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A Throne in Brussels A Throne in Brussels
Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe
by Paul Belien. £25.00
Hardback, 384pp
Belien argues that the pan-European super-state currently in the making will resemble a 'Greater-Belgium' rather than a 'Greater-Switzerland', since Europe will also be an artifical construct. To learn what the EU as a single state might be like, take up this highly readable mix of history, analsis and warning.
Reviewer Gerald Frost

[eurofacts (Vol 10 No 18) - 24th June 2005]

This book is an unusual blend of history, analysis, and warning. Its central contention is that the European state now being constructed will resemble Belgium. By this its author, Paul Belien, means that the EU, like Belgium, is essentially an artificial multi-national construct composed of different peoples with separate languages, cultures and traditions. As a consequence, it lacks a sense of national identity and national consciousness and, again like Belgium, it is incapable of developing these; for the lack of a unifying agent the project is doomed.

As Belien points out, from the very beginning Belgium’s ruling establishment realised it could only survive if it were to become the nucleus of a European state. “In this sense”, Belien writes, “Belgicism and Europeanism are the same thing”. He quotes Leon Hennebicq, a Belgicist ideologue: “Have we not been called the laboratory of Europe? Indeed we are a nation under construction….The solution is economic expansion which can unite us. “Belien does not say so, but Monnet and Schuman came to the same erroneous conclusion.

Belien succeeds in showing that the history of the Belgians, which he outlines with considerable skill, provides many insights into the character and workings of the embryonic European state. Belgium’s history, as he points out, is essentially the history of the Saxe-Coburg family: “Belgium’s kings created their artificial country in their own image. Belgium’s history is the Saxe-Coburg family tale. Belgium is their tragedy. The Belgian crown is their livelihood, but at the same time they came to loathe Belgium with the ‘decadence of its administration’ and ‘the ruinous abuses’.”

It remains to be seen whether the architects of the EU come to abhor their own creation in quite the same way, or whether their moral sensibilities remain impervious to the smell of corruption that rises from the Berlaymount.

Corruption, Belien argues, is one the basic characteristics of an artificial state, and he describes the extent of the corruption in modern Belgium - from the widespread use of bribes to the systematic cover-up of sexual offences against children - in considerable detail. A second characteristic is the absence of the rule of law, and again he has no difficulty in proving his case.

Patriotic Feeling

The third characteristic, he says, is unreliability in international relations due to the lack of patriotic feeling that has made Belgians unwilling to make sacrifices for the common good. Those who remember that Belgium refused to sell ammunition to Britain during the Gulf War will not wish to argue; nor will US citizens who were appalled to discover that Belgium failed to cooperate in the anti-terrorist measures taken following September 11th.

Underlying Belgian statehood has been a peculiar mix of socialism and corporatism that was designed to ensure the loyalty of an ever-expanding welfare system. The problem is that this system of economic redistribution has produced stagflation and rigidities that have made the conflict between Flems and Walloons, previously only a linguistic matter, into a bitter socio-economic contest. The lesson is that an artificial state, based on rent-seeking, can survive only as long as the economy expands. Once it ceases to do so tensions grow. Ironically, Belgium’s rulers now hope that the country’s economy will be boosted as the result of the transplantation of their ideas to the European level - but at the very moment in history when the eurozone has begun to display precisely the same symptoms.

Belien asks: will the Belgian disease become the European disease? There can be little doubt that the author is already convinced that it has, and who would doubt him? The evidence suggests that the EU contracted the infection a decade or so ago and that the disease is spreading at an accelerating pace.

Although his book is not entirely without hope - Belien entertains the wish that either the Flems or the Brits will somehow find a way out of the present morass - he is surely right to say that the history of Belgium demonstrates that without a sense of national identity democracy and public identity will wither away.

Belien, a Belgian citizen, is to be congratulated not only his courage and erudition, but also on his writing skills. Although his contempt for the European project runs deep he does not take for granted that his readers share his interests and obsessions, as do so many eurosceptic authors. First and foremost, he makes a point of setting out to tell an entertaining story - the history of the Belgian state - and does so well. As a consequence he has produced a book that will not only engage the interest of the general reader, but also one that will be of deep interest to those who in future decades struggle to explain the tragic project of European political union.

the june press