Wallonia is described through its own similarly graphic metaphor: as Britain without Thatcher. That the income of Flanders overtook that of Wallonia sometime in the mid-1960s is not just an accident of natural resources. It had political causes too. The heavily unionized South, with its rigid system of wage bargaining and a lavish welfare state won through uncompromising labor agitation, was totally resistant to change. For all the attention Flemish nationalism has received, the Walloons also gave an impetus to the breakup of Belgium, for their own economic reasons. They wanted to seize control over national economic policy in order to protect their dying industries. Wallonia would be an economy of coal, iron, and steel or it would be nothing. It wound up nothing. "In contrast with e.g. Glasgow or Bilbao," Buyst writes, "a successful reconversion to tertiary activities never materialized."And I thought everything was copacetic in Euroland. Wasn't socialism supposed to put a stop to this?
That scared foreign investors, particularly American ones, who were pouring into Europe in the decades after World War II. Already by the 1960s, 80 percent of the foreign companies present in Belgium were in the Flemish north, according to the Ghent university political scientist Carl Devos. Wallonia is now a basket case. Charleroi, the regional hub, shows a lot of the outward signs of a city run by a Socialist party machine: 30 percent unemployment, life expectancies that have receded to their levels in the 1950s, municipal council members sitting in jail, and a tendency of helpful locals to describe it as "our Detroit."
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Belgium: The Michigan of Europe
This article on Belgian Waffles is fascinating.
Posted by Lou Minatti at 6:54 AM