“Belgium is heart of Europe, which makes country very vulnerable to both introduction & further spread of virus,”
It Used To Be, In A Not So Distant Past, That Countries Were Judged On Their Economic Performance, The Inclusiveness Of Their Institutions, And Their Ability To Hold Democratic Elections.
Flash forward to today, and a nation’s standing on the international stage hinges less on abstract notions of good governance, and more on something very concrete: its capacity to contain the coronavirus. Take Belgium, for example.
The country of 11.5 million people sits at the heart of Europe and is home to the continent’s most powerful institutions. But that hasn’t stopped it from rising to the top of a list no nation wants to be onThe country of 11.5 million people sits at the heart of Europe and is home to the continent’s most powerful institutions. But that hasn’t stopped it from rising to the top of a list no nation wants to be on: It now has the highest coronavirus death rate in the world—1,385 per 1 million residents, according to Worldometer.
In the past two weeks, on average, Belgium registered 3,926 new coronavirus cases and 173 deaths per day. Belgium’s public hospitals, among the best in Europe, have been overwhelmed, admitting almost 700 coronavirus patients daily. Non-essential shops and businesses were told to close on Nov. 2 and will stay shuttered for at least another week.
With 180 nationalities, 100 languages spoken, and two out of three residents born abroad, Brussels is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. On one hand, this cultural diversity is what makes Brussels an attractive place to live. On the other, this hugely mobile population might have inadvertently contributed to the spread of the virus.
“Belgium is a small beehive in the heart of Europe, which makes the country very vulnerable to both the introduction and the further spread of the virus,” said virologist and interfederal COVID-19 spokesperson, Steven Van Gucht. “The people working and living in the so-called ‘Eurobubble’ travel a great deal, often going back and forth between Belgium and their home country.”
There’s also something else: Belgium is a deeply divided country. A new government was formed in September, with Alexander De Croo named as the prime minister. But before De Croo’s election the country had been without a fully fledged government since December 2018, when its dysfunctional four-party coalition disintegrated. The two largest parties, the French-speaking Socialists and Flemish separatist N-VA, can’t find a way to get along. The solution was a seven-party coalition across four political groups, nicknamed Vivaldi, after the colors of the four seasons: the Greens, orange for the Flemish Christian-Democrats, blue for the liberals, and red for the socialists.
Since moving to Brussels in 2018, I have been often struck by the lack of national cohesion. The country consists of French-speaking Wallonia in the south and the Dutch-speaking Flanders region in the north. Brussels, the capital, is considered bilingual, but located in the north of the country, finds itself surrounded by a sea of Dutch-speaking towns and cities.
Decisions regarding foreign affairs, defense, justice, finance, social security, home affairs, and certain public health decisions are taken at the federal level. Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels, defined along linguistic and cultural lines, handle education, culture, youth welfare, and other aspects of health policy as three sovereign entities. Each region also has its own legislative and executive powers.
This news was originally published at Foreign Policy