Belgium Still Can't Form Government Three factions divided along ethnic lines are vying for control in Brussels after an election five months ago yielded no winner. Seth Jolly, post-doctoral fellow on the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago, makes a bid for your attention.
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Belgium Still Can't Form Government

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Belgium Still Can't Form Government

Belgium Still Can't Form Government

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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All right, Ali, well speaking of politics, did you know that Belgium has been without a federal government for a record five months?


I had no idea.

BURBANK: Do you care?

STEWART: Not a whole bunch.

BURBANK: Me neither.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BURBANK: Actually, you know - you know what, that's not fair. What I meant to say was I don't really care that a country called Belgium exists or that they don't have a federal government. I kid. I joke.

Okay, there is actually some really interesting stuff happening in Belgium - everybody fighting over trying to bring a coalition together to actually run the country. If you still don't need a little bit of help caring about this story, about this country you don't hear a lot about, we've brought somebody very smart in, to tell us about it. And maybe, make us care.

His name's Seth Jolly. He's a post-doctoral fellow on the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago. Hi, Seth.

Dr. SETH JOLLY (Post-Doctoral Fellow on the Committee on International Relations, University of Chicago): Hi, Luke. Hi, Alison.

STEWART: Hey, so you're going to try to make me care about Belgium in a minute right?

Dr. JOLLY: I'll do my best.

STEWART: All right.

BURBANK: All right, all right. I think you can do it. Now can you first explain the situation with the Belgium government right now?

Dr. JOLLY: Sure. The - since the Belgium elections in June, they're still known the government as you said in the intro. Now on a proportional representation system, no single party typically went to majority. It's not like the U.S. where there's a clear winner.

So the biggest party, the Christian Democrats only won 19 percent of the votes. I mean, they get 20 percent of the seat. So they're the biggest party. But there's actually six parties that won more than 10 percent of the vote. So if you think about that, you know, six total parties between and 10 and 19 percent. That's a lot of variation there. But 11 parties total one seat. So you have - you have a whole lot of parties.

BURBANK: So I think it gets - I think the parliamentary system gets a little bit kind of confusing for Americans because you think there's an election and somebody, you know, wins - or there's a runoff. But they've had this election and yet, sort of, nobody won.

Dr. JOLLY: Right. So they have to - they have to form a coalition. So these parties usually do. But the - what's tricky about Belgium is that the parties are not divided just by ideology, like our parties, but by language too.


Dr. JOLLY: So there are different Christian Democratic parties in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, in Flanders, and the French-speaking part. And they don't even get along. So these parties, even within the same kind of party family - the ideology - continue to fight. And they're fighting over political decentralization. (Unintelligible).

BURBANK: All right, all right, all right. Seth, Seth, we've stalled - we've stalled long enough.

Dr. JOLLY: Okay.

BURBANK: Time for the moment of truth or the minute of truth as it is. Jacob Ganz, trusted director for the - 60 seconds please on the BPP Make Me Care Clock. Seth, when you start to hear the ticking clock, you've got 10 seconds left. Sixty seconds to make us care about Belgium.

Dr. JOLLY: Great. So there are two possible outcomes that we should care about this. The first is that we could have new elections. And we have to ask who's likely - big winner in the new elections. One party would be the Flemish Interest Party, which is xenophobic, anti-immigrant, pro-independence party. It's already the second biggest party there and a new election at this time, because of the impasse with the French would make them even more popular. And that would provide support for Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in France, Austria's Freedom Party or the Swiss People's Party. And that's the party famous for the white sheep kicking the black sheep off the Swiss flag. That's one outcome.

The second is that you could even head towards independence. So 46 percent of Dutch speakers already support independence. And that's up from five percent earlier in the year.

(Soundbite of clock ticking)

So if Belgium splits, it could lead to instability in the E.U. Right, that's where the E.U. is headquartered. And possible example for other regionalist movements like Scotland and Ireland and the U.K.

BURBANK: All right. That is it, Seth Jolly. So…

Dr. JOLLY: Okay.

STEWART: Compelling cases.

BURBANK: Destabilization in Belgium could be destabilizing to the European Union at large. All right, I'm going to say that you made me care. Good job, Seth Jolly.

Dr. JOLLY: Really? Thanks.

BURBANK: Post doctoral fellow on the Committee on International Relations at the University of Chicago. Thanks, Seth.

Dr. JOLLY: Thank you, Luke and Alison. I appreciate it. And they have great beer and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: French fries and mayonnaise.

BURBANK: Oh, you e-mail - e-mail me about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. JOLLY: Exactly. Okay, thanks a lot.

STEWART: Stick around, a conversation with actress Amy Ryan who's just about 60 seconds away here on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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