I don’t pretend to understand domestic politics inside Belgium, or the specific reasons why its Government fell this week. Something to do with electoral boundaries and French language rights not being upheld in parts of Brussels.The story interested me because of its power-sharing arrangements have frequently being used as a prime example of consociationalism. Consociationalism, originally described by Arend Lijphart, has four major features:
- Grand coalition of the political leaders of all significant segments
- Mutual veto or “concurrent majority” rule
- Proportionality as the standard of political representation
- Autonomy to a high degree for each segment to run its own affairs
Lijphart argued that grand coalitions are facilitated better by republican than by monarchical types of government, as in the latter the success of coalitions may depend upon the strengths of the monarchy as a unifying force.Considering the recent case in Belgium, this would put the focus on King Albert II, who has asked finance minister Didier Reynders to come to the rescue of the country’s ruling coalition government. In a subsequent news report, vox pops expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of Belgian politicians to resolve this matter. One interviewee said that the politicians actually like the current crises, as it allows them to avoid dealing with socio-economic policy:
That immediately made me think of Northern Ireland politicians, who are quick to play the card of threatened institutional instability and slow to get a move on dealing with matters more immediately affecting local households.For me, there is a further irony. Last year, we approached Brussels municipal officials to learn of potential interest in our Cities in Transition project. They declined, saying that they did not see themselves as a city in conflict, or even post-conflict; that they were in a different category. Their state of denial astounds me.