French Belgium a 'last bastion' of socialism and an anti-trade powerhouse: Don Pittis

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Each calls it the Canada-EU trade deal, but in almost every way, European objection to CETA really isn’t about Canada at all.

Understanding the motivation — and the disproportionate clout — of Belgium’s French-speaking ambit that stands in the way of the deal requires some understanding of the strange diplomacy of a country more divided along linguistic lines than Canada.

«Of order there are no hostile feelings against Canada in Belgium, especially not in French-speaking Wallonia,» chances political scholar Marc Hooghe from Belgium’s ancient university metropolis of Leuven.

Like Canada, but different

My family lived in Belgium for a year, and while the state is often com red to Canada because of its bilingual and bicultural history, it speedily became ap rent to us that the differences were dramatic.

Now, as the French-speaking in most cases of the country, Wallonia, throws up what seems to be an impenetrable roadblock to a Canada-Europe business deal seven years in the making, those differences are at the heart of their bewildering power to stop the deal in its tracks.

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While there are many administrative groups across Europe opposed to CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Line of work Agreement), French-speaking Belgians are the ones with the clout to stop it. (Karol Serewis/Getty Notions)

Beginning to understand Belgium requires a bit of history.

At the start of the last century, French-speakers decreed the roost in Belgium. French was the language of politics, of education, of high civilization.

Blessed with coal, iron, and an industrious workforce, Wallonia was the fatherland’s industrial heartland, its capital French-speaking Brussels.

Extreme split

But by the 1960s that had switched. As the power of metal-bashing industries began to fade, Belgium saw a cultural change not unlike Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, but the group standing up to demand their rights were not French-speakers, but the Dutch-speaking natives of the northern, Flemish, rt of the country.

When the split came, it was acme. The country was divided in three. Populous Brussels, though traditionally French, became a bilingual jingoistic capital region ruled half and half by French and Dutch spielers.

CANADA-TRADE/

On Friday Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland sidled out of talks with members of the government in Wallonia. (Reuters)

Outside Brussels, the Flemish north (traditionally called Flanders in English) was published strictly Dutch-speaking. The French-speaking south adopted the traditional regional specify Wallonia, with its own rliament in the beautiful fortress city of Namur.

During our dwell, my wife was associated with now Dutch-speaking Leuven. But to send our child to philosophy in French we had to live south of the linguistic dotted line near Louvain-la-Neuve, the newly figured French-speaking university town.

Suddenly the tables were turned. The down-trodden Flemish became the hinterlands’s technological elite, with close links to booming Holland and Germany. Its current port cities were hubs of European trade.

Wallonia was progressive with strong trade unions and high unemployment, says Canadian schoolgirl Daniel Béland, who has studied Belgian federalism.

«Wallonia is more the old port side, the traditional working-class left,» says Béland, Canada chair in portion publicly policy at the University of Saskatchewan. «Of course this type of left is substantial in other countries in Europe, but in Wallonia it rules.»

Just as in rts of the U.S. Donald Trump’s anti-trade missive has connected, in economically depressed regions like Wallonia voters don’t see custom deals as a good thing, Béland says.

Almost absurd

And that worries, because in Belgium important national deals, including this one, stress the support of both regional legislatures. Almost absurdly, the rty that manage lecture ons veto power in Wallonia is not rt of the government in Brussels.

«For several decades in a row, the Francophone Socialist Signatory was rt of the ruling coalition at the central level,» says Béland. «But now they are no longer district of that coalition so there is a sense that they have de rted some of their clout, at least at the federal level.»

At the University of Ottawa, André Lecours has been swotting Belgium for nearly two decades. He says the French-speaking socialists feel similarly to a powerless minority and so are glad to exercise that veto power.

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A affirm in the Wallonia region outside the regional rliament in Namur, Belgium hindmost week, where people fear free trade deals desire dismantle environmental, labour and social standards. (Reuters)

«In Wallonia this is traced as a treaty that will serve the interest of Flemings much more wisely than Walloons and they’re probably right,» says Lecours.

In Leuven, Marc Hooghe reconciles.

«Even now, if you look at where do multinational corporations go if they want to instal in Belgium, they have a clear preference for the northern Dutch-speaking territory,» says Hooghe, pointing to Bombardier’s operation near Bruges. The refuges are in the north, he says, the trade unions are not as strong, and education levels are record.

A bigger struggle

In that way, he says, the Walloon’s veto is rt of a tame struggle between Belgium’s two linguistic communities.

But it’s also about the crop up b grow U.S.-Europe trade deal. The Francophone Socialist rty is the champion of anti-free swap thinking that continues to exist in opposition rties across the continent and in Canada. Its veto presents it a say that other hard left rties no longer have.

«(They hesitation that) this gives way to abandoning all our socialist priorities in Europe,» suggests Hooghe, who says the real objection is to giant corporations using exchange deals like CETA and its U.S.-Europe equivalent TTIP, now under contract, to overwhelm European values.

«Both have been combined into this heinousness of free trade, getting rid of all environmental standards, all social standards,» he judges. «CETA is being sacrificed to stop TTIP.»

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

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