Belgium Modern History

The Belgian state was officially constituted in 1830-31; but the ideal and political conditions of its rise date back to the second half of the 16th century. In 1579 the religious contrasts and the struggle against the Spanish domination determined the split between the Catholic Netherlands (later Belgium: the name is already in general use in the 16th century) and the Protestant Netherlands (Holland; for the history of these territories ➔ Brabant ; Flanders ; Gelderland ; Hainaut ; Liege ; Limburg ; Netherlands). Remained under the dominion of Spain, the Catholic Netherlands had a very troubled life because they were the scene of continuous wars between the European powers, and because they made the expense of not a few diplomatic agreements (the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 marked the closure of the Scheldt and the economic death of Antwerp). Passed, at the end of the war of the Spanish succession (1714), under the dominion of the Habsburgs of Austria, they had a clear economic recovery, even if they were unable to obtain the reopening of the Schelda; but the reforms introduced by the emperor Joseph II they met with opposition from the clergy and traditionalist conservatives.

In 1789, according to agooddir, the ‘Brabantine revolution’ broke out which constituted the country in the United States republic of Belgium (États Belgiques Unis): the contrast between the conservatives or ‘statesmen’, led by Enrico van Nost, and the progressives, led by HE Vonck, favored the return of the Austrian militias, but the victories of Jemappes (1792) and Fleurus (1794) soon marked the annexation of the country to France (confirmed by the Treaties of Campoformio and Lunéville), despite the violent Catholic and traditionalist resistance to the regime Jacobin (Peasant War: 1798-99). At the Congress of Vienna (1815) the Belgian provinces were united with the Dutch ones in the kingdom of the Netherlands, but the Catholic-clerical resistance to Protestant statism and Dutch political dominance joined the liberal one against the Restoration system and resulted in revolution (1830). A provisional government was formed which proclaimed independence and issued the new Constitution (1831). The new king Leopold of Saxe- Coburg accepted the conditions of the Treaty of London which, while sanctioning the independence of the country, imposed a regime of perpetual neutrality on Belgium In 1847 the Liberal Party took over, marking a period of economic prosperity, but also of struggles between the liberals and the Catholics.

The years that followed the institutional crisis of 1865-66, caused by the death of Leopoldo I, saw the formation of an organized Catholic party (1884) and the affirmation of its hegemony (absolute majority in Parliament until 1919). It spoke out, in particular, of ecclesiastical interests in the school field, of those of the rural classes and of the nascent Flemish nationalism, while the socialist movement (establishment of the Belgian Workers’ Party in 1885) spread above all in industrialized Wallonia. Subjected to harsh German occupation during the First World War (despite the resistance animated by King Albert I), Belgium obtained the abolition of the mandatory neutrality regime, the cantons of Eupen and Malmédy and a part of German East Africa (to be added to the Congo, a colony since 1908). The introduction of universal male suffrage in 1919-21 (followed by female suffrage in 1949) led to a series of social reforms, and the Belgian Workers’ Party became the second largest party in the country. Meanwhile, the problem of relations between the Flemings and the Walloons emerged.

Beginning in 1930, Belgium was divided into two strictly separate linguistic areas: Dutch in the Flemish provinces and French in Wallonia. On the international level, Leopold III proclaimed (1936) the need to take a neutral position which did not prevent B from undergoing the German invasion from 1940 to 1944. After the war and a government of national unity established, the political forces divided on the ‘royal question’: Communists, socialists and liberals were opposed to the return to the throne of Leopold III, supported by Catholics and Flemings, due to his ambiguous attitude towards the occupiers. After the referendum of 1950 (where 57% of the voters voted for the return of the king), Leopoldo III abdicated in favor of his son Baldovino, ascended the throne in 1951. The Catholics (since 1945 divided into the People’s Christian Party, the Flemish wing, and the Social Christian Party, the Walloon wing) reaffirmed their hegemony, alternating their alliance with liberals and socialists or both for years. At the same time Belgium entered the Western system with the accession to the Western Union (1948), NATO (1949) and the Western European Union (1954), as well as with the constitution of the Benelux (1948), participation in the ECSC (1951) and finally to the EEC (1957).

In the 1960s, after the tensions aroused by the difficult decolonization of the Congo (accompanied in 1962 by that of Rwanda-Urundi), the conflicts between the Flemings and the Walloons became the main problem of the country, provoking, among other things, the formation of ethnic basis of new federalist-inspired parties (such as the Flemish People’s Union and the Democratic Front of French speakers) and the division of the same traditional political forces along the linguistic frontier. From 1968 the two Catholic parties gained total autonomy: the Freedom and Progress Party (name assumed in 1961 by the Liberal Party) became exclusively Flemish following the detachment of the French-speaking component which in 1979 gave birth to the reformist and liberal party. In 1978 the Socialist Party also split into two independent organizations, one Walloon and the other Flemish. This was accompanied by the launch of a project for the reform of the state in a federal sense, sanctioned by the so-called ‘Egmont pact’ (1977) which provided for the formation of three autonomous regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels), but its implementation was blocked. by the hostility of the Flemings for the conferral of thestatuswhich would have allowed the Walloons to control two regions out of three. In 1980 there was the approval of the statute of autonomy for Flanders and Wallonia and the postponement of the regionalization of Brussels, but the situation remained difficult, especially due to the consequences of the economic crisis and a further accentuation of the imbalances between Flanders and Wallonia. After the austerity policy that characterized the governments of the 1980s, the Brussels region was established. The government led by the Christian-social J.-L. Dehaene succeeded in completing the constitutional reform by transforming the Belgium into a federal state (1993). The new Constitution (1994) established five legislative bodies, to which corresponded as many executive councils. The regional administrations were given responsibility for environmental policies, transport and public works, while the representative bodies of the linguistic communities were responsible for education and cultural policy. However, the solution to the institutional question did not help to reconcile the differences between the linguistic communities and the regions of the country, otherwise affected by the recession and the consequent rise in unemployment. In the 1995 elections Dehaene was appointed prime minister of the new center-left government which continued the policy of sacrifice and containment of public spending. Some scandals that involved the Belgian ruling class and the government in those years, and the general discontent with the economic situation led, in the 1999 elections, to the growth of the right-wing of the Vlaams blok, of the Front national and of environmentalists.

Belgium Modern History