Belgium: Indeed, keep it simple !
I read Paul's post and I see some recurring things that I do not agree with.
Independence of the regions will cause even more fragmentation. Paul seems to suggest that if Flanders and Wallonia would actually divorce, that it opens the door for provinces to do the same on the same grounds. But the same grounds do not exist today.
The language barrier does not exist in Flanders. Sure some dialects sound different, but at least we can communicate with the majority of the people within Flanders on equal grounds. If you watch RTBF or read Le Soir (which almost nobody does in Flanders) you will see that everything is colored differently. You don't see that in the regional newspapers or media.
And making the whole country bilingual failed in the past by the opposition of the French-speaking politicians. I don't see that happen today either. Not even taking into account the administrative overhead of such a decision. Every region votes for their politicians and they have different priorities that conflict for both regions. Not only because politics, but also because of the media and perceptions. If you want to solve that, go back to a single media. Merge VRT and RTBF, merge De Standaard and Le Soir. Sounds silly ?
The problem is not the differences, the problem is polarization. You cannot undo the fact that political parties are divided over the 2 regions. If there would have been 3 or more regions (think Switzerland) we would not be in this situation. That is why the situation in Flanders is different anyhow, there is no polarization.
Switzerland is actually not a bad example at all. The regions in Switzerland have much more responsibilities than Flanders has now.
The financial incentive for change is missing in Wallonia. You cannot blame the French-speaking population for the fact that they have more economical problems than Flanders, but you can blame the politicians for creating the situation and you should blame those politicians for not having corrected the situation for more than 30 years.
The current financial system in Belgium encourages the French-speaking region to not invest in employment. The financial incentive to do better in Wallonia is simply lacking and only a reform can change it, but it is not in the interest of the politicians either (since most of the money is flowing into organisations that have vested interested).
And I am not only saying this, ask economic scientists at the KULeuven or Louvain-La-Neuve. They have come to that conclusion.
One plus one makes three ?
It is often coined that Belgium as a whole is better than the two parts. But is that really true if both parts need a consensus for each and every resolution. I really doubt it.
Besides if you would consider the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, both sides did economically better than before.
We do not have to throw away the Belgium identity or Belgian products that are successful, even if a divorce is apparent. Belgium could still be used for the both regions together.
Flanders would be too small. There are countries in Europe that have less citizens than Flanders and most of those are doing well. If you are accountable for your own actions, things go much better and that is exactly what is going wrong right now. Much like Paul highlights, it may be psychological but not less severe.
Political dissidents get media attention. I mentioned it in a previous posting, but breaking the law and questioning the highest court in Belgium is now common. Instead of a kingdom Belgium I'd call it Belgium Free State, dissidents rule our country.
- If you are a French-speaking mayor in a Flemish municipal go ahead, speak French instead of the official Dutch language !
- If the highest court rules on a dispute, go out and question it as favoritism.
- Question legal borders and resolve language-conflicts in Dutch-speaking parts by proposing to add it to bi-lingual Brussels and enlarging Brussels. (As if Brussels has no problems of its own)
- Ask for a corridor between Brussels and Wallonia as if the country is already split and there is no free transport in Europe.
- As a French-speaking mayor refuse to allow a yearly Flemish sportsevent in a Flemish municipal.
When politicians publicly ridicule laws and constructs that define Belgium, we can safely say that Belgium died slowly some time ago and we are now waking up.
If you do not agree with the law, as a politician you change the law and not stir the public. Still that is exactly what the French-speaking politicians are doing in the communities surrounding Brussels.
In a marriage you do not publically humiliate your partner.
It is dishonest to see the French-speaking politicians that disagree with Flemish law oppose it by turning to European or International organisations. Badmouthing Flanders internationally is not how you resolve problems, especially if the highest court in Belgium agrees across the line.
There is no shame in realizing it now, even after one year of not getting along anymore. We could ignore the problems for another decade as the previous government did the past 8 years, but does it really matter ? Europe is changing the landscape anyway and it is better to be good neighbors than fighting in a marriage.
And you can blame prime-minister Leterme for not resolving the problems, and for everything he did wrong. But it is pretty obvious that nobody wants to take his place in resolving the issues. I really doubt anyone can resolve the issues without coming to the conclusion that both regions need more independence or even a divorce.