Politics of Belgium


Politics of Belgium

Politics of Belgium takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary representative democratic constitutional monarchy, whereby the King of the Belgians is the Head of State and the Prime Minister of Belgium is the head of government in a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Senate and the Chamber of Representatives. The federation is made up of (cultural/political) communities and (territorial) regions.

Belgium's political institutions are complex; most political power is organised around the need to represent the main cultural (and political) communities. Since around 1970, the significant national Belgian political parties have split into distinct representations for each communities' interests besides defenders of their ideologies. These parties belong to three main political families, though close to the centre: the right-wing Liberals, the social conservative Christian Democrats, and Socialists forming the left-wing. Other important younger parties are the Green parties and, nowadays mainly in Flanders, the nationalist and far-right parties. Politics is influenced by lobby groups, such as trade unions and employers' organizations such as the Federation of Belgian Enterprises.Majority rule is often superseded by a de facto confederal decision making process where the minority (the French-speakers) enjoy important protections through specialty majorities (2/3 overall and majority in each of the 2 main communities).

Constitution

The Constitution of Belgium was established on February 7 1831. Its first major revision was in 1970 when, in response to a growing civil conflict between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking communities in Brussels, the Government declared that "the unitary state, its structure and functioning as laid down by law, had become obsolete". The new constitution recognised the existence of strong communautarian and regional differences within Belgium, but sought to reconcile these differences through a diffusion of power to the communities and the regions. It was last revised on July 14 1993, when the parliament approved a constitutional package creating a federal state. The constitution is the primary source of law and the basis of the political system in Belgium.

Government

Executive

King
Albert II|
August 9 1993
-
Federal Prime Minister
Yves Leterme
CD&V
20 March 2008
-
Coalition partners|
Open VLD, MR, PS, CdH|
-

Head of state

The King of the Belgians is the constitutional head of the Belgian state and holds office for life. The duties of the king are laid out by the Belgian Constitution and other laws enforced under it.

As titular head of state, the King plays a ceremonial and symbolic role in the nation. His main political function is to designate a political leader to form a new cabinet after an election or the resignation of a cabinet. In conditions where there is a "constructive vote of no-confidence," the government has to resign and the Lower House of Parliament proposes a new Prime Minister to the King.Fact|date=February 2007 The King is also seen as playing a symbolic unifying role, representing a common national Belgian identity.

The present monarch, Albert II, succeeded his brother, Baudouin I, who died July 31, 1993. Albert took the oath of office to become King on August 9, 1993.

Federal government

The executive branch of government consists of ministers and secretaries of state ("junior" ministers or smaller departments) drawn from the political parties which form the government coalition. Formally, the ministers are appointed by the King. The number of ministers is limited to 15, 7 at least from each of the two main communities, and they have no seat in Parliament. The Cabinet is chaired by the Prime Minister. Ministers head executive departments of the government.

The Prime Minister and his ministers administer the government and the various public services and the ministers must defend their policies and performance in person before the Chamber.

The federal government, formally nominated by the king, must have the confidence of the Chamber of Representatives. It is led by the Prime Minister. The numbers of Dutch- and French-speaking ministers are equal as prescribed by the Constitution. [ [http://www.fed-parl.be/gwuk0006.htm#E11E6 Constitution of Belgium] Art. 99] The King or Queen is the head of state, though he has limited prerogatives. Actual power is vested in the Prime Minister and the different governments, who govern the country.

Though since 1993, article 35 of the Constitution demands a list of federal competences, such was never created and the federal government continues to exercise all competences not explicitly dedicated to a regional level. [cite journal
author=Ann Peuteman
title=De staatshervorming, waar moet dat heen?
journal=Knack magazine
date=8 May 2007
issue=37th year, number 18
pages=page 25
quote=In België is het voorlopig zo dat bevoegdheden die niet expliciet aan de gewesten of de gemeenschappen zijn toegewezen op federaal niveau worden uitgeoefend. 'In artikel 35 van onze grondwet staat sinds 1993 nochtans dat er een lijst van federale bevoegdheden moet worden gemaakt. Maar dat is nooit gebeurd.', zegt [grondwetspecialist Patrick] Peeters.
]

The last election produced a government which is in transition and may result in a new coalition and Prime Minister in the near future.

Regional and community governments

The new regional and community councils and governments have jurisdiction over transportation, public works, water policy, cultural matters, education, public health, environment, housing, zoning, and economic and industrial policy. They rely on a system of revenue-sharing for funds. They have the authority to levy a very few taxes (mostly surcharges) and to contract loans. Moreover, they have obtained exclusive treaty-making power for those issues coming under their respective jurisdictions. Of total public spending (interest payments not considered), more than 30% is authorised by the regions and communities, although their financing comes for over 80% from national Belgian budgets; at the same time, the national government controls 100% of social security, and strictly limits the taxation policy by the federalised entities. As a result, Belgian institutions still control over 90% of the effective, global taxation levels on individuals and companies.

The Flemish parties generally favour much larger community (and regional) autonomy, including financial and tax autonomy, while the francophone parties generally oppose it. The Flemish parties generally favour a modern and efficiently working state, whereas the French-speaking parties tend to favour more state control. The new government has decided that these matters will be discussed in the coming months, with a deadline on July 15th, 2008. Afterwards, former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (VLD) will take over until the June 2009 regional elections.

As of 2008, the regional executives are the following:
*Minister-President of Flemish Government (Region+Community): Kris Peeters (CD&V)
*Minister-President of French Community Government: Rudy Demotte (PS)
*Minister-President of Walloon Regional Government: Rudy Demotte (PS)
*Minister-President of Brussels-Capital Regional Government: Charles Picqué (PS)
*Minister-President of German Community Government: Karl-Heinz Lambertz (SP)(Also known from the Ketchup)

Provincial and local government

In addition to three regions and three cultural communities, Belgium is also divided into 10 provinces plus Brussels, and 589 municipalities. Provincial and local government is an exclusive competency of the regions. Therefore, one should see the relevant articles for more detailed information on provincial and local government.

In the Brussels region, there is another form of intermediate government, constituted by institutions from each of the two competent communities. Those institutions (COCOF for the French-speakers and VGC for the Flemings) have similar competencies, although only COCOF has legislative powers.

Legislative

The Belgian Parliament consists of the Senate (Dutch: Senaat, French: Sénat) and the Chamber of Representatives (Dutch: Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers, French: Chambre des Représentants). The Chamber has 150 directly elected members. The Senate has 71 members.

The Belgian Federal Government is run on the basis of a parliamentary system of government. The government is designated by the King according to the compositions of and will of parliament. The Cabinet therefore presents bills which correspond to the intentions of members of political parties represented in the government.

The influence of the main political parties and party leaders is enormous. Many expertsFact|date=February 2007 estimate that the presidents of the main parties are considerably more powerful than both ordinary ministers and the entire Parliament. For this reason, the Belgian political system is often called a particracyFact|date=February 2007.

The Chamber of Representatives is the "political" chamber that votes on motions of confidence and budgets. The Senate deals with long-term issues and votes on an equal footing with the Chamber on a limited range of matters, including constitutional reform bills and international treaties. The Senate is a mix of directly elected senior politicians and representatives of the communities and regions; while the Chamber latter represents all Belgians over the age of eighteen in a proportional voting system. Belgium is one of the few countries that has compulsory voting, thus having one of the highest rates of voter turnout in the world. [Election turnout in national lower house elections from 1960 to 1995, numbers from Mark N. Franklin's "Electoral Participation."]

Judiciary

"Main article : Courts of Belgium"

The judicial system is based on civil law and originates from the Napoleonic code. It has a judicial review of legislative acts. It accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations. The Court of Appeals is one level below the Court of Cassation, an institution based on the French Court of Cassation. The Court of Cassation (Dutch: "Hof van Cassatie", French: "Cour de Cassation") is the most important court in Belgium. Judges are appointed for life by the Belgian monarch.

Elections and parties

Electoral system

Several months before an election, each party forms a list of candidates for each district. Parties are allowed to place as many candidates on their "ticket" as there are seats available. The formation of the list is an internal process that varies with each party. The place on the list influences the election of a candidate, but its influence has diminished since the last electoral reform.

Political campaigns in Belgium are relatively short, lasting only about one month, and there are restrictions on the use of billboards. For all of their activities, campaigns included, the political parties have to rely on government subsidies and dues paid by their members. An electoral expenditures law restricts expenditures of political parties during an electoral campaign. Because of the huge public bureaucracy, the high politisation of nominations, and the widely accepted practice that political nominees spend many man-months paid for by all tax-payers for partisan electioneering, this arrangement massively favours the ruling political parties.

Since no single party holds an absolute majority, after the election the strongest party or party family will usually create a coalition with some of the other parties to form the government.

Voting is compulsory in Belgium (more than 90% of the population participates). Belgian voters are given five options when voting. They may:
* Vote for a list as a whole, thereby showing approval of the order established by the party;
* Vote for one or more individual candidates, regardless of his/her ranking on the list (a "preference vote");
* Vote for one or more of the "alternates" (substitutes);
* Vote for one or more candidates, and one or more alternates;
* Vote invalid or blank so no one receives the vote.

While there are some options to vote on more than one person, it should be noted that voters cannot vote for candidates of more than one candidate list (party). Doing so makes the vote invalid.

Elections for the Federal Parliament are normally held every four years. The community and regional parliaments are elected every five years, and their elections coincide with those for the European Parliament. Elections for the members of Belgium's municipal and provincial councils are held every six.The latest municipal and provincial elections were held in 2006 and the latest general election was held in 2007, the next community and regional elections are expected in 2009.

Belgium does not have elections similar to presidential elections, where only one person can be elected; rather, seats in the parliament, city council or similar are elected, the occupants of which then vote who gets to be prime minister, mayor, governor, etc. This is probably one of the reasons why Belgium does not have a two-party political system, but that there are more than two influential parties per language region.

Political parties

In Belgium, all important political parties are either "Dutch-speaking" or "French-speaking" (aside from 1 German speaking party). Political parties are thus organised along community lines, especially for the two main communities. There are no representative parties active in both communities. Even in Brussels, all parties presenting candidates are either exclusively Dutch or French speaking. As such, the internal organisation of the political parties reflects the fundamentally dual nature of Belgian society. At the same time, this is, for the French-speaking parties, a serious indication against their own claim for a more regional stress in the Belgian federalisation (as opposed to the community-focus favoured by the Flemings). The Flemish parties currently all favour to reform the Belgian federal political system to (at least) a confederal system whereby the regions are the centrepiece of the political system. Some parties, most notably the Christian Democrat - Flemish Nationalist alliance (CD&V/N-VA), even favours the scission of Belgium.

Another important characteristic of Belgian national politics is the highly federal nature of decision making. Important decisions require both a national majority (2/3 for constitutional changes), as well as majorities in the two main language groups. On top of that, both these communities can activate 'alarm bell'-procedures, delaying changes. In addition, there are no national parties to speak of. As a result of this, Belgian decision making can be slow and expensive. On top, it tends to significantly favour the more conservative parties. Given the historically very high public expenditure, and the very strict central control over taxation, even for revenues going to regions and communities, the tendency of Belgian governments to lower taxation and especially labour charges has been limited, at least if compared to radical-liberal approaches followed by certain other countries.

History of the political landscape

From the creation of the Belgian state in 1830 and throughout most of the 19th century, two political parties dominated Belgian politics: the Catholic Party (Church-oriented and conservative) and the Liberal Party (anti-clerical and progressive). In the late 19th century the Socialist Party arose to represent the emerging industrial working class. These three groups still dominate Belgian politics, but they have evolved substantially in character.

In the late 1960s with the rise of linguistic problems in Belgium, each of the main political parties of Belgium split into Flemish and a French-speaking parties.

Main political parties

:"See also List of political parties in Belgium"
*BUB
*CAP
*CDH
*CD&V
*CSP
*Ecolo
*FDF
*Front National
*Groen!
*MCC
*MR
*N-VA
*PFF
*PJUPDB
*PS
*SP
*SP. a
*SPIRIT
*Vlaams Belang
*VLD

Latest electoral results and government formation

* Belgian general election, 2003
* 2004 Belgian regional elections
* 2007–2008 Belgian government formation

Trade unions

Belgium is a highly unionised country, and organised labour is a powerful influence in politics. About 53% of all private sector and public service employees are labour union members. Not simply a "bread and butter" movement in the American sense, Belgian labour unions take positions on education, public finance, defence spending, environmental protection, women's rights, abortion, and other issues. They also provide a range of services, including the administration of unemployment benefits.

Belgium's three principal trade union organizations are the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC/ACV) (1,705,000 members), the General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGTB/ABVV) (1,198,000 members) and the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (CGSLB/ACLVB) which has 230,000 members.

Until the fifties, the FGTB/ABVV was the largest confederation, since then, however, the CSC/ACV has become the leading trade union force. In the most recent works council elections held in 2004 the CSC/ACV garnered close to 53% of the vote, the Socialist confederation obtained 36%, and the Liberal confederation 10%.

The Confederation of Catholic labour Unions (CSC/ACV). Organised in 1912, the CSC/ACV rejects the Marxist concept of "class struggle" and seeks to achieve a just social order based on Christian principles. The CSC/ACV is not formally linked to its party political counterparts, the Christian Democratic parties (CD&V and CDH), but exercises great influence in their councils.

The CSC/ACV is the leading union in all Flemish provinces, and in Wallonia's Luxembourg province. It has almost equal strength with the socialist confederation in the Brussels area. Its President is currently Luc Cortebeeck.

The Belgian Socialist Confederation of labour (FGTB/ABVV). The FGTB/ABVV derives from the Socialist Trade Union Movement, established in the late 19th century in Walloon industrial areas, Brussels, and urban areas of Flanders. Today the FGTB/ABVV is the leading union in the Hainaut, Namur, and Liège provinces and matches the CSC/ACV in Brussels. The FGTB/ABVV is led by President Michel Nollet.

Linguistic challenge

Belgium is a country where language is a major political issue. In the 19th and early 20th century, Flemings did not enjoy the same rights as French-speakers, both de facto and de jure. When the country was founded in 1830 under a census voting system, only around 1% of the adult population could vote: nobility, haute-bourgeoisie and higher clerics, all of them French-speaking. A Flemish movement fought peacefully to gain equal rights, obtaining most of these. Minor issues exist also between German speakers and French speakers.

In the third century AD, Germanic Franks migrated into what is now Belgium. The less populated northern areas became Germanic, while in the southern part, where the Roman presence had been much stronger, Latin persisted despite the migrations of the Franks. This linguistic frontier has more or less endured.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and the 19th century further accentuated the North-South division. Francophone Wallonia became an early industrial boom area, affluent and politically dominant. Dutch-speaking Flanders remained agricultural and was economically and politically outdistanced by Wallonia and the capital. The elite during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century spoke French, even in the Dutch speaking area. In the 20th century, and particularly after the Second World War, Flanders saw an economic flowering while Wallonia became economically stagnant. As Flemings became more educated and more well off, and sought a fair and equal share of political power, tensions between the two communities rose.

Linguistic demonstrations in the early 1960s led in 1962 to the establishment of a formal linguistic border and elaborate rules were made to protect minorities in linguistically mixed border areas. In 1970, the Constitution was amended. Flemish and francophone cultural councils were established with authority in matters relating to language and culture for the two language groups.

The 1970 constitutional revision did not finally settle the problem, however. A controversial amendment declared that Belgium consists of three cultural communities (the Flemish Community, the French(-speaking) Community and the German-speaking Community) and three economic regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels) each to be granted a significant measure of political autonomy. It was not until 1980, however,that an agreement could be reached on how to implement this new constitutional provision.

In August 1980, the Belgian Parliament passed a devolution bill and amended the Constitution, establishing:
* A Flemish community legislative assembly (council) and Flemish government;
* A Francophone community legislative council and government competent for cultural, language, and educational matters; and
* Walloon and Flemish regional legislative assemblies and governments competent for regional economic matters.

Immediately, the Flemings had their regional legislative council and government transfer its competencies to the community legislative council and government. That became competent for both cultural, language, and educational affairs, and for regional economic matters.

Since 1984 the German language community of Belgium (in the eastern part of Liège Province) has had its own legislative assembly and executive, competent for cultural, language, and educational affairs.

In 1988-89 the Constitution was again amended to give additional responsibilities to the regions and communities. The most sweeping change was to devolve nearly all responsibilities for educational matters to the communities. Moreover, the regions and communities were provided additional revenue, and Brussels Region was given its own legislative assembly and executive.

Another important constitutional reform took place in the summer of 1993. It formally changed Belgium from a unitary to a federal state. It also (modestly) reformed the bicameral parliamentary system and provided for the direct election of the members of the community and regional legislative councils. The bilingual Brabant province was split into separate Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant provinces, whereas in the Brussels-Capital Region most of the elsewhere provincial powers are exercised by the region and the responsibilities of an elsewhere provincial governor towards the federal level, by the Governor of Brussels-Capital. However, the electoral and judicial districts of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde were not split.

Despite the numerous constitution revisions, the matter is not completely settled. There is still a lot of political tension between French-speakers and Dutch-speakers, and, to a lesser degree, between French-speakers and the politically far weaker German-speakers. Flemings also complain about remaining discriminations (like the fact Walloon candidates can obtain votes from voters in both Flemish and Walloon regions, but that is impossible for a Flemish candidate)Fact|date=September 2008. Similarly, there are also quite unanimous reports of discrimination towards Flemings in hospitals in Brussels. This was acknowledged by the French-speaking socialist minister in charge of public health, Rudy DemotteFact|date=September 2008.

hift from linguistic to cultural and political animosity

At the end of the 20th century, it became clear that the main opposition between Flemings and Walloons was not very much linguistic anymore, but had shifted to major political and demographic differences. Flemish parties appear much more 'Anglo-Saxon' in policy choices, moving away from 'big state' philosophies.Fact|date=November 2007 French-speaking parties, including their 'right-wing' parties, tend to favor big government and support for the poor.

This became very obvious after the 2007 elections: in Flanders, the classical left-wing parties only captured 1/4 of the votes. On the French-speaking side, the left still carried 1/2 of the votes. One of the key differences centers on the policy towards everyone receiving allocations. Flemings strongly favor a policy focused at helping them regain their autonomy.

Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde district

This existence of this electoral district was condemned in 2002 as unconstitutional by the Arbitration Court (Dutch: "Arbitragehof", French: "Cour d'Arbitrage"), without however requesting the splitting of the district.

The reasons behind this ruling are as follows: the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district includes both the bilingual Brussels-Capital region and the unilingual Dutch Halle-Vilvoorde. Brussels is constitutionally bilingual. As such, its voters can choose candidates from both communities for European and national elections. However, because of the bilingual Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district, that possibility is also extended to the French-speakers in the Halle-Vilvoorde district, which belongs to the Flemish Region. That allows French-speaking candidates from Brussels and Wallonia (thus from outside the Flemish region and from outside the constitutional Dutch-only area) to attract votes from outside their electoral district. The current Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde electoral district breaches both the constitutionally established provincial borders as well as by the borders between the linguistic areas, and between the communities.

At the same time, Flemish candidates have no possibility of attracting votes from Flemings living in Wallonia, not even from those in Walloon municipalities with legally established facilities. The court ruled this unconstitutional, to much controversy.

International organization participation

Belgium is member of ACCT, AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, Benelux, BIS, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G-9, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS(observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIK, UNMOGIP, UNMOP, UNRWA, UNTSO, UPU, WADB(nonregional), WCL, WCO, WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, Zangger Committee

ee also

* Belgium
* List of governments in Belgium
* Politics of Flanders
* Same-sex marriage in Belgium
* War Crimes Law (Belgium)
* Belgian Official Journal
* 2007 Belgian government formation

Further reading

* cite journal
quotes =
last = Billiet
first = Jaak
authorlink =
coauthors = Bart Maddens and André-Paul Frognier
date =
year = 2006
month = November
title = Does Belgium (still) exist? Differences in political culture between Flemings and Walloons
journal = West European Politics
volume = 29
issue = 5
pages = 912–932
issn =
pmid =
doi =
id =
url =
language =
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laysource =
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quote =

* cite journal
quotes =
last = Deschouwer
first = Kris
authorlink =
coauthors =
date =
year = 2006
month = November
title = And the peace goes on? Consociational democracy and Belgian politics in the twenty-first century
journal = West European Politics
volume = 29
issue = 5
pages = 895–911
issn =
pmid =
doi =
id =
url =
language =
format =
accessdate =
laysummary =
laysource =
laydate =
quote =

* cite journal
quotes =
last = Swenden
first = Wilfried
authorlink =
coauthors = Marleen Brans and Lieven De Winter
date =
year = 2006
month = November
title = The politics of Belgium: Institutions and policy under bipolar and centrifugal federalism
journal = West European Politics
volume = 29
issue = 5
pages = 863–873
issn =
pmid =
doi =
id =
url =
language =
format =
accessdate =
laysummary =
laysource =
laydate =
quote =

* cite journal
quotes =
last = Swenden
first = Wilfried
authorlink =
coauthors = Maarten Theo Jans
date =
year = 2006
month = November
title = 'Will it stay or will it go?' Federalism and the sustainability of Belgium
journal = West European Politics
volume = 29
issue = 5
pages = 877–894
issn =
pmid =
doi =
id =
url =
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format =
accessdate =
laysummary =
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quote =

* Th. Luykx and M. Platel, Politieke geschiedenis van België, 2 vol., Kluwer, 1985
* E. Witte, J. Craeybeckx en A. Meynen, Politieke geschiedenis van België, Standaard, 1997

External links

* [http://www.fgov.be Belgian federal government]
* [http://www.terra.es/personal2/monolith/belgium.htm Extensive lists with leaders of Belgium]
* [http://bepol.be News & forum on belgian politics (French)]

References


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