The smaller countries of Western Europe have a reputation for being
more successful than their larger neighbours. They are wealthier
per capita, they are more stable politically, and they are more
flexible economically. The secret to this success lies in their
consensual style of politics and their corporatist style of
decision-making. Unfortunately, however, that may be about to
change. A political transformation underway in small states is
undermining the politics of consensus and breakdown the
effectiveness of corporatist institutions. Small countries are
becoming increasingly vulnerable to the vicissitudes of world
markets as a result. Belgium and the Netherlands offer clear
examples of the problem at hand. The political societies of both
countries were tightly organized to avoid conflict and to promote
consensus. Over time, however, this tight organization has broken
down, politicians have opted for conflict over consensus, and
elections have become more volatile as a result. In turn, this
political transformation of Belgium and the Netherlands has
undermined their traditional approach to economic policymaking and
economic adjustment.Belgium and the Netherlands are now more
vulnerable to world market forces than at any time since the end of
the 1970s. Their relative economic and political success can no
longer be taken for granted. The relative success of other small
states should be brought into question as well.
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