Thursday, November 25, 2010

Euro Meltdown Can Split Belgium

Here's a follow-up to yesterday's observations on European debt.  Contagion doesn't just spread internationally.  It can also hit parts of Europe's internal systems that were previously considered healthy, like Belgium: 

In the bars of Antwerp and the cafes of Bruges, the talk is less of Christmas markets and hot chocolate than of the rising cost of financing a national debt which stands at 100% of annual national income. 

Like Ireland, struggling to fend off criticism of its austerity package, there are signs that international bond investors are starting to view Belgium as living on borrowed money and borrowed time.

Belgium faces the additional challenge of internal ethnic tension between its Flemish and Walloon constituencies.  Belgium's problems are a microcosm of Europe's.  National identities reassert themselves because ethnically distinct groups never fully accepted allegiance to supranational governance.  The dividing lines between opposing solutions to Europe's debt crisis are now solidifying along nationalist and tribal lines.  Flemish advocates for austerity oppose their national government's profligacy.  Germany's resistance to further bailouts opposes the EU's desire for unity.

The great European experiment in forging a transnational identity for the Continent is in its sunset years.