Der Spiegel reports: Bart De Wever doesn’t have much faith in his country. In fact, you can hardly call it a country, this artificial construct created sometime in the 19th century as the result of an accident of history, a power struggle among major powers. The centralized Belgian state is “slow, complicated and inefficient,” says De Wever, one of the most powerful men in Belgian politics.
He represents a party that went into the last election campaigning for an end to this centralized state, and for an independent Flanders, which it argued would be more viable than Belgium, a broken construct.
De Wever heads the strongest party, the conservative right-wing New Flemish Alliance (N-VA). He is not part of the government, but rather the mayor of Antwerp, and yet he knows that people in Belgium pay very close attention to what he says. He’s sitting under chandeliers in the Gothic city hall, in a room with dark wooden wall panels. It’s a sunny Tuesday in February, four weeks before the Brussels attacks. Salah Abdeslam is still on the run, and police haven’t tracked him down in Brussels’ Molenbeek neighborhood yet. The government is still searching for the sole surviving Paris attacker but have been unsuccessful so far. The government is trying, but it hasn’t turned up much yet. Belgium is receiving poor grades, but so is Europe.
De Wever calls German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy an “epochal mistake,” and he complains that integration in Belgium already isn’t working today. “This is our problem,” he says. “We were unable to offer them a Flemish version of the American dream.” His message is that Antwerp is still better off than Brussels, which could be called a cesspool.
De Wever likens the way politics is done in Brussels to the manner in which workers renovate the city’s crumbling art nouveau buildings: some new wiring here, something patched up there. “Politicians in Belgium often work like craftsmen in old houses: they putter away without any sort of blueprint.” De Wever, sitting in his office on a spring day in Antwerp, has little faith in this country. He doesn’t know yet that his lack of confidence will later be confirmed in the worst of ways. [Continue reading…]