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Queen's University
 

Multiculturalism Policies in Contemporary Democracies


Belgium

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TOTAL SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 3.5 5.5 5.5


1. Federal or quasi-federal territorial autonomy

   Yes, recognition of cultural diversity and evidence of an “intercultural” policy approach.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0.5 1 1

Evidence:

  • Belgium has officially been a federal country since the constitutional revision of 1993, which was preceded by a process of devolution initiated in the 1970s. It consists of three communities (French, Flemish and German) and of three regions (Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels) (Constitution Belge 1994). The fifth reform, in 2001, increased the powers attributed to the regions.
  • Powers are devolved to the regions on “territorial” matters (housing, transportation, environment, etc.), while “personal” matters (health, education, social services, etc.) are devolved to the communities. Since 1980, the Flemish community and region form a single body with control over all of these areas (Flanders.be 2010a).
  • Culture, language use, education, economy, environment and international affairs are among Flanders’ areas of responsibilities (Flanders.be 2010a).
  • Belgium’s federal system, unique both with regard to its structure and the degree of devolution it has reached, is still a controversial topic. In 2006, a (fictional) news broadcast reporting that Flanders had decided to declare independence from Belgium caused much turmoil in the country (BBC News 2006). In the past decade, opinion polls in Flanders have shown increased support for Flemish independence, and elections in 2007 and 2009 strengthened support for parties in favour of Flemish autonomy.
  • The issue of state reform, and the degree of autonomy that should be given to the regions, prevented the formation of a (federal) coalition government for nine months in 2007–2008 (BBC News 2008).


2. Official language status, either in the region or nationally

   Yes.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 1 1 1

Evidence:

  • The Dutch language was placed on equal footing with French in the 1898 Law of Linguistic Equality. French was the only official language in Belgium before then.
  • Nowadays, French, Dutch and German are all considered to be the “national” languages of Belgium (Belgium.be 2008a).
  • Language use in Belgium functions according to the principle of territoriality: there are no all-Belgian language rights. Instead, there is official unilingualism in Flanders and Wallonia, with Brussels being the only bilingual region. As a consequence, Dutch is the only official language for all Flemish institutions (European Federation of National Institutions for Language 2009).
  • No change has been noted in the past decade.


3. Guarantees of representation in the central government or on constitutional courts

   Yes.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0.5 1 1

Evidence:

  • The election of the 150 members of the Chamber of Representatives follows a proportional representation system.
  • However, constitutional reforms of the early 1990s have made the consociational traditions of the country official, and installed a requirement that the Cabinet (the prime minister excepted) be formed of equal numbers of Flemish and Francophone ministers (Keating 2001).
  • Similarly, the Senate was reformed in 1994 so as to represent the regions and communities of Belgium. Of 71 senators, 41 represent the Flemish population (25 are elected by the population, 10 are appointed by the community, and 6 are co-opted senators), while 29 represent the French-speaking/Walloon population. One senator represents the German-speaking community (Belgium.be 2008a).
  • The Arbitration Court (renamed the Constitutional Court in 2007) is composed of 12 judges, divided equally between the Dutch and the French language groups. One of the judges has to have sufficient knowledge of German (Court Constitutionnelle 2007). The Court’s competences increased substantially in 1988 and 2003.
  • This has not changed over the past decade.


4. Public funding of minority-language universities/schools/media

   Yes.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 1 1 1

Evidence (education):

  • Education, and the use of languages for teaching purposes, are responsibilities of the communities according to articles 24, 127 and 129 of the Constitution Belge (1994). The Flemish Minister for Education has considerable independence with respect to educational policy.
  • The 1963 law on the linguistic regime in teaching has made Dutch the language of instruction in the Dutch language region (EFNIL 2007). Today, Dutch is the language of instruction from pre-school to university, even though some higher education programs are taught in other languages (Flamenco: Study in Flanders 2010).
  • The Flemish Department of Education and Training funds institutions at all educational levels up to university. Its budget represents more than one third of the Flemish budget, i.e., 38.3 percent in 2009 (Flanders.be 2010).
  • State-funded education in Dutch was widespread in Flanders before the creation of the federal state and the devolution of powers to the Flemish community/Dutch language region; no substantial changes on this matter have taken place in the last decade.

Evidence (media):

  • Similar to education, cultural matters such as media funding and regulation have been officially devolved to the Flemish communities in the 1994 Constitution Belge.
  • Flanders’ official radio and television broadcasting company, Vlaamse Radio en Televisieomroep (VRT), is publicly funded by the Flemish Community. It coordinates three television channels and five radio channels (Vlaamse Radio en Televisieomroep 2009).
  • Flemish productions or co-productions must account for at least 50 percent of the programming for all of VRT’s television stations (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2004).
  • Moreover, private radio stations must broadcast in Dutch, and a significant amount of television broadcast time has to be spent on Dutch language production (Flemish Media Decree, 1995).
  • Dutch-language radio and television broadcasts are publicly funded in Flanders since at least 1930 (since 1953 for television) when it was under the responsibility of the Belgisch Nationaal Instituut voor Radio-omroep, the predecessor to VRT.


5. Constitutional or parliamentary affirmation of “multinationalism”

   Partially.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0.5 0.5 0.5

Evidence:

  • There is no specific mention of multinationalism in the Constitution Belge; article 33 states that all powers emanate from the “Nation” understood to be Belgium as a whole.
  • However, the Belgian tradition of granting powers and responsibilities to cultural and linguistic communities, around which the entire constitutional structure of the country is built, shows some recognition of multiculturalism and multinationalism.
  • Indeed, for some, “the new Belgian institutional arrangements reveal[…] that the multinational character of the Belgian state has been formally acknowledged” (Rocher, Rouillard and Lecours 2001, 183; see also McRoberts 2003).
  • Discussing the “nation” in Belgium is a source of unease, as reflected on the official state website which indicates that “the King represents and embodies not the State […] but the Nation, which some may prefer to call the Country” (Belgium.be 2008b, emphasis added).


6. Accorded international personality (e.g., allowing the sub-state region to sit on international bodies, sign treaties, or have their own Olympic team)

   Yes.

SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010
Score: 0 1 1

Evidence:

  • Flanders acquired the responsibility to sit on international bodies and to conclude international treaties in 1993. Title IV of the Constitution Belge (International Relations) states that regions and communities of Belgium have full external competences corresponding to their areas of internal competences.
  • Flanders attaches great importance to cooperation with other countries and international institutions. It maintains bilateral diplomatic and economic relations with more than 20 countries and sub-state entities, and participates in multilateral entities such as the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Council of Europe (Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs 2008).
  • In addition to a shared (rotational) arrangement for the representation of Belgium at the European Council of Ministers, Flanders has representatives in the European Parliament and the EU Committee of the Regions (Flanders.be 2010b).
  • A Flemish UNESCO Trust Fund was set up in 2001 to promote the transfer of Flemish know-how to third-world countries. The Flemish International Cooperation Agency was created in 2006 (replacing the Flemish development cooperation in place since 1993) and works bilaterally with three African countries in addition to participating in multilateral organizations (Flemish International Cooperation Agency 2009).
  • In 2008, Flanders held the presidency of the REGLEG network, a venture of European Regions with Legislative Power focused on enhancing the role of those regions in the EU (Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs 2008).
  • Flanders never participates as a nation in international sports events.

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