Globalized Rot

As long as we are on the subject of countries tooting their own horns (but in their own languages, and thus mainly to a domestic audience), did you know that Belgium is #1 in the world when it comes to globalization? That’s the word from the leading Flemish daily De Standaard, and the authority bestowing this accolade is the KOF economic research institute of Switzerland. That evaluation is based on three globalization sub-scores: economic (self-explanatory), social (how many foreign people and firms are there), and political (how active it is in international organizations/cooperation). Belgium is not #1 in any of those individual sub-scores (it’s #5, #10, and #3 respectively) but combined they are enough to give it a “Globalization Index” of 91.51 and put it on top of the world’s nations, just ahead of Ireland and the Netherlands. (If you’re interested, the US ranks far down the list at #38, behind even Jordan and Malaysia.)

“Alright, but isn’t this the same country where no one wants to serve as prime minister?” you might be asking at this point, particularly if you followed along with coverage on this weblog last summer of yet another Belgian political crisis that unfortunately coincided with the National Holiday. And, of course, you’re right. So it is no surprise – even if it is kind of amusing – to see on the website of that very same newspaper, De Standaard, on the very same day a headline in English, “Something is rotten in the state of Belgium.” That fronts an article that is all about Belgian politician Bart De Wever and his dominant (in the Dutch-speaking part of the country, that is) N-VA or Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie party. De Wever tells reporter Peter De Lobel that 2008 was for his party “the year of the great disillusionment.” He laments that “this country doesn’t work any more,” and points out that the major Belgian bank KBC had to get a €2 billion bailout from the Flemish regional government a few weeks to avoid bankruptcy – the Belgian federal government was supposedly uninterested in helping out what De Wever claims it looked askance at as a “Flemish and Catholic” bank.

That sort of squabbling over a major financial institution in trouble is a measure for you of how divided politics are in contemporary Belgium, no matter how “globalized” the country may be.

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