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ILJ Online is the online component of Fordham International Law Journal.

Belgian Separatist Movement

The last few months of 2017 saw two separatist referendums take place in Iraq and in Spain. [1] However, the Kurds and the Catalans are not the only groups with separatist dreams. In fact, one region in particular has been closely watching the developments in Spain. That region is the Dutch speaking, northern region of the Belgian Federation known as Flanders. HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Belgium gained independence and became its own country in 1830. [2] In the early years, Belgium adopted French as the country’s official language, despite 57 percent of Belgian citizens, who predominantly inhabited the northern region of the country, speaking Dutch. [3]

With the Flemish pushing for legal recognition of the Dutch language, the 1960s saw the gradual federalization of Belgium. [4] In 1960, an agreement was reached that established autonomous economic regions and linguistic communities. [5] In 1963, the linguistic border dividing Dutch speaking Flanders from French speaking Wallonia was officially established. [6] Brussels, while technically in Flanders, was established as the third autonomous region of the country. [7] Five state reforms occurred between 1970-1993, which resulted in the regions and communities of Belgium having the power to make important decisions regarding language, culture, education, municipalities, public works, the economy, and foreign trade. [8] [9]


Currently, the Flemish region accounts for more than half of Belgian GDP and hosts a majority of the Belgian population. [10] These factors have led to a rise in Flemish political parties that advocate for even more autonomy, including separating from Belgium entirely. [11] In 2010, the nationalistic New-Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party achieved a landslide victory in the federal elections and has remained a prominent and important political party today. [12] However, the N-VA’s advocacy of succession has often contributed to difficulties forging coalition governments as other political parties are wary of partnering with the N-VA. [13]

Additionally, the N-VA has openly supported the Catalan Independence Movement. [14] A prominent member of the N-VA has also implied that it would be worth risking the survival of the current coalition government in order to recognize an independent Catalan state. [15] Another prominent N-VA member recently said that the ousted Catalan president could seek asylum in Belgium. [16] If the N-VA officially decides to support the Catalan president’s request for asylum, this would likely cause even more tension between the N-VA and other coalition partners. [17]

With the Catalan movement causing increasing tension between the Belgian coalition government partners and Flanders continuing economic prosperity, it seems that pro-independence demands are likely to resurface in the Belgian 2019 elections.

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.