Belgium. In Belgium, again, an acute government crisis ensued, which did not receive any solution during the year. In April, Prime Minister Yves Leterme resigned, for the third time since the 2007 election. The five-party coalition he led collapsed due to disagreement over constituency in the Brussels region. It is a long-contested issue that reflects the deep divide between Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloon.
The government collapse triggered new warnings about political stalemate and the risk of the country falling apart in its constituents. Fears were hardly dampened by the new election held in June.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Belgium has a population of 11.46 million (2019). The winner of the election became the Flemish nationalist party NV-A (New Flemish Alliance), which in the long term wants an independent Flanders. The party went from 5 to 27 seats in the House of Representatives. The second largest was the French-speaking Socialist Party, PS, which received 26 seats. The losers of the elections became the Christian Democratic and Liberal parties in both camps, as well as the right-wing Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang.
Tense government negotiations followed between NV-A as well as socialists, Christian democrats and environmental parties on both sides the language barrier, a total of seven parties. As before, the Flemish parties demanded greater independence for the regions, while the French-speaking people slowed down. Both PS leader Elio Di Rupo and NV-A’s Bart De Wever made attempts to form government.
Information on sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church shook the Belgians during the year. The bishop of Bruges resigned after admitting that he had mistreated a boy for several years. An internal commission then received testimony from over 500 men and women exposed as children. Most of the abuses took place in the 1960s and 1970s.
The House of Representatives voted in favor of a ban on clothing that conceals identity in a public place. Security reasons and “Belgian values” were cited as reasons, but there was no doubt that the law was aimed at Muslim veils. The proposal was passed in the House of Representatives with unusual agreement across language boundaries, but stuck in the Senate because of the political crisis.
The worst train accident in Belgium in half a century occurred in February. Eighteen people were killed and about 150 injured when two commuter trains crashed at high speed south of Brussels. The accident caused several weeks of traffic disruptions, even to neighboring countries.
The discrimination and harassment of overseas citizens is extensive. There is a historical structural racism, affecting migrants from other parts of the world, especially Muslim groups and immigrants from northern and central Africa and the Middle East.
According to softwareleverage, Muslim women are discriminated against by Belgian law, since since 2011 it has been forbidden to wear a comprehensive veil in public places. Anyone who violates the law can be sentenced to a week in prison. The ban has sparked debate about the boundaries of religious freedom and anti-Muslim currents in Belgian society. The Roma population is also discriminated against when Roma are excluded from the labor market, housing market and education. Anti-Semitic statements and attacks have increased since 2010.
Sex trafficking is constantly increasing, as it is in many other European countries, and women from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia are particularly vulnerable to these human rights violations. In cases where sexual harassment or trafficking of women and children cannot be proven, the purchase of sexual services is not illegal provided the prostitute is over 14 years of age.