Brussels

FIVE years ago, the European Common Market opened shop in Brussels on a street auspiciously called 1’Avenue de la Joyeuse Entrée. The name seemed to befit an enterprise intended by its authors to be the kernel of a subsequent and greater United Europe. But since last January, when the door was slammed on Britain, local wits in Brussels have been suggesting that the time has come to rename the less than auspicious street l’Avenue de la Triste Sortie.

Since the fateful January 29 which put an abrupt end to negotiations that had been going on for almost a year and a half, harsh words and dire forebodings have been uttered.

Addressing a European rally at the Hague on February 22, Dr. Sicco Mansholt, a forthright Dutchman who is vice president of the Common Market’s nine-man Executive Commission and who was the man most deeply involved in the agricultural negotiations with Britain, labeled General de Gaulle and his supporters “authoritarian gravediggers.” Four days later the Belgian Foreign Minister, Paul-Henri Spaak, in a long speech to the Belgian Senate, likened De Gaulle to a “leftwing Socialist called Mussolini who was converted to a virulent nationalism.”

What particularly irked Spaak and aroused his alarm, as it did that of the Dutch and the Italians, was not the veto of Britain’s entry into the Common Market but the simultaneous conclusion of an exclusive Franco-German treaty which, if it was not redundant in view of West Germany’s existing ties with its Common Market and NATO partners, could only be regarded as a potential threat to the future life of the Community. The ParisBonn treaty was prepared in such extraordinary secrecy that Spaak, like his other Common Market colleagues, was informed of its exact provisions only three hours before they were communicated to the press.

Britain’s admission to the Common Market, followed, as it would have been, by the entry of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria, would unquestionably have transformed the character of the European Economic Community and imposed immense new problems on an already hard-worked staff of some 2500 technicians who have found it difficult to coordinate the complex industrial and legal regulations of six highly different states.

Decisions which in the past have necessitated as much as two years of painstaking and detailed negotiation would in the future have taken three or four, and the entire schedule of economic integration and tariff lowering, which was laid out in detail in the Rome Treaty of March, 1957, would have had to be so thoroughly revamped that it would in effect have meant rewriting the original treaty. English would have taken its place alongside French as another, and perhaps even more important, working language.

Such a prospect held no particular appeal for Spaak, who has never bothered to master the Flemish spoken by more than half of his countrymen. But Spaak knew, from the time he began championing England’s candidacy a year or more ago, that Britain’s admission to the Common Market would bring long-range advantages far outweighing the initial inconveniences and disturbances in the Community’s life.

It would at one stroke have made Western Europe — a Europe of 300 million producers and consumers — not only the largest trading unit in the world (which the Common Market already is) but the largest producer and exporter of manufactured goods and the largest importer of agricultural products. It would also have given the weaker Common Market members, Benelux and Italy, an ironclad guarantee against domination by Germany and France, which in the present context means De Gaulle.

Spaak versus De Gaulle

Spaak’s private war with De Gaulle is anything but new. The two men have known each other for the past twenty years, ever since the misfortunes of war brought them together as exiles in London in the early forties, They have never hit it off, Spaak being practical and down-to-earth with little trace of visionary romanticism. Though he can, when protocol demands it, put on a top hat, he remains a man of the people, a lifelong Socialist who once declared, in his more intemperate and antiroyalist youth, that he was willing “to follow the Communists to their uttermost follies.”Whereas De Gaulle is an introspective person who dislikes argument, Spaak is an ardent debater who has risen to the top through the rough-and-tumble of party caucuses and parliamentary exchanges. A born politician, he invariably improvises his speeches rather than memorizing them, as De Gaulle does.

The American shield

The principal difference between the two today, however, lies in their respective views of Europe. Spaak’s is, essentially, a small-power view, reflecting the limitations inherent in a land of just over 9 million inhabitants. Western Europe is not now able to defend itself unaided against the Soviet Union. It may one day achieve sufficient strength to do so if the various countries can overcome their ancient antagonisms and national prejudices through economic and political integration. But until that day dawns, Europe must rely on the American protective umbrella. Choosing any other course is bound to be dangerous diplomatically and economically, and like De Gaulle’s erstwhile Finance Minister, Antoine Pinay, Spaak is convinced that it is foolish for Europeans to try to duplicate, at immense labor and expense, what it took the Americans years of costly effort to achieve.

Economically, this view is undoubtedly realistic, and for Belgium it is also good politics. By placing its faith in collective security and the American nuclear shield. Belgium has been able to reduce its term of compulsory military service to twelve months (compared with a projected eighteen in France) and to devote a smaller proportion of its budget to defense than does Britain, West Germany, France, or the United States. This willingness to rely on American protection likewise explains why, in early March, the Belgian Senate voted with near unanimity (111 votes and 13 abstentions) to keep the Belgian government from engaging in negotiations on the multinational Polaris submarine force without prior consultation with the Senate. The vote was intended to tie Spaak’s hands, in case he might succumb to the temptations of the Polaris offer; it also revealed a deep-rooted skepticism about the feasibility of trying to form polyglot warship crews in a country where two linguistic communities periodically come to blows in a far less congested space.

Linguistic chauvinism

It might seem an anomaly that in an age of supersonic jets, shortwave radios, and atom bombs language disputes can still generate as much heat as they recently have in Belgium. Last October there was a mammoth protest march of 50,000 Flemish on Brussels which necessitated the mobilization of 4000 policemen. In Flemish-speaking Antwerp, there were riots around a church where sermons continued to be delivered in French. And as recently as March, French-speaking and Flemish-speaking students at the Catholic University of Louvain clashed violently over the further splitting of the university into separate linguistic entities.

Critics may regard these manifestations of linguistic chauvinism as parochial, but they reflect a sociological phenomenon which has erupted with varying intensity in Switzerland, Canada, Spain, the Italian Tyrol, and South Africa.

The conflict, in the case of Belgium, goes back to the relatively recent origin of the country. In 1830 the kingdom of Belgium was formed from the southern provinces of the Netherlands to keep them from being annexed by France. Partly because Belgium came into being as a result of a revolt of the French-speaking people against the Dutch, partly because of the superior cultural attraction of the land and language of Victor Hugo, Dumas, and Balzac, French was the dominant language for the first hundred years. Not until the early 1930s was Flemish given official status as a second language in administration, and this official sanction was extended to the law courts in 1935 and to the army in 1938.

The friction aroused by the determination to put Flemish on an official par with French increased during the war, when the German occupation authorities, in a move to exacerbate local tensions and to weaken the country further, released the Flemish-speaking officers and soldiers to prison camps in Germany.

In fact, quite a few French-speaking Belgians, especially those with Flemish names, managed to pass themselves off as Flemish. The existence of this distinction led the Walloons, once the war was over, to claim that they were the only true resisters and that the Flemish were all collaborators — an issue, brought to white heat by the Socialists and the Walloons, which resulted in King Leopold’s forced resignation in 1950.

Today the antiroyalist issue is virtually dead, and King Baudoin, through the simplicity of his manner and the charity of his Queen, has managed to make himself so popular with his people that he is being increasingly compared to his grandfather, the beloved King Albert of World War I. The scars have failed to heal, however, over the linguistic conflict, even though Belgium is no longer plagued by the unemployment which inflamed the problem several years ago.

One of the reasons for continuing friction is that the Flemish-speaking inhabitants of Belgium now form a clear majority — 4.5 million, as opposed to some 3.5 million Frenchspeaking Walloons and another million people living in and around Brussels who are so intermingled as to make any exact demarcation impossible. Brussels is, indeed, the only part of Belgium today where a measure of real linguistic integration has succeeded, and it has succeeded there chiefly because the Flemish inhabitants have picked up French, not because the French speakers have learned Flemish. Those who speak French have resisted all attempts to make Flemish a compulsory second language in the primary and secondary schools of Wallonia.

The Flemish part of Belgium — the area north of Brussels, embracing Ghent and Antwerp to the west and Limburg to the east — has been growing progressively richer, while Wallonia, to the south, has been stagnating. Although coal mines of the Borinage and around the industrial city of Charleroi, near the French border, have slowly been closing down, newer and more productive mines have been opened in the Limburg area, near Holland.

The economy picks up

The program of modernization, undertaken with the active encouragement of the European Economic Community, has begun to reap dividends, with the result that Belgium, which three years ago was beset by unemployment, is now plagued by a shortage of labor. Much of this favorable change can be explained by the growing success of the Common Market. As the country with the highest per capita rate of exports in the world (in 1961, $412 for Belgium, compared with $204 for Britain and $112 for the United States), Belgium is unusually sensitive to foreign market conditions and fluctuations. Intramarket trade has been a mighty stimulant, increasing by 15 percent in 1961 and 13 percent last year.

While this new wave of prosperity has taken a certain amount of the steam out of the linguistic conflict, the Walloons continue to live in fear of being discriminated against by an ever richer and more powerful Flemish majority. Two years ago. when unemployment in Wallonia was rife, these apprehensions erupted into the creation of a dissident Socialist splinter group called the Mouvemeat Populaire Wallon.

Its founder was a dynamic union worker named Andre Renard, who was largely responsible for dragging Belgian labor into a series of turbulent strikes which looked as though they might degenerate into anarchy. But since Renard’s death last July, the Mouvement Populaire Wallon has lost some of its secessionist drive, and its leaders insist today that it is only a pressure group which has no intention, for the time being, at any rate, of becoming a political party.

For the moment, Belgium is ruled by the same uneasy coalition between the two largest parties as took office immediately after the precipitated elections of March, 1961, when the country was faced with wide discontent at home and chaos in the Congo. The coalition is formed by the Social Christians, the former Catholic Party, led by Prime Minister Théo Lefèvre, and the Socialists, who have usually been anticlerical and agnostic, led by Paul-Henri Spaak. So long as conditions both within and outside the Common Market go on favoring Belgium’s present prosperity, the government is likely to flourish.

A new start in the Congo

Spaak himself remains the country’s foremost political figure. Even his opponents give him most of the credit for restoring Belgium’s prestige in the Congo by steadfastly pursuing a policy of backing Cyril Adoula and, in general, the policies of UN Secretary U Thant. The success of this policy was illustrated by Premier Adoula’s official visit to Brussels in March, a visit which Spaak has been invited to reciprocate by visiting the Congo in June.

While Spaak’s own Socialist past undoubtedly made it easier for him to reach an understanding with the Congolese Premier, a former unionist who got his labor training in Belgium, most of Spaak’s success has been due to his ability to persuade his countrymen to bury past grudges and start out anew in the Congo. One of his first acts on taking office in 1961 was to recruit new people who had no previous ties with the Congo and who could be more objective and impartial in their judgments of a highly emotional issue.

With the towering figure of Charles de Gaulle, Spaak has a more formidable problem to tackle. No one knows it better than Spaak, who has made no secret of his forebodings. So far, however, he has found no remedy for the situation, save to do his best to keep the Common Market from grinding to a complete halt through the covert sabotage of its increasingly irritated members. For the worst thing that could happen would be to prove that De Gaulle was right when he said that Western Europe was not ready for integration.