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Founding EU Member Struggles With Political Unity

The "Europe" sculpture by Belgian artist May Claerhout, outside the European Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium.
Adam Berry | Getty Images
The "Europe" sculpture by Belgian artist May Claerhout, outside the European Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium.

The European Union may still be celebrating Friday's Nobel Peace Prize win, but one of its founding members is finding it very difficult to find the political unity the wider region was lauded for.

Belgium's separatist party, the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (New Flemish Alliance or N-VA), on Sunday won the majority of the votes in municipal elections in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, including the port city of Antwerp.

The leader of the separatist party is set to become the mayor of Antwerp, Belgium's second-largest city, ending about 90 years of socialist rule.

The sweeping gains across the northern part of the country will bolster separatists' hopes for a breakup of the country. Immediately after the ballot results emerged the leader of the separatist party demanded greater independence for the Dutch-speaking north.

De Wever's separatist NV-A party already surged in the 2010 national elections, and was the main reason why Belgium went without a government for the longest period on record – 541 days.

A federal state composed of three linguistic communities — Wallonia in the French-speaking south, Flanders in the Dutch speaking north, and a small German-speaking community in the eastern part of the country — Belgium faces not only linguistic differences but also economic imbalances. Unemployment in Wallonia is twice as high as in Flanders.

Belgium is not the only European country in which separatist movements are becoming increasingly popular.

Scotland has also made serious moves towards gaining independence from the U.K. with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond signing an agreement which draws the battle lines for a vote on Scottish independence in the Fall of 2014.

A recent poll on Scottish independence by pollsters TNS-BMRB however suggests only about a third of Scottish people support Scottish independence, against 53 percent of Scots supporting the Union.

Spain's Catalonia, a wealthy region fed up with having to pay for others in the crisis-hit country, is also upping its game . Catalonia's nationalist government has called for a snap election in November, which could result in a referendum on independence.

Alastair Newton, political risk analyst at Nomura, told CNBC that although the "probability of a split in Belgium remains relatively low", the outcome of the elections would push other events in the region to "move more quickly".

Nicholas Spiro, managing director at Spiro Sovereign Strategy, agrees. "Although the N-VA's victory strengthens the hand of Flemish separatists in Belgium whose cause has been bolstered by the politics of the euro zone crisis, one shouldn't read too much into what is, after all, a local election result, " he told CNBC, and highlighted that "federal elections are still two years away" and that "a break-up of Belgium is fraught with legal, political, economic problems."

S&P downgraded Belgium's credit rating last year by one notch, to AA from AA , with S&P expressing concerns about funding and market pressures and the Belgian government coping with "high level" debts, but Spiro does not think the election results will impact Belgium's perceived creditworthiness.

He thinks it is "unlikely the results will place further strain on the country's credit rating."

Following the election results Belgium's 10-year bond yields fell to a euro-era record low of 2.341 percent.

Written by Liza Jansen, special for CNBC.com. Twitter: @lizajansen

Contact Europe: Economy

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