It's often said that the only thing Belgium's two populations – the Dutch-speaking Flemings and the minority French-speaking Walloons – have in common is the monarchy and beer. It's certainly an odd place. The Flemings account for about 58% of the population compared to the Walloons' 32% (the rest are mostly German speakers). Brussels is officially bilingual, but in fact it is a mostly French-speaking enclave in the Dutch-speaking region. The place became independent in 1830, and got its monarchy in 1831: but might 2008 see it breaking apart?
It's entirely possible. Visitors to Belgium over the last few years have sensed an increasing mood in favour of separation, particularly among the Flemish majority. The federal elections of June 2007 did nothing to clear the air: negotiations between Flemish and Wallonian politicians proved difficult. It was a government in crisis, and the biggest opposition party, Vlaams Belang, predicted that it would all end in separation. And now, a year later, there seems little sign that the politicians are much further forward in terms of their ambition to form a national government. Last week, just before a plan for national reform was to be presented to the federal parliament, Prime Minister Yves Leterme resigned. He's a serial resigner, but even so, it all seems to indicate a federal government in a mess.
Yesterday, the opposition Vlaams Belang staged a press conference to renew their calls for Flemish independence. They may not get their wish right away. But right now it looks to be just a matter of time. Which is going to make Brussels an even stranger place than it is at the moment.