Last modified: 2003-01-18 by ivan sache
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Federal State, Communities and Regions
Four successive reforms of the status of the Belgian state (1970, 1980, 1988-89, and 1993) have been necessary to establish the current federal status of the Kingdom of Belgium.
The first article of the Belgian Constitution says: "Belgium is a Federal State, which is constituted by Communities and Regions."
The concept of Community is based on the peoples who constitute a community and the links they share, i.e. language and culture. Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Therefore, Belgium includes three Communities: the Flemish Community, the French Community, and the German-speaking Community, corresponding to groups of peoples.
The concept of Region is based on the historical aspiration to more economical autonomy. There are three Regions, the Flemish Region, the Region of Brussels-Capital, and the Walloon Region, which might be compared to the American States and the German Länder.
The country is also subdivided into 10 Provinces and 589 Municipalities.
Competences of the Federal State
The Federal state keeps competences in several domains, such as
foreign affairs, national defense, justice, finances, social security
and an important part of public health and inner affairs.
However, the Communities and the Regions are competent in establishing relations with foreign countries regarding the domains they are in charge of.
At the federal level, the legislative power is exercized on one
hand by the Federal Parliament, which is constituted of two Chambers,
the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, and on the other hand
by the Government, i.e. the King and the
Ministers. The King shall not exercize any
personal power. The Ministers, who countersign the law proposals
voted by the Parliament and the Royal decrees, have the
entireresponsability of the power.
The 150 (formerly 212) Deputees of the Chamber of Representatives are elected by direct universal suffrage. The Senate has 71 (formerly 184) members. Forty Senators are directly elected, 25 of them being Dutch-speakers and 15 French-speakers. Twenty-oneSenators are appointed by the Communities, 10 by the Flemish Council, 10 by the Council of the French Community, and 1 by the German-speaking Community. Ten more Senators, 6 Dutch-speakers and 4 French-speakers, are coopted by the elected and appointed Senators. There are also ex officio Senators, i.e. certain members of the royal family
The Federal Parliament shall vote the laws.
The Government is also exercizing the legislative power since it has a right of initiative (i.e. it may submit law proposals to the Parliament), a right of amendment (i.e. it may submit amendments to the law proposals submitted by itself or the members of the Parliament) and a power of sanction (i.e. a law voted by the Parliament can come into force only after having been sanctioned by the Government (the King and the Ministers)
The executive power is exercized by the Federal Government.
The Government shall include no more than 15 Ministers. Excluding the Prime Minister if necessary, the Government shall have the same number of French-speaking and Dutch-speaking members. State Secretaries may be appointed.
The government shall enforce the laws.
Within the federal state, the Chamber and the Senate have
The Chamber has an exclusive competence in the control of the Federal Government, the vote of the budget, and the so-called 'constructive detrust motion' (censure motion). In the past, every censure motion voted gy the Parliament against the Government forced it to resign. Nowadays, the Chamber should propose an alternative majority to force the Government to resign.
The Senate has an exclusive comptence in the arbitration of conflicts between the Federal Parliament and the Communitary and Regional Councils
Other competences are exercized alternatively by the Chamber and the Senates: proposition of applicants for the Court of Arbitration, Court of Appeal and State Council.
Most competences are exercized by both assemblies. For the most important competences, such as the revision of the Constitution, the vote of special laws and the approval of international treaties, the powers of both Chambers are strictly equal. All the other competencies are exercized by both assemblies, but the Chamber shall have the last word. The Senate has a role of reflexion, and shall comment the law proposals only if necessary. However, the Senate may submit law proposals.
The Chamber and the Senate shall manage along with the Government all the affairs of general interest for the state.
The Federal State exercizes competence in all the affairts of general interest for the Belgian citizens, i.e. finances, Army, Gendarmerie, justice, social security, foreign affairs, cooperation, and an important part of public health and inner affairs. The Federal State is in charge of a wide so-called 'common hertage' including justice, Army, Gendarmerie, supervision on police services, laws organizing the Provinces and the Municipalities, the social security and the laws of social protection, the national debt, the monetary policy, the price and income policy, the protection of saving, the nuclear energy, the public companies such as the National Company of Belgian Railways, the Airport of Brussels-National, the Postal Service, the federal cultural and scientific institutes.
The Federal State shall assume all responsabilities of Belgium and its subdivisions regarding European Union and NATO.
The Federal State is also competent in everything which is not explicitly included in the competence of the Communities and Regions.
Competences of the Communities and Regions
The competences of the Communities and Regions have fuzzy limits,
with several exceptions and restrictions. For instance, the the
regions have competency in economical policy, excepted "the
competences allocated to the Federal State in order to maintain an
economical and monetary union." Similarly, the Regions have
competence in the energy policy, including distribution of natural
gas ans electricity, but the prices are still fixed by the State.
The competences of the Communities include education, but the minimal requirements for diploma delivery are still fixed by the State.
Source: Belgian Government website
Ivan Sache, 13 July 2001
Note: The province of Brabant ceased to exist on 1 January 1995 and was split up into the provinces Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant, together with the Region of Brussels-Capital.
Before 1995, only one Flemish province had adopted a flag: Antwerp
as it was said, this flag became obsolete when the present one was
adopted. Two Walloon provinces adopted officially a flag: Namur
(black red vertically) still more or less in use (I saw it on the
Town hall of Namur city), but the provincial council use a square
banner of arms, and Luxembourg (this flag is simply red-white-blue
horizontally). The coat of arms of the province was put on the three
stripes after its adoption, it is difficult to know when, even Michel
Lupant doesn't know this. This flag is no more in use, and the banner
of arms is in use.
After 1995, all the Flemish provinces were obliged to adopt a flag. We know all of them now. The Wallon Brabant adopted its flag in 1995.
All the banner of arms for the provinces, except the two present Brabant, but with the Brabant have been in use since the end of the XIXth century, sometimes in a squarish format, sometimes in the proportions 2:3 as I saw it in Bruges. These weren't of course official, though we might think that the decree on the coat of arms of the kingdom have in a sense officialized the banners of the provinces, though these banner are plain with a coat of arms, and not banner of arms.
There are three categories of provincial flags:
All the Flemish communes are obliged since the decrees of the 28th
January 1977 and 21st December 1994 to have a coat of arms and a
flag. These emblems are adopted by the authorities of the communes,
approved by the Flemish Heraldic Council and officially recognized by
the concerned minister. If the flag or a coat of arms of a commune
wasn't approved by the Flemish Heraldic Council, this last can
propose and fix officially the flag or the coat of arms of that
commune. That has already happened with the case of the commune of
This is also valid for provinces, and the proposal of flag for the province of East-Flanders wasn't approved by the Flemish Heraldic Council.
Pascal Vagnat, 10 May 1999
The chapter on the flag of the province in the new book about the coats of arms in the province of Antwerpen [pbd98] seems to give some clues concerning the flags of the Belgian provinces.
Pascal Vagnat, 22 June 1999
Here is a translation:
"In 1953 the governour of Antwerp sents a query to the other governours. Hainault, Luxemburg, East Flanders en West Flanders reply they don't have a specific flag. In Brabant the Belgian tricolour is used, but with horizontal stripes, while Limburg, Liege and Namur use flags with two stripes of equal length*. Only Antwerp used a flag designed by the Council of Nobility in 1928, three stripes of equal length yellow, red and white. This tricolour however was never popular. Apart from that, specialized companies sell already many years square or sometimes rectangular flag with the image of the respective provinces covering the whole field."
* this would mean vertical stripes!
Mark Sensen, 23 June 1999