Monday, December 24, 2007


Today is the day the Christians among us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas and Peace on Earth to all people of good will!

And special consideration for those particular men and women who make Peace on Earth possible for millions, day after day: the members of the US military. Hundreds of thousands are far away from their home and loved ones, dispersed as they are all over the planet. From underground facilities in Germany over checkpoints in Anbar, Iraq to remote foxholes in Afghanistan or the deck of a destroyer off Korea's coast. These brave servicemen and -women can use a little support. Send them some Xmas greetings using this site. Go ahead, it doesn't take long!


Sunday, December 23, 2007


Belgian PM Verhofstadt smoking joint with fella who also stole elections, some sayBelgium finally has a new government. On Friday, December 21, PM Guy Verhofstadt presented his new equipe to the national and international media. Verhofstadt served already two four-year terms in the previous goverments, which were liberal/socialist coalitions. This government - an interim government till March 23, 2008 it is said - is a so-called asymmetrical coalition, since it comprises the liberals of Open VLD and the Christian-Democrats of CD + V on the Flemish side, and the liberals of MR, the (former) Christian-Democrats of CDH and the socialists of the PS on the Wallonian side. Belgium has been without a government since the general elections of June 10 of this year, setting a record of 196 days.

And this is what I wrote right after those elections:

In line with what's happening in the rest of Europe, Belgium's voters shifted to the right. Or at least, away from the left. The ruling coalition of liberals and socialists suffered huge blows to the extent that the PM, Guy Verhofstadt, of the liberal VLD party, could definitely abandon his plans for a third term and the socialist candidate for the top job, Johan Vandelanotte, who was also party chairman, resigned brusquely and clearly depressed, leaving party HQ in disarray.

This is the stat showing the respective results on June 10 (compared to the previous general elections) on the FLEMISH side. Not included are the results for Wallonia.

Belgian federal elections - results for Flanders

Important to note is the huge loss for the liberals of Open VLD and the socialists of SP.A, as well as the gains for the center-right CD + V, Flanders' Christian Democrats. I do not have a similar graph for Wallonia, but the picture there showed huge losses for the Parti Socialiste as well as gains for the Walloon liberals. To sum it all up: the BIG losers on June 10 were Open VLD on the Flemish side, and the socialist parties, both the Flemish (SP.a) and Wallonian (PS) ones. In today's "interim" government - just wait and see till March twenty-three - the heavyweights are... Open VLD and PS. To put it another way:

* in France, people vote center-right, and they get a center-right government under Sarkozy
* in Germany, people vote center-right, and they get a center-right government under Merkel
* in Denmark, people vote center-right, and they get a center-right government under Rasmussen
* in Sweden, people vote center-right, and they get a center-right government under Reinfeldt
* in The Netherlands, people vote center-right, and they get a center-right government under Balkenende
* in Poland, people vote center-right, and they get a center-right government under Tusk

And in Belgium? People vote center-right, and they get a leftist government under Verhofstadt. I don't see how this travesty could be called otherwise, since eight years of co-rule with socialists have turned Verhofstadt, a man I once admired, into a Big Government buff who did his utmost best to force us gay marriage and gay adoption through our throats, and to keep any reference to Europes judeo-christian roots out of that monstrosity called the European Constitution. In addition, the small Wallonian former christian democrat party CDH delivers a former union chief as minister. I say "former" since the "C" in that acronym no longer stands for "Christian", CDH now means Centre Démocratique Humaniste. But to top it all off - and this is the real shocker - the Wallonian Parti Socialiste (PS), the "Party of 1,000,000 scandals, the chief responsible for Wallonia's disastrous decline - is again holding minister portfolios.

How is this possible? For a very long time, it looked as if the new government would become a liberal/christian democrat alliance, since the coalition talks all through summer and autumn carried on between the same four parties: Flemish liberals and christian democrats on one side, their Wallonian counterparts on the other side. The stalemate in forming a government composed of these parties basically centered around two seemingly insolvable issues:

a.) the impossibility to come to an accord between Flemings and Walloons in the so-called BHV dossier. To put it simply, in certain areas of Flanders, let us call them Halle and Vilvoorde (whence the H and V in the BHV acronym) Wallonian politicians can run and garner votes from Walloons who have settled there. The opposite - Flemish politicians running in similar fashion in Wallonia - is nowhere true. Needless to say, this is a grossly unfair situation, and the remedy is obvious: splitting the electoral district BHV (Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde). This the Wallonian parties categorically refused to do, despite a conclusion reached by the Constitutional Court that the current situation is, well, unconstitutional.

b.) the flat refusal of the Wallonian parties to grant more autonomy to the regions. In other words, the federal government ceding more power to Flanders and Wallonia respectively. In practice this would mean that both the Flemings and Walloons would have the ability to develop the proper instruments for governing their slice of Belgium, and an example would be that the regions decided for themselves what corporate tax they'd levy. The more "anglosaxon" Flanders e.g. would like to implement a lower corporate tax. The étatist Wallonia sees companies merely as milkcows (to be sure, it seems that finally, even in the PS, saner minds are realizing that a country's wealth stems from its companies, but as recently as 2005 the corrupt and incompetent PS Minister of Defense, André Flahaut, called companies "vultures").

With regards to point b.), more autonomy for the regions would automatically mean that they would have to be more self-sustaining. The situation as it is now is very favourable for Wallonia, since the federal "Belgian" state redistributes the nation's wealth among the ... regions, and since Flanders is obviously the workhorse of the Belgian economy, with a GDP comparable to Sweden's and accounting for 80% of Belgian export, it is clear who is chief contributor to the federal honeypot. This situation has over time developed in a gigantic financial transfer of roughly 13 billion EUR every year from Flanders to Wallonia, which means that statistically speaking, every Fleming, from the freshest newborn to the oldest centenarian, pays 2,000 EUR each year (now some 2,800 US$) simply to keep the Wallonian semi-communist state afloat. Even so, one can deduct from international press reviews, the Walloons manage to depict the Flemings as egoists.

Joelle Milquet - responsible for the botched coalition talksWell, to cut a long story short, the coalition talks have basically achieved nothing. BHV has not been split, and the regions haven't gotten more autonomy. Chief responsible for botching the talks is the chairwoman of the small (former) christian democratic party CDH, Mme. Joelle Milquet (photo). Over the past six months, she became known as "Madame Non", since her response to whatever proposal to come to an accord, was always - non. It did not help that the big winner of the June 10 elections, Yves Leterme of CD + V and the obvious choice for PM with his 800,000 votes, screwed up big in the media on several occasions, making him indigestable for most if not all Walloons. On one occasion, when asked by a Walloon reporter to sing the national anthem, the Brabançonne, he sang the Marseillaise - France's anthem! Though himself not a secessionist, Walloon media immediately jumped on the occasion to depict Leterme as paving the way for a splitup of Belgium - the ultimate nightmare for Wallonia since in it present state it is incapable of fending for itself.

To go through all the alleys and possible loopholes the negotiators investigated would lead us too far. Suffice to say that in the second week of December, mounting pressure from the EU, the unions and the Royal Court led to a rather unusual move by the former PM Guy Verhofstadt, whose government had stayed on all those days in a caretaker capacity. Verhofstadts initiative was aided by Leterme who, after yet another failure to unite the four parties around a comprehensible programme, formally resigned as formateur. The pressure put on by the EU is not to be underestimated, since critical decisionmaking on the European level threatened to be postponed by the Belgian stalemate. God knows what shadowy deals were made, fact is that Belgium suddenly had a new government, composed of the election's losers and with none of the Flemish demands met. In Belgium, democracy is a farce. But then, this is also the country where an important party, and thus an important segment of the population, is shut out of the political process for the simple reason that it is conservative, and where this party even risks financial starvation because one of its strongmen said that they might be called islamophobic. I am talking about the VB, of course.

Pieter De Crem, coming man of the Flemish Christian DemocratsIs everything doom and gloom, then? Luckily, it is not. One of the very few silver linings - possibly the only one - is that the post of Minister of Defense goes to Pieter De Crem of the Flemish Christian Democrats. If there is one man who continuously addressed the question of the castration of the Belgian Army at the hands of André Flahaut (PS) during his eight-year long catastrophic tenure, it is Pieter De Crem. One of his most memorable quotes is: "André Flahaut is the biggest disaster happening to the Belgian Army since the defeat against the Germans in 1940." That Decrem is now responsible for Defense is sweet revenge for someone who vowed last Spring "that he would make sure that Flahaut would never again be Secretary of Defense". On many occasions, De Crem has deplored the very meagre contributions of Belgian troops in WOT theaters, its most significant undertaking being that in Afghanistan, where some 360 troops are guarding and managing Kabul Airport in a near risk-free environment. It is possible - it just might - that with this man Belgium may act a bit more in a responsible way with regards to its international obligations.

But all in all this outcome leaves me - and I am sure a lot of Belgians - with a bitter feeling towards Belgiums "powers that be". We haven't gotten the government that we asked for. We are hushed with the story that a Leterme I government will assume control in March 2008, and that at that occasion the Flemish demands will be addressed. But at age 42, I am fairly acquainted with the Macchiavellism in politics here, and I buy nothing of that. Sixty years ago already, there were others who knew:

'Nothing is more disgusting than Belgian politics.'

- Sir Winston Churchill