This week has been a week full of strikes. Not just in France but over here in Belgium as well. The people in France, especially the union folks were protesting over the government's attempt to raise the legal pension age to 62, they have boycotted the gasoline stations such that petrol and diesel have practically run dry all over the country, and French people are flocking to nearby Belgium to top up their tanks. Those not living near the border with Belgium, Germany or Switzerland practically could't get to work cos there was no petrol in their cars to even drive hundreds of kilometers to the neighbouring countries just to top up their tanks. I heard from the belgian news that even the Brussels airport was also experiencing a shortage of fuel as planes had to top up their fuel there instead of at the Paris CDG airport. Actually I don't understand what is the big deal, why the French raised such a hooha when the current official pension age in Belgium, Germany and Netherlands has already been set to 65 for many years. Netherlands even wants to raise it up to 67, I am sure whether this has been approved or not.
When I saw the images of the French protesters torching cars on the streets, I remembered the time when we were in France just 2 months ago. We had sent an email to a B&B owner in Paris asking if he had a private garage for us to park our car, out of concern of our car being the target of theft or arson. In fact my hubby was very paranoid about that and insisted on sending an email to the B&B owner, voicing his concern that our car might be broken into or burnt down by arsonists on the streets of Paris, if our car wasn't parked in a private garage. Well the B&B owner was not at all amused, he replied curtly in French that incidents of cars being set on fire were still relatively unheard of in Paris. Now the strike this week has shown otherwise.
In Belgium, things were also not looking good earlier this week. On Monday (18 Oct), the railway workers (from the socialist union) decided that they should also go on strike like the French and so they did. All train services came to a standstill all over the country, particularly in the capital Brussels. Those who used to commute daily to Brussels by train, had to take the car, and as a result there was a humongous traffic jam all over the country, up to 300km long. It was said to have cost Belgium over 10 million euro of lost productivity.
Talk about productivity. Belgian politicians have been busy negotiating among themselves since the elections in June, but after rounds and rounds of negotiations, the Flemish and the Walloons still cannot come to an agreement on how to form a parliament with 7 different parties. King Albert has to step in a few times to mediate, first he appointed Elio Di Rupo (head of the Walloon socialist party who won the majority votes in the French-speaking Wallonia region) to lead the negotiations, when that failed, he asked Bart De Wever (head of the Flemish NVA party who won the majority votes in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region) to try to break the deadlock. Of course whatever conditions that Bart De Wever set on the negotiating table were quickly brushed aside by the Walloon socialists as being outrageous, the crux of the matter lies in the fact the Flemish people wanting more fiscal autonomy and less fiscal dependence from Brussels and Wallonia. Of course there are also other things at stake, such as the hot potato Brussels and the electoral boundary of B-H-V (Brussels Halle-Vilvoorde).
This little country has been ruled in a dysfunctional manner for decades, with 6 regional parliaments and 1 federal parliament. As a result of endless compromises between the north and the south, it has one of the most complicated parliament structures in the world, where everything is organised along the lines of language and region, that is why there are 7 parliaments in this country. And now, god knows what the outcome will be, since the tensions between the north and south are so high that they are even talking about splitting the country or creating a confederation state, whatever that means. :S
While other countries such as UK and France are talking about cutting back on national spending and pension reform, Belgium is still struggling internally on how to iron out the conflicts between the 7 parties to form a new government. I think the person likely to have the last laugh will be the current outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme. As long as a new government is not formed, he doesn't have to worry about losing his job. Who knows it may take another few months or maybe another 1 year before they come to an agreement?