European Union

"Let's Not Call Them Anything, Let's Just Ignore Them"


In last week's Belgian elections, the secessionist New Flemish Alliance emerged as the largest party in Parliament; if the group achieves its agenda, Flanders will soon be independent of Belgium, though not of Brussels. The Guardian's Simon Jenkins defends the separatists ("There is no reason why an independent Flanders should not be as resilient as Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland or the Baltic states. Bigness is no guarantee of prosperity, usually the opposite.") and suggests that there's a lesson here for the European Union:

Holy Belgium, man.

During the election Wallonia's socialist leader, Elio di Rupo, ignored Europe's economic crisis by calling for ever more transfers from Flanders, for higher state spending on health and pensions and for price controls on food. Belgium is thus a microcosm of the EU, a treaty state in which political entities claim resources by territorial negotiation. The result was inevitable. Just as German taxpayers are finally fed up with subsidising Greek pensioners, so Flemings are fed up with subsidising Walloons….

The crisis in the euro was the widely predicted result of the EU's leaders running faster economically than they could ever walk politically. At first they thought they could even out the performance of nations by transferring huge sums from rich to poor. This infuriated the rich and enslaved the poor in dependency. The move from what was a free-trade union to what is touted as a "fiscal-transfer union" has gone beyond what is tolerable to the disparate European electorates who must foot the bill….

The Single European Act of 1986 appears to have been a sort of psychological boundary, beyond which political unity should not have strayed. Go too far, as did the Lisbon treaty, and the threads would snap. Europe would lose touch with its component countries, and they would lose touch with their subnational identities. In extremis, they would face break-up, as have Spain, Austria and now Belgium. The history of enforced European union has, after all, been a long parade of catastrophic dictatorship.

When a country—let alone a continent—lacks the bonds of a collective nationhood it is no longer a country, merely a state. Nations forged in war do not necessarily survive peace. Belgium may retain the trappings of sovereignty, a monarch, an army, a customs union and (perhaps) a football team. But taxes and cross-subsidies will only be acceptable within self-governing communities with a shared sense of co-responsibility, not across whole continents.

Ignoring this maxim is what is sorely testing the eurozone and is breaking Belgium.

Bonus links: Paul Belien suggests that an independent Wallonia may split up as well. And Strange Maps recalls Leopold Kohr's proposal for a federation of European "little states." Curiously, Kohr's map doesn't break up Belgium.

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  1. “Splits!”

  2. But taxes and cross-subsidies will only be acceptable within self-governing communities with a shared sense of co-responsibility, not across whole continents.

    The coming political crisis here in the “U”SA, folks. Something like 33 states are effectively bankrupt or insolvent, and only one (1) of them is trying to do anything about it.

    Since politicians prefer the relatively easy postponement of problems to relatively painful resolution of problems, we will see (more) federal bailouts of the bankrupt states, at the expense of residents not living in those states. Hilarity will ensue.

    1. Hilarity will ensue. But it will watching Democratic states beg a Republican Congress for bailouts. And it will be coastal elites who have allowed their states to be looted by public employee unions beg the allegedly ignorant red state rednecks to bail them out. I don’t think the rednecks are going to go for it.

      1. The states that receive the most federal tax dollars are typically rural states. I think it’ll be the other way around. The rednecks will be begging the bankers and lawyers for bailouts.

        1. To clarify, I mean the states that receive more than $1.00 back for every $1.00 that is paid in taxes.

        2. We have this argument about twice a week. And it is equally stupid every time.

          First, the Blue states are not going broke because they are not getting enough federal tax money. You could even it out the federal outlays and those states would still be broke.

          Second, you can’t run a government whose sole purpose is to give out goodies based on population. The red states get more money primarily because they have larger retiree populations and more military bases. How would you remedy this? State giving retirees in Florida less money than those in California? And if places like California and New York were not tax hells, they would have more retirees and get more income. That is their fault. Would you have military bases pick up and move to blue states for no reason other than to even things out? Would you build things like government finance centers in high rent New York or Boston instead of low rent Indianapolis?

          That argument is just complete and utter bullshit. And I wish it would die.

          1. This is the first time I’ve seen this argument at Reason.

            It’s the ag subsidies that are the problems. The rednecks as you call them have already been getting bailouts for decades.

            The key point should be to reduce all goodies, not even them out.

            1. The AG subsidies are small potatoes compared to entitlements. And many of those subsidies go to corporations based on blue states. Until they took it down, the Ag Department had an interactive map that let you see where people lived who received ag subsidies. There were a ton of them in blue states. The “all the rednecks live on ag subsidies” is just a myth ignorant blue staters tell themselves.

            2. How could you have missed it?

              I posted links to federal reports showing Iowa gets well more than one dollar back for each dollar they send to the feds.

              The details indicate that Iowa gets way more in Social Security and Medicare than in Ag subsidies. Iowa happens to be third behind Florida and Arizona in percentange of elderly.

  3. Miserable fat Belgian bastards!

  4. You suck-diddly-uck, Flanders.

  5. What a bunch of inbred racists.

  6. What’s wrong with Walloons, anyway? Why are they so incompetent that they’re dependent on the Flemish?

    They border the Dutch, the Germans, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine – you’d think that knowing how to make money would rub off on them.

    1. What’s wrong with Walloons, anyway?

      Well, they’re French-speaking, for one thing.

      1. Beat me to it.

        1. Being Canadian gives me a little perspective on that.

    2. Hard working, prudish but industrious protestants versus lazy hard partying Catholics. That story has played out a lot over the years.

      1. Got to have priorities man.

      2. Sure blame the catholics. Not universally true at all. For example Germany: industrious catholics (Bavaria, Baden-W?rttemberg), lazy protestants (Bremen, all of east Germany)

      3. Except that until relatively recently it was the Walloons who were more prosperous. Indeed, I think that Belgium was used as the primary counter-example to Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism thesis.

        It’s still a theory I like to use when discussing north-south European differences though.

        Rod Liddle has had the most pithy recent bon mot though – calling for the southern states to be excluded and put in a separate “Southern Subsidies and Siesta Zone.” 🙂

        1. Isn’t most of Flanders nominally Catholic? I seem to recall you don’t start getting into Protestant areas until you get into the Netherlands (which, IIRC, has a substantial Catholic minority as well).

          I remember when I visited my relatives in Germany, and we also spend a week and a half seeing some other parts of Europe. One of my older cousins is a devout Catholic, and insisted on seeing the church at every town we stopped in. That is, until we got to Breda, the first town across the border from Belgium. We stepped into the church, and it was — horror of horrors! — a Dutch Reformed church.

          We didn’t step foot in another church until we got to thoroughly Catholic Cologne, Germany. 🙂

          1. One of my older cousins is a devout Catholic, and insisted on seeing the church at every town we stopped in.

            That sounds just awful.

  7. When a country — let alone a continent — lacks the bonds of a collective nationhood it is no longer a country, merely a state.

    This is why I have such a good laugh at open borders advocates. I have to figure they must love either nationalists or socialists, because while forcing populations that don’t like each other to accommodate one another has produced plenty of those movements, it has never, never produced a libertarian one.

    Not that at this late date I’d expect them to learn anything from experience.

    1. Yep.

      That 19th and early 20th century wave of Irish, German, Italian, Polish and Swedish immigrants totally destroyed the cohesion of the US.

      1. And just because it didn’t then, means that it never will. Especially when you let in millions of relatively homogeneous Spanish speakers and turn an entire education establishment lose on them to teach them how they are victims and Spanish first American second. What could go wrong?

        1. Then the fault lies with the school system, not the people.

          My province (BC) has a lot of East Indian and Chinese immigrants, who tend to cluster in the Greater Vancouver area, with the usual cultural problems that go with a unassimilated ghetto. But they are hard-working, determined people and I am damn glad to have them here.

          1. You are right. I would feel a lot better about mass immigration if the liberals hadn’t destroyed the education system. But since they did, I don’t feel so good about it.

      2. Have you been to Chicago?

    2. The problem in Europe is that Europe spent more than a century [from the 1820’s to 1945] devoted to the concept of the ethnic nation-state republic as the antidote to the monarchical system.

      The United States spent that entire time as a largely successful multiethnic state where the bonds of nationality were esoteric and philosophical and conceptual.

      So it’s natural that Europe is still fascinated by the ethnic nation-state.

      “Forcing populations that don’t like each other to accomodate each other” didn’t produce nationalism. What produced nationalism was pathetic communitarian sentimentality about simple folk [or Volk] and their old-timey homespun country ways, and asinine arguments about how outsiders threatened sacred traditions and good blood. In other words, the very rhetorical methods and appeals most loved by anti-immigration fearmongerers.

      1. And here we go with the pat over-simplification of hundreds of years of european history to fit with your dogma …

      2. The United States spent that entire time as a largely successful multiethnic state where the bonds of nationality were esoteric and philosophical and conceptual.

        There is no such thing as a strictly proposition nation, no matter how moved we can be by ideas. People do not have roots in or loyalties to bloodless abstractions. The United States managed to forge a real nation out of millions of immigrants, disparate, true, but overwhelmingly of European ethnicities from Christian cultures (I guess it’s “racist” to suggest that might have helped), under a confident founding population who expected newcomers to assimilate to their political and cultural mores. Even so, it was difficult, with intermittent and sometimes lengthy immigration moratoria to digest the newcomers and smooth out the inevitable cultural conflicts.

        That was then, this is now, and all the conditions (no welfare state, a confident, dominant culural majority, an elite class whose interests were not entirely incongruent with those of ordinary citizens, etc., etc., etc.) that allowed this impressive because unlikely nation-forging are gone. It’s remarkable how many people’s ideologies compel them to live in a fantasy land where it’s eternally 1840, as far as the United States is concerned.

        The problem with Americans is not that we love our national mythologies (all peoples do), but that so many of us don’t recognize that they’re mythologies. No earthly nation is capable of assimilating immigrants at all times, from any imaginable culture, under any and all economic and historical conditions, at any volume, no matter how large, at any pace, no matter how precipitous, and from any place, even from contiguous nations with historical resentments and irredentist ambitions. (I’ll pause here to allow Fluffy to become hysterical at the very suggestion that Mexican immigration could possibly be problematic in this way). No matter how good its ideas are or how brilliant its constitution. And yet apparently many Americans sincerely believe this in utter defiance of the most rudimentary common sense.

    3. This is why I have such a good laugh at open borders advocates.

      Because we know the difference between cross-subsidies and free migration? I’m all for allowing Walloons to settle in Flanders, Greeks to settle in Germany, and Californians to settle in Texas.

      forcing populations that don’t like each other to accommodate one another

      When the topic is migration, what you call “forcing” is properly known as “refraining from forcing apart.”

      1. Jesse, Slappy has admitted to being involved with the American Third Way Party. He’s a proud neo-facist and nationalist racist.

        1. There program is listed on their web site.

          I’m still waiting for some genius to show me the items they deem to be fascist.

          I have a feeling I’ll be waiting for a long, long time.

          1. 404 error.

            404 errors are really fucking fascist, man.

            1. in broken link veritas

              1. los links!

            2. Also…

              Immigration. Enough is enough.

              If current demographic trends persist, European-Americans will become a minority in America in only a few decades time. The American Third Position will not allow this to happen.

              To safeguard our identity and culture, and to maintain the very existence of our nation, we will immediately put an indefinite moratorium on all immigration. Recognizing our people’s right to safety, and respecting the sanctity of the rule of law, we will immediately deport all criminal and illegal aliens. We believe, too, that American citizenship should be exclusive and meaningful. As such, the American Third Position will end the practice of automatic birthright-citizenship for children of illegal aliens. To restore, with civility, the identity and culture of our homeland, we will provide incentives for recent, legal immigrants to return to their respective lands.

              Nationalism with racist precepts is facism, you twat.

              1. Er, given that every nation earth reserves the right to deport illegal aliens, and also to defend and promote it’s national culture, I can only believe you’re living in a sad, sad world.

                1. Crawl back into your eggsack, you fascist cuntrag.

                2. The United States doesn’t have a national culture.

                  Even asserting that the state should be promoting a national culture is a quasi-fascistic position. And yup, lots of countries do it, because lots of countries have governments with profoundly fascistic and socialistic elements.

                  1. Sure, Fluff. We’re nothing but a global strip-mall and labor exchange. Never been anything else. There was nothing identifiable or distinctive about this non-nation I grew up in (with its regional variations, just like those other nations you’re willing to grant a culture to), that is, nothing beyond it’s economic system. Yep, when I travel it’s remarkable how every other place on earth has this palpable thing called a culture, but as an American, of course I have no idea what it feels like to come home, to be home and at ease, in my own, my native land. How could I, how could any American, possibly know that experience of a culture, of being at home among my countrymen, whose ways I understand, what with this place being nothing but an empty abstraction populated by denatured widgets.

                    And yet, I do. Granted, it’s in the process of being transformed into just another Latin-American type kleptocracy – willfully or obliviously, depending on the perps, aided and abetted by useful libertardian idiots like yourself, whose understanding of history and human nature comes out of comic books and corporate press releases.

                    I think what people mean when they say that “the U.S. has no culture” is really “*I* have no culture, having been emotionally gutted and reduced to economic widget status by late-modern pathologies (including a malicious and moronic (anti)educational system”. But, unlike you, I remain very much an encultured human being. Sorry about your lack.

          2. LINK FAIL

            The real link is A3P.

            They don’t explicitly advocate remaking the US government and economy in a fascist model, but their Economy program has many statements that do sound like something a fascist would say:

            “However, even as our economy crumbles before us, the political establishment boldly extols the virtues of laissez-faire globalism.”

            Fascists routinely complain about laissez-faire capitalism: “Manchester school of economics” or “liberal democracy”.

            “If we cannot exercise our will to restrict who we must compete with, even within our own borders, we are not free, and we do not have economic freedom.”

            John T Flynn in As We Go Marching makes the observation that fascists were nationalists because of their economic policy, as this statement makes plain.

            “We find it morally objectionable to allow companies to sell overseas the manufacturing expertise and technology that, in many ways, belongs to our nation.”

            I think I could find this statement in Raven Thomson’s The Coming Corporate State.

            1. Fascists routinely complain about laissez-faire capitalism: “Manchester school of economics” or “liberal democracy”.

              So does the New York Times. Your point?

              1. The NYT is also fascist.

      2. Because we know the difference between cross-subsidies and free migration?

        Care to show me any examples where free migration didn’t result in cross-subsidies?

        When the topic is migration, what you call “forcing” is properly known as “refraining from forcing apart.”

        Actually, it would be more appropriately known as “forced integration” since in virtually every case I’m aware of, mass immigration has occurred over the objections of the native population. Unless you can name any examples where that has not been the case.

        1. “Forced integration” is when I pass a law saying you can’t refuse to sell or rent your house to a person of a given ethnicity, and can’t refuse to hire them.

          “Forced integration” does not occur when other people around you sell or rent their houses voluntarily to people of different ethnic groups, or voluntarily choose to hire them for jobs, and you just don’t like it.

          So you have a claim that you’ve been subject to “forced integration” with African-Americans, but don’t really have one with illegal Latin American immigrants.

      3. Wait. You got my attention now. Is there some way to keep Californians out of Texas? There is a nativist platform I could get behind.

    4. The only two libertarian movements of any size occurred in multiethnic environments: The German / English / Scottish / Native American environment in the 13 Colonies in 1776, and the [much smaller and less successful] multiethnic environment in the United States following WWII.

      Since those are the only two libertarian movements of any size or importance ever, I’d need you to give me an example of a single-ethnicity state developing a substantial or influential libertarian movement.

      1. Do I really need to point out that one of those nationalities was overwhelmingly dominant until well into the 20th century?

        1. White English Protestants were no more demographically dominant in the 13 Colonies than “White Americans” [since “whiteness” has swallowed up all the petty intra-European squabbling that used to occur] are now.

      2. New Zealand in the ’90s?

        1. Also multiethnic.

          1. NZ in the 80’s was about 90% anglo-celtic.

      3. Estonia in the 00s?

  8. But they also have a long border with the French. And wasn’t the original conception of the EU a de Gaulle brainchild whereby he could subsidize his favorite pig farmers with money from Germans?

  9. Silly wabbit, you can never be free of Brussels.

  10. If they separate, do we call them Flems and Loons?

  11. No Fredonia? Disappointing.

  12. “Hidely-ho! Wallonish neighbors.

  13. Stupid Flanders.

  14. It’s essentially the problem with modern democracy — the territories claimed by nation-states don’t really correspond to a “demos” in the traditional sense, especially as they grow larger. It isn’t a community, it’s a set of communities living in the same or nearby areas, which is why we have so many fights about immigration and vote dilution, for example.

    1. Just so, cynical. Which is why, perhaps, that the Founders conceived of the USA as being a union of semi-sovereign states, which retained authority over much of what states do, including regulating immigration.

      1. Even states is only a patch on the problem. The issue is that the demos is people, not land — people aren’t necessarily tied to land, outside of a feudal system. Of course, the Western concept of nation-states evolved from a feudal system, so that’s part of the issue.

  15. Its the beginning of the end for the nation state. Awesome!

    Those who would kill in order to preserve the nation state will be brutally slain. And deservedly so.

  16. Those who would kill in order to preserve the communiteh will also be brutally slain. And deservdly so.

    1. The server squirrels are apparently an obstacle to your cunning plan.

  17. Look, I only have one concern about what Belgians do: is this going to affect my beer supply negatively? If not, than I don’t care. If so, then I’m opposed.

    1. Hmmmmm. Good point. I have to think that those trappist monks who make my Chimay are doing OK without flemish subsidies though. $9-$15/bottle they damn well better be!

    2. Do the Flemish or the Wallons make better beer?

      1. Lambics come from the Senne Valley, which is in Flanders, although its Brussels, so who knows what will happen.

    3. I enjoy a good Belgian beer like Budweiser.

      1. Bud is Belgo-Brazilian.

    4. If so, we might have to step in for some “regime change” and “liberate the people,” if you know what I’m saying.

  18. Speaking of Europe, what do you think of the UK’s new proposed budget? I have been hoping reason will have a piece on that.

  19. Deep spending cuts – good.

    Massive tax increase – not so good.

  20. Walloons.

    I just like writing that.

  21. For ages, Belgium Franc was one of the forces that held the 2 halves together. If Flander goes independent, they’ll have to find another currency. Ironically, with them now using Euros, that force of binding is no longer in effect. It is easier now than before for them to just call it quit on their union.

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