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Belgium: Administrative divisions

Last modified: 2011-11-12 by ivan sache
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Status of the Kingdom of Belgium

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, that is, 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 three 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.
Belgium is further 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 entire responsability 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-one Senators 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 different functions.
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 by 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, the Court of Appeal and the 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 affairs 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 "common heritage" 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 the 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 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.

Ivan Sache, 13 July 2001


  • The Flemish Community is the community of the Dutch-speaking people in the Flemish region and in the Region of Brussels-Capital. Its institutions have been merged with those of the Flemish Region.
  • The French Community is the community of the French-speaking people in the Walloon region and in the Region of Brussels-Capital.
  • The German-speaking Community is the community of the German-speaking people living in nine municipalities located near the German border.



The Provinces are:

The Province of Brabant ceased to exist on 1 January 1995 and was split up into the Provinces of Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant, together with the Region of Brussels-Capital.

Before 1995, Antwerp was the only Flemish province with an official flag. This flag, adopted in 1928, became obsolete when the present flag was adopted.
Two Walloon provinces adopted officially a flag: Namur, although the Provincial Council uses a square banner of the arms of the province; and Luxembourg.

After 1995, all the Flemish provinces were required to adopt a flag. Walloon Brabant adopted its flag in 1995.

All the banners of arms of the provinces, except Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant, but including Brabant, have been in use since the end of the 19th century, with proportions either 1:1 (square) or 2:3 (rectangle).
Therefore, there are three categories of provincial flags:

  • those which were or are official (before 1995: Antwerp, Namur, Luxembourg, later: Wallon Brabant and all the Flemish provinces)
  • the banners of arms (more or less official)
  • the striped flags (except Antwerp, Luxembourg and Namur, these have certainly been fantasies of flag manufacturers, though this doesn't mean that they were not used.)

The chapter on the flag of the province in the book about the coats of arms in the province of Antwerp [pbd98] says:

In 1953 the Governor of Antwerp sent a query to the other Governors. Hainault, Luxemburg, East Flanders and West Flanders replied they did not have a specific flag. In Brabant, the Belgian tricolour was used, but with horizontal stripes, while Limburg, Liège and Namur used flags with two [vertical] 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 already sold for many years square or sometimes rectangular flags with the arms of the respective provinces covering the whole field.

In Flanders, the local flags and arms are prescribed by the Decree on local symbols, adopted on 27 April 2007, and superseding earlier Decrees adopted on 21 December 1994 and 28 January 1977.
However, Article 3, § 2, of the new Decree says:

The municipal arms and flags prescribed by Decree of 28 January 1977 prescribing the arms and the flag of the municipalities, as well as the provincial flags and arms, as well as the municipal flags and arms prescribed by Decree of 21 December 1994 prescribing the arms and the flag of the provinces and of the municipalities, shall keep force of law.
These arms and flags can be superseded, only invoking new facts or reasons, by a Decision of the Provincial Council or of the Municipal Council, approved by the Flemish Government, according to the prescriptions of § 3 of Article 4.

A proposal of flag for the province of East Flanders was indeed rejected by the Flemish Heraldic Council.

Pascal Vagnat, Mark Sensen & Ivan Sache, 19 June 2008