...as we see tremors and fractures in the post-war drive to unite the world.
A stunning electoral success for Bart de Wever’s Flemish nationalist party, which won the most parliamentary seats, is a significant new challenge to the fragile unity of a federal country where tensions between French and Dutch speakers run deep, and where voters in one region cannot vote for parties in the other.
It has also injected a new element of uncertainty into Europe at an especially difficult time for the European Union, struggling with serious problems over its finances and currency.
Belgium is due to assume the rotating presidency of the European Union in less than three weeks. But it is likely to take months to negotiate a new coalition, raising the prospect that Belgium will be struggling to assemble its own government at precisely the time it is supposed to be steering Europe out of a deep crisis.
In 2007, after the last general election, it took the Belgians roughly nine months to form a coalition government, a measure of the centrifugal forces threatening to destroy the already-loose federal state, or to make it even less relevant than it is today.
“We are close to the abyss,” said Lieven de Winter, professor of politics at the Université Catholique de Louvain. “Whether we are five meters or five centimeters away is difficult to say. But Belgians are at a crossroads where they are making a choice on whether they want to live together or not.”