Belgium became independent in 1830. Between 1970 and 1993, the country evolved into a more efficient federal structure. This occurred through six state reforms (in 1970, 1980, 1988-89, 1993, 2001 and 2014). As a result, today, the first Article of the Belgian constitution reads: “Belgium is a federal state, composed of communities and regions”.
The leadership of the country is now in the hands of various partners, which independently exercise their authority within their territories:
- The federal state (foreign a airs, national defence, justice, finance, social security, important parts of national health and domestic a airs);
- The communities: the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German- speaking Community (language and culture);
- The regions: the Flemish Region, the Brussels Capital Region and the Walloon Region (economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport (except Belgian Railways and also the Brussels airport), the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, foreign trade, supervision of the provinces, communes and inter-communal utility companies).
The country is further divided into 10 provinces and 589 municipal councils.
In Belgium, even if it is really multi-polar (six federated entities), it is nonetheless felt to be bi- polar, both by the population and by those with political responsibility, because of the battle (albeit relative and peaceful) between the two groups – French speakers and Dutch speakers.
We can also consider that ‘Belgian style’ federalism is (relatively) unstable and, even, under threat. There are three main reasons behind this instability: on the one hand, the misinterpretation of ambiguous texts ; on the other hand, the transfers of competences are not uniform, creating complexity in implementation and the pursuit of new competences ; another potential difficulty is that it was believed that federalisation would lead to a calming of the appetite and desire for autonomy. Managing federal policy separately has, however, led to increased divergence between the two main communities.
Consequently, the threat of this chronic instability goes as far as the country’s federal character. Radical alternatives (often Flemish ones) have flourished: separatism, confederalism, reattachment or reunion (with France) and the inherent difficulties in making progress are at the root of these movements.
The risk of implosion of the Belgian state is existent. Certain Flemish political or cultural formations have incidentally already included this option in their agendas.
by Paul-Henri Philips
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.