With news that the partial U.S. government shutdown won’t be resolved for at least the next two weeks, and will then only likely end when the debt limit crisis forces it, commentators have resurrected the history of the last government shutdown during the Clinton administration. But little if any media attention is being paid to a much longer government shutdown in Belgium, which lasted 589 days and ended less than two years ago.
Conflicting political ideologies rather than fiscal excesses were the driving force behind Belgium’s problems. A small western European country of just 11 million, there is a distinct political divide between the northern Dutch-speaking Flemish (6.5 million) and the southern French-speakers, called Walloons (4.5 million). The Flemish, generally speaking, want to be left alone, while the Walloons wish for a strong central government to run everything and everybody.
Those two opposing political philosophies collided in June 2010, when the national election gave the New Flemish Alliance (NVA) 27 seats in the Chamber of Parliament with the Socialist Party (SP) in the south getting 26 seats. Ten other political parties divided up the remaining 150 seats, guaranteeing a political impasse and inevitably a government shutdown.
Belgian King Albert II asked the former president of the Socialist Party to act as a caretaker for the government while negotiations were being conducted for the new government. Those negotiations lasted 589 days until December 2011 when Elio Di Rupo of the Socialist Party became Belgium’s prime minister.
How did the citizens fare in the meantime? Herman Natthijs, a political science professor at the Free University of Brussels, expressed the obvious:
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Photo of Belgian flag