On Monday 3rd December, Fabian made a brief, one night visit to Belgium with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for that country. There are groups of MPs who take an interest in many of the different countries worldwide as it is important that there is an understanding at Westminster of detailed international politics and the way in which events abroad may be of significance for the United Kingdom. Fabian travelled to Brussels by Eurostar from London.

Of special significance politically is the divided culture in Belgium. Approximately two thirds of Belgians are Flemish, speak Dutch and live in the north of the country The remainder in the south are French speaking (Walloons) although there is a very small part of the country where German is used. Brussels, the capital, perhaps best known as the headquarters of the European Union, is an island of largely French speakers surrounded by those using Flemish. Belgium as a country risks being divided into two countries because of the moves for separatism being led by some of the nationalist political parties on both sides but particularly with pressure from Flemish speakers. The recent history of the country has been coloured by long periods of political impasse with no agreed leadership and dual government ministers (one Flemish, one French) for major government responsibilities.

The King and Queen of Belgium

Belgium is a monarchy. It is a relatively recent country established by international agreement in 1830 when it ceded from the Low Countries. In the 19th and 20th centuries the northern districts of Belgium linked to the ports of Antwerp, Brugge and Ostend prospered from the colonial riches of the Belgian Congo. Even today the north is far more economically vibrant than the French speaking south and this leads to some political tensions. If pressure from separatist parties ultimately leads to partition, the continuation of Belgium as a monarchy may be challenged and the southern area of the country might eventually need to merge with France.

Fabian said, "Whilst the internal politics in Belgium do not have direct implications for the UK, it is a situation we should watch carefully and relate it to our own political milieu, particularly now it has been decided that Scotland will have a referendum on independence. It is no simple matter to unpick the structures of a modern developed country and we are much more dependent upon each other than perhaps some political perspectives would seek to convey."

"If Scotland becomes independent it may well have to make its own application to join the European Union. That could be the same scenario in a divided Belgium which is doubly ironic given that Brussels is Europe's HQ. Much more important are those issues which relate to cultural identity and shared commitment. If the south of Belgium is currently dependent to some extent on subsidy from the North, what will separation mean for those in poorer areas who must rely on a certain of state support that can no longer be afforded? The UK faces the same questions. Leaving aside the question of who owns the remainder of North Sea Oil and Gas, state expenditure per head is greater in Scotland and Wales than in England. Those who argue for change, whether it is independence for Scotland or for the UK leaving the European Union, need to research all the implications to help voters to reach an informed decision. Demagoguery must not become the language of the independence debates. We must watch how other countries such as Belgium approach similar decisions and learn from them."

Fabian considers a new seat - in the Belgian parliament!