Belgium

   
TOTAL SCORES
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 3.5 5.5 5.5 5.5

 

This section examines the legal and political status of the Flemish in Belgium. The Flemish are not a numerical minority (they form about 60 percent of the Belgian population), but they were historically subordinated to the French, and so like national minorities in other countries, have had to mobilize along nationalist lines for greater language rights, and territorial autonomy. The term "Flanders" is used in two different ways: first, to refer to the cultural and linguistic community of the Flemish (over 6.5 million inhabitants); and second, to describe the geographical region in the north of Belgium.

 

1. FEDERAL OR QUASI-FEDERAL TERRITORIAL AUTONOMY

    Yes.

   
Territorial Autonomy Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0.5 1 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, and the sixth reform in 2011 devolved further federal powers to the communities and regions and changed the composition of the Senate from direct election to members elected by and from the community parliaments.
  • Powers are generally devolved to the regions on "territorial" matters (housing, transportation, environment, etc.), while "personal" matters (health, education, social services, etc.) are devolved to the communities, though employment policy and child allowances were devolved to the communities in 2011. Since 1980, the Flemish community and region form a single body with control over all of these areas (Flemishparliament.eu 2021).
  • Culture, language use, education, economy, environment and international affairs are among Flanders' areas of responsibilities (Flemishparliament.eu 2021).
  • 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, and then an extraordinary 18 months following the June 2010 election, which also resulted in the 2011 state reform.
 

2. OFFICIAL LANGUAGE STATUS, EITHER IN THE REGION OR NATIONALLY

    Yes.

   
Official Language Status Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 1 1 1 1

Evidence:

  • The Dutch language was placed on equal status with French in the 1898 Law of Linguistic Equality, and German has been an official language with equal status at the federal level since 1990.
  • 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).
 

3. GUARANTEES OF REPRESENTATION IN THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT OR ON CONSTITUTIONAL COURTS

    Yes.

   
Guaranteed Representation Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0.5 1 1 1

Evidence:

  • The election of the 150 members of the Chamber of Representatives follows a proportional representation system.
  • However, constitutional reforms since 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, then modified again in 2014 (as a consequence of the 2011 state reform) by decreasing the number of senators from 184 to 60. 50 senators are elected at regional level, including 1 senator assigned by the German-speaking Community Parliament, and 10 senators that are co-opted (meaning elected by members of their own community) by taking into account the results of the election to the House of Representatives.
  • The 60 senators are divided according to community: 35 Dutch-speakers, 29 appointed by the Flemish Parliament and 6 co-opted; 24 French-speakers, 20 assigned by the French community Parliament, the Walloon Parliament and the French-speaking group of the Brussels Parliament, and 4 senators co-opted; and 1 German-speaker assigned by the German-speaking community Parliament (Senate.be n.d.).
  • The Constitutional Court (known as the Court of Arbitration until 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 Constitutionnelle2007). The Court's competences increased substantially in 1988 and 2003.
 

4. PUBLIC FUNDING OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITIES / SCHOOLS / MEDIA

    Yes.

   
Public Funding Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 1 1 1 1

Evidence (education):

  • Education, and the use of languages for teaching purposes, are responsibilities of the communities according to articles 24, 127 and129 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.
  • The Flemish Department of Education and Training funds institutions at all educational levels up to university.
  • 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.

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 n.d.).
  • 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"

    Yes.

   
Affirmation of Multinationalism Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0.5 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 reveals 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 2021, 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.

   
International Personality Scores
Year: 1980 2000 2010 2020
Score: 0 1 1 1

Evidence:

  • The 1993 constitutional revision gave Belgian federal states autonomy regarding external policy that is “is unique in the world and arises from recognition of the constitutional principle ‘in foro interno, in foro externo’, which means that the Belgian regions and communities are also externally competent for all matters for which they are internally competent (article 167, § 3, Constitution of Belgium). There is also an absence of hierarchy between different levels of administration. Thus, the federal government does not take precedence over the regions and communities in Belgium” (Paquin 2021, 5). This allowed Wallonia to have significant and widely publicised influence on negotiations over the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, which Belgium could not approve without its constituent units’ consent (Paquin 2021). 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 n.d.).
  • 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.
  • 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 (Flemishinvestmentandtrade.com 2007).
  • Flanders never participates as a nation in international sports events.