Bel­gium bat­tles ‘failed state’ tag

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Philippe SIUBERSKI

Bel­gium is bat­tling ac­cu­sa­tions that it has be­come a “failed state” whose lin­guis­tic and com­mu­nal di­vi­sions con­trib­uted to fail­ures that let it be­come a ji­hadist base for the Paris at­tacks. Years of in­creas­ing fed­er­al­ism have deep­ened rifts be­tween the wealthy coun­try’s French-, Flem­ish- and Ger­man-speak­ing re­gions, leav­ing it with lit­tle sense of na­tion­hood and a dys­func­tional, multi-lay­ered bu­reau­cracy.

A brief mo­ment of unity in the face of its own ter­ror alert in Brus­sels merely pa­pered over the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems that made Bel­gium un­able to dis­man­tle a lead­ing Euro­pean ji­hadist hotspot that pro­duced two of the Paris at­tack­ers. In­ter­na­tion­ally there has been harsh crit­i­cism since French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande said that the Paris at­tacks which killed 130 peo­ple were “planned in Syria, pre­pared and or­ga­nized in Bel­gium.”

French news­pa­per Le Monde warned in an ed­i­to­rial this week that “this state with­out a na­tion risks be­com­ing a na­tion with­out a state”. Politico Europe com­men­ta­tor Tim King went even fur­ther, say­ing “Bel­gium is a failed state” while Italy’s La Repub­blica news­pa­per dubbed it “Bel­gis­tan”. “The prob­lem is that in Bel­gium you have a fed­eral po­lice force, but gen­er­ally the po­lice are from lo­cal forces. So the pow­ers of the in­te­rior min­is­ter ex­ist but are lim­ited, and that poses po­lit­i­cal prob­lems,” an­a­lyst Claude Moni­quet told AFP.


Bel­gium is a rel­a­tively mod­ern in­ven­tion, born in 1830 as an in­de­pen­dent state to act as a buf­fer be­tween France and Ger­many. It is now an un­easy mix of a Flem­ish-speak­ing, more con­ser­va­tive north and a French-speak­ing, poorer left-lean­ing south with a small Ger­man-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion near the bor­der. But any il­lu­sion of po­lit­i­cal unity on the ter­ror­ism is­sue was shat­tered on Tues­day, when the main Flem­ish na­tion­al­ist party ac­cused the fran­co­phone so­cial­ist party of “Is­lamo-so­cial­ism” and fail­ing to counter rad­i­cal­ism.

“Twenty years of lax­ity by the So­cial­ist Party and of Is­lamo-so­cial­ism have brought us where we are to­day, with Brus­sels as the rear base for bar­barism,” law­maker Karl Van­louwe, whose NVA party is part of the coali­tion govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Charles Michel, said in a vit­ri­olic ar­ti­cle in the news­pa­per Le Soir. His crit­i­cisms fo­cused on the run-down Brus­sels district of Molen­beek, which was home to at least three of the Paris at­tack sus­pects and been branded a haven for ji­hadists by the govern­ment.

The former so­cial­ist mayor of Molen­beek from 1992 to 2012, Philippe Moureaux, has been ac­cused of turn­ing a blind eye to the march of rad­i­cal­ism in the area. Has­san Bousetta, a spe­cial­ist on the pol­i­tics of in­te­gra­tion from Bel­gium’s Liege Univer­sity, said that the prob­lem was a wider one in­volv­ing a “pro­file of dis­af­fected young men of Moroc­can or Al­ge­rian ori­gin” in an area of high un­em­ploy­ment that the Bel­gian state had failed to tackle. “The ab­sence of strong links within a com­mu­nity gen­er­ates ji­hadism,” he told AFP.

The frag­mented state is ill-equipped to deal with many prob­lems. Bel­gium af­ter all holds the world record for the long­est pe­riod that a coun­try has gone with­out a govern­ment - 541 days af­ter elec­tions in 2010.

19 May­ors, 6 Po­lice Chiefs

Po­lice op­er­a­tions are ham­pered by the fact that Brus­sels has 19 may­ors and six dif­fer­ent district po­lice chiefs for the cap­i­tal, with whom ev­ery­thing must be co­or­di­nated in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. The sys­tem leads to mo­ments of sur­real bu­reau­cracy, such as the fact that Brus­sels air­port re­mained on a level three ter­ror alert while the city it­self was on the high­est level of four, be­cause the air­port is of­fi­cially in the Flem­ish-speak­ing re­gion that sur­rounds the cap­i­tal.

Le Monde said that Bel­gium had shown “too much tol­er­ance” and was “pris­oner to an in­sti­tu­tional de­bate which one could have found pic­turesque but is now turn­ing tragic”. Bel­gium’s La Li­bre news­pa­per re­acted an­grily, say­ing that “French con­de­scen­sion knows no lim­its”, but ad­mit­ted that crit­i­cisms would be eas­ier to ac­cept “if it was a state that was a model of co­ex­is­tence and in­te­gra­tion.”

Mi­gra­tion and mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism ex­pert An­drea Rea said many of the do­mes­tic crit­i­cisms of the Bel­gian sys­tem’s dys­func­tion­al­ity were more about po­lit­i­cal point-scor­ing and the ri­valry be­tween the Flem­ish sep­a­ratists and the French-speak­ing so­cial­ists than re­al­ity. “It is more per­ti­nent to point to a lack of co­or­di­na­tion at the Euro­pean level,” said Rea, a pro­fes­sor at the Free Univer­sity of Brus­sels. “The ji­hadists think transna­tion­ally, while the po­lice are stuck in their na­tional po­si­tions.”

Bel­gian army sol­diers and Bel­gian po­lice pa­trol a shop­ping street in the cen­ter of Brus­sels yes­ter­day.

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