Laurent Brogniet (on the right) with Paul-Henry Gendebien, co-founder of the RWF. Image courtesy of the RWF website
Do you remember what happened in Belgium in 2010 and 2011? I doubt you do, and the Belgians prefer it that way, because they didn't have any government for 541 days. It was a serious political crisis, symptomatic of the difficult cohabitation between Flemish people, who speak Dutch, and Walloons people, who speak French. The Flemings have wanted to secede from Wallonia for a long time, and it's quite easy to see where they're coming from: This region has some serious economic problems that have probably given birth to more serial killers than college graduates.
Nevertheless, members of the Rassemblement Wallonie France (RWF) decided to take action first. The RWF is the principal political party pleading for rattachism, which basically consists of transforming Wallonia into a French region.
Obviously, it's quite difficult to unite voters under such a slim banner, and their results in the 2014 legislative elections tend to prove it: Only 0.5 percent of the population who were old enough to vote put RWF ballots in the box. But rattachists are not throwing in the towel just yet, and some polls seem to indicate that there's sympathy for their cause in Wallonia as well as France. From a practical point of view, rattachism seems unavoidable in the long run, given the Fleming's secessionist leanings. I met with Laurent Brogniet, the RWF's president, to find out more.
VICE:What can you tell us about your party?
Laurent Brogniet: The RWF was created in 1999 after several Flemish parties announced their will to transform the Belgian state into a federal state. In response, a handful of militants successors of the Walloon Movement created the party, defending the unification of Wallonia with France.
Do you have any political program aside from rattachism?
Yes. We defend pluralism because we have left-wing and right-wing people. We don't take sides on important social issues, because it would cause a dichotomy inside the RWF. But we have opinions on education, secularism, etc. We want to pursue the legacy of Charles De Gaulle.
What's the deal with Flemish people?
Well, Flanders doesn't want Wallonia to be part of Belgium anymore. Since the 1970s, it ceaselessly demanded more autonomy. The state of Belgium has been ripped off of all its prerogatives. Basically, regions and communities have bigger budgets than the federal state. It's turning into an empty shell, a so-called state ruled by a powerless king. The proof is that, during the 2010-2011 crisis, we didn't have any federal government for 541 days but the country carried on thanks to the regions and communities that had taken the reins. So, what's the point of going independent? We have a linguistic, cultural, and political proximity with the French Republic.
The RWF flag
If I understand correctly, Wallonia is too small to be an independent state?
Not only is it too small but, above all, Wallonia has never been a nation. It was always part of a whole; the Netherlands, France, the Kingdom of Belgium. There is no national feeling in Wallonia, unlike Flanders, where it's been really powerful since the 19th century. It's not possible to create a Walloon state.
The number of votes your party has received has been low, but do you think the Walloon people are sympathetic toward rattachism?
There is sympathy, without a doubt. During the Belgian crisis, some surveys have been conducted in Wallonia. In case of Belgium's disappearance, the most desired option was a union with the French Republic; between 30 and 40 percent of Walloons were in favor of this solution.
That being said, the Belgian state still exists. Our prime minister, Elio Di Rupo, deceived people with a good PR campaign and our performance during the World Cup. But it's being ignorant of the Flemish secessionist dynamic; because of them, I'm convinced the Belgian state will come to an end.
You seem to be even less popular in Brussels, a French-speaking city isolated in Flanders.
Brussels is one of the three federal states of Belgium. This region has its own Parliament and ministers. Brussels inhabitants don't identify at all with Wallonia. They don't think rattachism could be good for them. We want to convince them, but we are not very optimistic. Even when Belgium falls down, I don't think they'll make the right choice.
Why would France accept this solution?
First of all, there's a geopolitical interest. Since Germany's reunification, France's influence in Europe has diminished. Concretely, Germany has more seats in the European Parliament, which wasn't the case in the past. Being able to recover our territory, people, and seats would close the gap between France and Germany.
The other interest is economic. Wallonia would be the eighth French region in terms of GDP. France could benefit from the multilingual and qualified workforce.
A RWF rally. Image courtesy of the RWF website
OK, but it seems that some French people don't want Wallonia to be part of France. It has even been compared to Crimea—
Opinion polls have been conducted in France and between 60 percent to 65 percent of French people are in favor of the union. It's noteworthy that in bordering counties, this rate rises to 70 percent. We're not talking about the [far-right] nationalists, obviously.
Do you have some discussion with French political parties?
We discuss with the Socialist Party and the Union for a Popular Movement, the two main parties. We reject all extremist parties. We have formal and informal connections with French representatives. They are really concerned about what's happening in Wallonia. They confirm that, when the time comes, if a legitimate authority—that is to say a referendum—expressed this demand, they would gladly accept it.
What about the King of Belgium?
He'll do whatever he wants. You know, our past king, Albert II, lived for 300 days a year in Grasse [a city in France]. These people live off the backs of taxpayers. The king will go to one of his many mansions and he'll live happily ever after with his family. Needless to say, we're republicans. We think monarchy can't be democratic because the citizens don't elect their head of state.
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