02/05/2004

La Belgique vue de Londres

Le Times publie un fantastique article sur la Belgique:

I've seen the future: it's scary and Belgian

THE PRIME MINISTER makes much of the “scare stories” and “myths” which opponents of further deepening of the EU supposedly propagate. They are based, apparently, on paranoia, and are products of not-so-latent xenophobia.

Well here’s a very scary story which is not speculation but fact. This week democracy — the right to vote for the party you wish to support — ended inside one EU member state.

 

On Wednesday, the Belgian judiciary banned a political party from operating in Belgium. The reason? The country’s political establishment dislikes its views. The party it banned is not some obscure fringe organisation but one which has 18 MPs in the 150-seat Belgian parliament, many local councillors and two MEPs. The opinion polls were predicting that it could win the most Belgian votes at the European and local elections in June.

The banned party is Vlaams Blok (VB). The Court of Appeal in Ghent — notorious for its left-liberal bias — deemed it to be an “undemocratic and racist” organisation because of its policy that immigrants should be given only two choices: “to assimilate or to return home”.

Maybe such a policy is indeed racist; maybe it isn’t. The VB itself, which has much in common with the Fortuyn List in the Netherlands, has been accused of this. But in a democracy, surely, that is a decision which voters should make, not judges. But the VB’s racism was merely an excuse. The real reason why the Belgian authorities have been bent on banning the VB for years has nothing to do with racism and the rights of immigrants. It is that the party advocates secession from Belgium and the establishment of a Republic of Flanders. Worse still, as Belgium’s only conservative party it upsets the country’s cosy political applecart. The Belgian Establishment has responded not by defeating it in argument but by banning it.

After Wednesday’s ruling, it is now illegal to distribute VB publications and its politicians are barred from state radio and television. The party is appealing against the ruling, but the Belgian judiciary’s predisposition to do the bidding of the political class means that the appeal has almost no chance of succeeding. When the ban is confirmed, the VB will be proclaimed a criminal organisation and disbanded, unable to exist, let alone to field candidates and argue its case.

I hold no brief for the VB; and were I to have a vote in Flanders, I would not vote for it. But that is not the point. What happened in Ghent on Wednesday is a frightening, but classic demonstration of the political mindset which lies behind the EU’s “ever-closer union”: if you do not sign up to certain beliefs then your politics are, by definition, beyond the pale and thus illegitimate.

The ruling was merely the latest in a series of attempts to destroy the VB because of the threat it posed to the Belgian status quo. In 1999, “undemocratic and racist” parties were banned from receiving state funding (private donations of more than 125 euros are illegal in Belgium). This decision was immediately followed by an action against the VB on those grounds. When a Flemish judge refused to issue a judgment, arguing that these were matters for the electorate rather than the courts, the head of the Centre for Equal Opportunities, the quango which had brought the case said that he would continue appealing until he had found a judge who would find against the VB. This week one emerged: Alain Smetrijns, who happens also to be the chairman of the Lions Club in Ghent, a francophone pro-Belgian unity group.

Belgium is in many ways a mini-EU: an artificial state created (much like Europe’s three former such states, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) as a result of political ideology rather than any sense of national unity, and held together by a political class which is prepared to subvert democracy to achieve its ends. Add to that a judiciary which, far from being independent of the political establishment, is an important part of the problem — and you have a recipe for what took place in Ghent this week: democracy, Belgian-style, in which you may vote only for a party whose views are approved by the elites.

The actions may be specific to Belgium, but the lesson is of wider import. The EU is in the process of becoming just such an artificial state. The fate of the Vlaams Blok shows that worries about the future of democracy are not scare stories. They are real dangers and they are with us today.

The author is a senior Fellow at the Centre for the New Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.


14:55 Écrit par Kathy Schmurtz et Had | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Facebook |

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