London Comment: Belgium

'If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium'. That's the title of a long-forgotten 1960s movie about a bunch of American tourists on a whirlwind tour of Europe. And let's be honest, it really does sum up that country in a nutshell. Belgians have the reputation of being the dullest people in Europe. They make decent chocolate. But are famous for very little else. I find it difficult to think of much memorable literature, art or music associated with the place. Can you name a single famous Belgian? The great detective Hercule Poirot? Yes, but he wasn't real. Jean-Claude van Damme? You could almost say the same. The guy who invented the Saxophone, Adolphe Sax, certainly lived there - but he was probably German. The Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn was born there - but her parents were only passing through. Rather like Emperor Napoleon who led his French army to fight the English at the Battle of Waterloo 204 years ago. Funny name Waterloo. But it never occurred to Monsieur Bonaparte to ask precisely where he was. Why should it. It's only a shrimp of a nation - about the same size as Maryland, and split almost equally between the Flemish who speak Dutch, and the French speakers, called Walloons. Up till now, nobody's really bothered with Belgium. Well soon they are going to have to. Its capital city, Brussels, is home to the European Union, which is rolling in money, and a boring Belgian called Herman Van Rompuy now runs it. But Belgium's home-grown political and economic capital is now running on empty. This flat little nation, tucked between France, Germany and Holland is pretty well broke. Their debt equals their income. Soon it will exceed it. Greece and Ireland have already been bailed out. Portugal and Spain are teetering. But Belgium could be in line for an even more catastrophic financial fall. They haven't even had a proper Government since April. The rival politicians can't reach agreement on how to tackle the deficit. This isn't altogether surprising because Belgium has almost 40 different political parties - more than the selection you get in a box of quality Belgian chocolates. Now they may all have to come begging for a bail out to Mr Van Rompuy-Pumpy and the European Union. 700 years ago a Belgian farmer invented these things - the gas-inducing green vegetable we call the Brussels Sprout. Soon Belgian financiers could become the laughing stock of the world. What a legacy. This is Ed Boyle for CBS News in London.
Ed Boyle
  • CBSNews

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