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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Accountability and Responsibility in Belgian politics

Since 11 October 2014, Belgium has a government without either Dutch speaking or French speaking Socialists. This is very impressive as the French speaking Socialist Party has nearly always been leading in a Belgian government.

The Belgian parliament is already looking for scapegoats for the recent terrorist attacks at Brussels Airport in Zaventem. Unfortunately, politicians are excellent in willingly confuse essential concepts like accountability and responsibility. In politics the motto usually is: if you can't convince them, confuse them. A quote often but wrongly attributed to former US President Harry Truman. Please also see my 25 October 2015 blog on accountability versus responsibility.

Anyone who is familiar with Belgium knows that the root cause for the current situation has been planted several decades ago. Consequently, the current government cannot be held accountable for these terrorist attacks. The only question is: Can this government be held responsible?

Although Belgium is a nice country from a tourist perspective, it feels very different from a citizen's perspective. And I am familiar with both perspectives. Belgium is one of the most contradicting countries that I know.

This small country has 6 governments which already explains most of its notorious ineffectiveness and inefficiency. To complicate matters: the North speaks Dutch, which is usually called Flemish, while the South speaks French. To further complicate matters: the North votes mostly (extreme) right while the South votes mostly (extreme) left. Communication between the North and the South is bad and even worse in multilingual Brussels.

The above situation has been allowed to continue by the 51 elected Prime Ministers that Belgium has known since its incorporation as a buffer state between Germany, France and The Netherlands in 1831. In comparison: The Netherlands is slightly bigger than Belgium, and has only 1 government, 1 common language (Dutch), and almost the same number of PM's.

In my Dutch view, the accountability and the responsibility for the continued Belgian governmental chaos does not rest with the current government. If anything, they seem eager to address the backlog in maintenance in many areas of government (eg, infrastructure, security).

The Belgian PM was right in not accepting the resignation of his Ministers for Internal Affairs and Justice last Wednesday as that would indeed create more instability at chaotic times. This same principle should also apply to himself. The resulting chaos would only further increase Belgian governmental inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Over the years, I have noticed that there is a serious flaw in Western style democracies when it comes to concepts like accountability and responsibility. It would be in anyone's benefit when accountability would prevail in Politics over (political) responsibility. This would also increase a current desire for transparency and take away any urge to cover-up past errors, mistakes and wrongdoings.

To put it very bluntly: Sacrificing this Belgian government would allow decades of irresponsibility to come back into power and hide its past accountability for current events.

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