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The Political Conflict in Belgium

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Homework 2: The Political Conflict in Belgium

1. The political conflicts in Belgium started in 2007 after the general election and a period of negotiation between several Flemish parties (Flemish Liberal Democratic, Christian Democratic and Flemish and New Flemish Alliance) and French-speaking parties (Reformist Movement, Democratic Front of Francophone and Humanist Democratic Centre) with the aim of forming a government coalition. The main two issues for the conflict to arise were the demands by certain Flemish parties for the end of the existing Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde district, said to be anti-constitutional and demands for more independence for the different regions, especially in terms of the economic reforms – because the Flemish region feels that it is not fair to be paying for the French community economic problems. This is an example of an intergroup conflict between a fragmented community, at this level the conflict is quite intricate because of the large number of people involved and the multitudinous ways they can interact with each other. Both the French and the Flemish community in Belgium have interests they want to defend and negotiations in order to reach an agreement are complex

2. In terms of dimension the stakes of the conflict are high, since the political stability of the country itself is at stake, together with its economic and social stability. In fact the political crisis was such that many observers speculated on a possible partition of Belgium. This would have huge consequence for the country itself and for the European Union as a whole, since the European Institution are located in Brussels, the only region in the country where both the French and the Flemish communities live. The two parties are interdepending, the decisions affect both parties, and the outcome of one party affects the outcome of the other party. This is particularly true in terms of economic measures spending reductions or increase in taxes. The focus of the negotiation was also in the fact that one of the parties (the Flemish Community) was in favor for devolution of powers to the communities and regions and in splitting the BHV (Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde) district, so in other words, the interest was in reducing the interdependence between the two parties. The continuity of the interaction between the two parties is likely, since they are both part of the same country and even in the case of a country division there would still be interaction, considering the geographic proximity. The perceived progress of the conflict change throughout the conflict, the negotiations were in general long and it was difficult to reach an agreement – as it can be understood considering that the country was for 535 days without a proper leader, being led by a transitional caretaker government. The European crisis put an end to this situation as it left the division between the richer Dutch speaking community and the poorer French speaking community more clear than ever, while Brussels stood in the middle as a mix of both regions. The downgrading of the Standard’s and Poor’s credit rating and borrowing affected seriously the banking industry of Belgium made it necessary a political agreement. The amount of time the negotiations took make it quite clear that the conflict reached a certain stage where both parties were protecting their side and unwilling to accept any change – unwilling to compromise. This is a critical factor in this conflict as it reflect that the aims of both parties are not an obvious win-win situation but rather than the parties are putting important things at stake, and the outcome of the negotiation might bring positive or negative effects for one of the regions. In terms of the balance between the gains and harm for both parties, it is important to point out that the maximum degree of reform that the Walloon community is willing to set for is considering by far insufficient to the Flemish nationalists, whose package of demands is considered to be unacceptable by Wallonia.
The conflict has a certain level of difficult attached to the precedent rivalry between the two communities for several years. The linguistic conflict dates back to the XIX century, and the division of the country in three regions was done in 1932 with the following rules: French would be the official language in Wallonia, German in the region on Eupen and Saint-Vith, Dutch would be the official language in Flanders and only the city of Brussels, surrounded by Flemish territory would be declared bilingual. This linguistic conflict adds up to the current difference in the economies of both regions (Flanders has a stronger economy and a lower unemployment rate), meaning and even more complex negotiation.
As It was previously mentioned, the fact that in the current economic crisis both parties started to feel like it was a lose-lose situation to keep the negotiations instead of reaching an agreement and bringing stability to the country made the process easier to resolve, but there is no guarantee that this will be a long-term stability since the different viewpoints about the future of Belgium are still present.
A positive point is the fact that the system is quite well organized and there are other political parties and the king that can act as a third party. The three regions have always had conflict throughout the years, but were always able to find solutions that comprise both sides in order to achieve a better solution. The fact that this is a divisible issue – the country is divided into three regions which have a certain amount of autonomy also contributes for the fact that it will be easier to resolve this conflict than if it was a case of a conflict.

3. In my opinion the best conflict management strategy for this case would be compromising. Compromising represents a moderate effort to pursue one’s own outcomes and a moderate effort to help the other party achieve their outcomes. By compromising the two communities would be able to get to a better situation than before – the Flemish community could get some of the economic reforms it demands and the French community could face the future with more certainty and without the fear of a possible division of the country – which would have negative consequence to the French speaking region, due to the lack of economic stability. Compromising will however be time consuming and might not be enough for the Flemish community, which has higher demands concerning reforms than the French community. The strategy used until now for solving this conflict was mainly problem solving and contending. Problem solving is time demanding and complex, since actors show concern for both their own outcomes and the other’s party outcome, in this case it led to negotiations taking too much time and to a situation where the country did not have a proper government for more than one year – a situation which both communities must be aware of, in order not to repeat it. Both communities should feel the incentive to compromise in order to prevent the negative speculation about the split of the country which is damaging for both regions’ economies – which in the current economic crisis in a major problem.


“Belgium, from Model to Case Study for Conflict Resolution” by Jonas Claes, Valerie Rosous Essentials of negotiation (5rd edition International Edition), Lewicki, R.J.Saunders, D.M, Barry

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