. Enacting these changes, opposed by Walloons, would require a two-thirds majority of parliament. Flemish parties were unwilling to agree to a government with parties rejecting the proposal, and Walloon parties were unwilling to join a government advocating the proposal.

In November, Flemish parties broke with a tradition of seeking intercommunal consensus and used their majority in parliament to split a bilingual voting district straddling bilingual Brussels and Flemish Flanders, so that henceforth Walloon voters in the Flanders part can no longer vote for candidates in Wallonia. In 2003 a Belgian constitutional court had ruled the bilingual status of this part of the district unconstitutional, but had not prescribed a solution. Walloon parliamentarians walked out of the November parliamentary session. As the crisis endured, several thousand Belgians rallied for national unity in Brussels in mid-November; while most of the demonstrators were Walloons, some were Flemish. Indeed, opinion polls showed that even as most Belgians expected the country to eventually split apart, majorities in Wallonia and Flanders preferred continued unity. Divorce scenarios were further complicated by the dispensation of Belgium's third region: bilingual Brussels.

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