German occupation, the Royal Controversy, decolonization,
national crises, European integration, recent history

German occupation

On August 4, 1914, German troops invaded Belgium, ignoring its neutral status, and starting World War I. The government resisted invasion and appealed to France, Britain, and Russia for aid. The Belgian army put up a heroic defence against overpowering forces; for four years its troops held on to a sliver of Belgian territory between the Yser River and the French border. A million Belgians fled the country, and more than 80,000 soldiers and civilians died.

A major Allied offensive began on September 28, 1918, which liberated the entire Belgian coast, and led to an armistice and German withdrawal. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany ceded Eupen, Malmédy, and Moresnet to Belgium, adding 989.3 sq km (382 sq mi) and some 64,500 inhabitants to the kingdom. Ruanda-Urundi was created from part of a former German colony in East Africa, and placed under Belgian control by the League of Nations.

Although the war damage was enormous, the country made a remarkable recovery. Another consequence was the renunciation of its neutrality. In 1920 Belgium signed a military alliance with France, and in 1925 Britain, France, Germany, and Italy guaranteed the boundaries of Belgium by the Locarno treaties. In 1936, after France failed to oppose German remilitarization of the Rhineland, Belgium again returned to neutrality with the understanding that Britain and France would assist in its defence against foreign aggression.

Nevertheless, on May 10, 1940, Belgium was again attacked by Germany, without warning or ultimatum, and became embroiled in World War II. In fifteen minutes, the Germans "walked" all over the terribly expensive (but politically lucrative...) and so-called impregnable Maginot line of defence !

the Royal Controversy

At once, the Belgian cabinet and 175 parliament members fled to Paris, and continued their "heroic resistence" (from a safe distance)... By May 26, 1940, the Allies had been pushed into a narrow beachhead around Dunkerque, France, near the Belgian border. After more than 12.000 military were killed, and after nearly running out of ammunition, on May 28 King Leopold III surrendered unconditionally, and was taken prisoner.

However, the "heroic" Belgian cabinet refused to acknowledge defeat. They prudently fled once more to London, and declared the king’s surrender to be "illegal and unconstitutional". They divested him (still from a safe distance, of course) of all powers and of the right to rule. The cabinet only returned "victoriously" to Brussels after the victory of the Allies in September 1944, and the Belgian parliament elected Leopold’s brother, Prince Charles, as regent.

Belgium was politically disorganized because of deep conflicts between the Christian Democrat party and a coalition of Liberals, Socialists, and Communists. The Christian Democrat party favoured the return of King Leopold, who had meanwhile remained in Austria. The coalition on the other hand virtually exiled the king, because of his alleged defeatism in 1940. On March 12, 1950, there was a national plebiscite over the Royal controversy. Despite strong interference with the results, and the enormous pressure of the political apparatus, a majority of 57.6 percent voted for the return of the king from exile.

But probably this democratic decision of the people was "not democratic enough" for the Belgian parliament and the powers-behind-the-scene, and after many violent strikes, demonstrations, riots, and a Walloon threat of civil war, Leopold agreed to abdicate in 1951, in favour of his son Baudouin I.

Decolonization, national crises, and European integration

In 1960, uprisings in Belgian Congo forced Belgium to withdraw from its African colony and proclaim its independence. In 1962 it was followed by the Belgian-administered territory of Ruanda-Urundi as two states, Rwanda and Burundi. The loss of the Congo caused economic hardship in Belgium, but not surprisingly, more for the Belgian citizens than for the large companies and the Belgian politicians... For many decades thereafter, droves of Belgian politicians loved to "visit" the Mobutu dictatorship, and received many "gifts" in return for financial "favors"...

To strengthen the economy, the Belgian government instituted an austerity program (read higher taxes)... Violence erupted, particularly in the Walloon south, and the crisis sharpened even more the differences between Flemings and Walloons.

In 1952, Belgium, along with France, West Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, and the Netherlands, had become a charter member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Which is a nicer way of stating that the European coal and steel barons had noticed that by 1950 most of the mines were exhausted, and that they were reluctant to have their economic supremacy come to an end... The ECSC would therefore investigate other sources of power.

In 1957, the Belgian Foreign Minister Paul Henri Spaak was instrumental in the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC), and Brussels became the seat of its governing commission and much of its bureaucracy. In the same year, Euratom was founded, to also cover nuclear energy. In 1967 the ECSC, the EEC, and Euratom merged to form the European Community, now called the European Union. With the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, Belgium supported increased economic and political cooperation in Europe.

The average Jan-met-de-Pet (John Smith) perceives the EEC as a "retirement residue container" (or trash can...) for amortized and redundant politicians... Its administration is incredibly bloated, and only the well (politically) connected can aspire to its membership ! Notwithstanding its extraordinary level of control, each and every year between 80 and 120 million euro is sadly, "inexplicably" and irretrievably lost to large-scale VAT fraud, next of course to the "normal" flood of incredibly large (and tax-free) salaries, expenses and compensations...

Recent history

Recent history produced the prime ministers Gaston Eyskens, Leo Tindemans, Wilfried Martens, Jean-Luc Dehaene, and Guy Verhofstadt, who gradually led the country to a federal nation. The political underhanded and shady deals and the corruption grew strongly, but the political machine completely controls the parties, the unions, health insurance, parliament, the judiciary, the police, and the media, by outright political appointments !

In May 1993, Belgium became a federal state, with three linguistic communities (Flemish, French, and German) and three regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels). Since each institution has its own government, together with the federal government, this leaves the Belgian citizen with seven governments... King Baudouin died on July 31, 1993, and was succeeded by his brother Albert II. In early 2002, Belgium replaced its national currency with the new European euro.

map of BelgiumGiven the many historical occupations by foreign powers over the ages, and the endless power play between the national parties, the average Belgian is not exceedingly patriotic, and usually rather reticent towards whatever administration is currently in charge. Adding to this, there is an incredible red tape and official paperwork, which apparently cannot be simplified, although over the years several have tried !

Setting up a small business requires some six months of endless paperwork and obtaining licenses... A "creative Belgian" solution to this problem for potential foreign investors is that the administration itself provides them a "counselor", free of charge, who can show them where to go and whom to contact to (eventually) get things done, unless of course, the potential investor backs off in desperation...

Nearly 800,000 people out of 4,3 million work in some or other Belgian governmental department, or 18 % of the total active population ! Moreover, the average Belgian official is about 10 % more expensive than a comparable worker in the private sector... The result is that nearly 70 % of the total government expenditure goes to salaries !

There are 6 governments, 52 ministers and secretaries of state, 534 representatives and senators, 10 provincial governors, 60 provincial representatives, and 737 provincial counselors... Add to this an incredible number of "political gift-package-jobs" in all kinds of ministerial cabinets, state owned or state controlled companies, public administrations, parastatal organizations, innumerable commissions, NGO's (non-governmental organisations), and other nice "European Candy"... To compare these figures with the USA, with a population of some 300 million, just multiply these numbers by 30...

After the government's resignation on 26 April 2010, negotiations for the formation of a new government became completely deadlocked. This set a nice world record for the longest time without an official government, with 541 days of endless bickering and fruitless negotiations ! Meanwhile, this government negotiation has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest formation effort ever anywhere...

On 23 July 2011, finally a tentative agreement was reached "to begin serious negotiations", and upon reaching this earthshattering conclusion, the first thing the Belgian politicians did, was to take a three week vacation... On Tuesday 06 December 2011, the government of Elio Di Rupo finally took the oath.

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