Courtesy Reuters

The Dutch-Belgian Economic Union

BY HISTORY and tradition, Belgium and Holland are two separate countries. In the past 200 years they have been united only for a brief and unhappy period of 15 years, from 1815 to 1830 -- a period that Belgians still speak of as an "occupation." Yet ever since the Brabançon Revolution of 1830 made Belgium independent of Holland, various ways of restoring the economic unity of the two countries have been debated, in particular under the auspices of the League of Nations between the two World Wars. In 1930 an agreement was concluded at Oslo among Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the three Scandinavian countries that none of the countries would change its tariffs without consulting the others. Two years later the Belgian and Netherlands Governments signed the Ouchy Convention which carried the Oslo Agreement a step further. The two Governments undertook to lower their tariffs against one another by 10 percent each year, until the tariff barrier had been halved. But by this time the economic crisis had driven Britain and Europe to adopt new tariff and quota policies. Britain asked most-favored-nation treatment, i.e., that the mutual Belgian and Netherlands tariff reductions be extended to her goods. France also took an unfavorable view of the Dutch-Belgian proposal, and the scheme was shelved.

It was revived when both Belgian and Netherlands Governments found themselves in exile in London. Reconstruction obviously would be easier were the two countries an economic unit; the opportunity for a sweeping change had arrived. By an agreement between the two Governments-in-Exile, signed in September 1944, three Councils were established, one to work out a common tariff against other countries, the second to negotiate foreign trade agreements on the basis of this tariff, and the third to consider complete economic union. The aim was to achieve the full economic union by stages, while retaining political sovereignty for the two kingdoms.

Neither the economic, political or psychological problems involved are simple, however. To reason that Holland and Belgium are easy to integrate because Holland is

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