Belgium gained its independence in 1830. In recent years, the country has rapidly evolved, via four sets of institutional reforms (in 1970, 1980, 1988-89 and 1993) into an efficient federal structure. So it is that today, for the first time, the first article of the Belgian Constitution states: "Belgium is a federal State which consists of communities and regions".

The decision-making power in Belgium is no longer exclusively in the hands of the Federal Government and the Federal Parliament. Now, the management of the country falls to several partners, which exercise their competences independently in different fields.

The redistribution followed two broad lines. The first concerns linguistics and, more broadly, everything relating to culture. It gave rise to the Communities, a concept which refers to the persons which make them up and to the bound which unites them, in this case language and culture. Belgium is situated at the junction between the Latin and Germanic languages: Dutch, French and German. Thus Belgium has three Communities today, based on language: the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German-speaking Community. These correspond to population groups.

The second main line of the State reform is historically inspired by economic concerns, expressed by Regions who wanted to have more autonomous power. This gave rise to the founding of three regions: the Flemish Region, the Brussels Capital Region and the Walloon Region. To some extent Belgian regions are similar to the American States or the German "Länder". The country is further divided into nine provinces (10 as of 1 January 1995) and 589 communes.

The federal State retains important areas of competence including: foreign affairs, defense, justice, finances, social security, important sectors of public health and domestic affairs, etc. The Regions and Communities are entitled to run foreign relations themselves in those areas where they have competence.

Reconciling regional and cultural identity and federal structure is not an easy task, but it does have the advantage of bringing the decision-making process closer to the people. The result is a more sharply defined political structure and greater emphasis on the quality of life.


1. Constitution and Government: The Constitution was promulgated on Feb 7, 1831 and revised in 1893 and 1920-21. The 1893 revision provided for the administration of colonies or protectorates under the condition that overseas territories should be defended by Belgian volunteers only. In 1920-21 the composition of the senate and the franchise were altered.

Belgium is a constitutional, representative and hereditary monarchy. All powers derive from the nation. The king is the head of the state and his person is inviolable. He shares the legislative power with the chamber of representatives and the senate, which are elected for four years. He sanctions and promulgates the laws and exercises the execute power in conjunction with his ministers who are responsible to parliament.

The king can not act alone; his actions in political sphere must be sanctioned by a minister. In the case of disagreement a minister can be dismissed by the king, or the minister can resign. Ministers are appointed by the king generally from members of parliament. Since World War I the government has been headed by a prime minister who coordinates government policy. The number of ministers varies; they have equal rights. The government must rely on a majority in parliament. If it has not a majority , it ordinarily resigns and if no other government is acceptable, parliament dissolve and general elections must follow within 40 days.

The king is commander in chief of the armed forces, declares war, makes peace and concludes trade treaties. Treaties that may entail burdens for the state or for Belgians individually take effect only after they have been ratified by parliament, signed by the king and published in the Moniteur Belge. On the death of the king and until the heir to the throne has taken the oath before parliament, the royal prerogatives are exercised by the cabinet council under the responsibility of ministers. If the king becomes unable to reign the cabinet council exercises his prerogative pending the elections of a tutor or a regent by the assembled chambers.

The organization of the senate is complex. The number of members elected directly equals half the numbers of the members of the chamber of representatives who are elected by the same electorate. The candidates must be at least 40 years of age. A number of senators, one to every 200.000 inhabitants, are elected by the provincial councils by proportional representations. The directly elected and the provincial senators co-opt further members, their number being half tat of the provincial senators.

The chamber of representatives and the senate have equal powers. Bills may be introduced in both. Before being signed by the king they must have been passed in the chamber and the senate. Speeches can be delivered in French or Dutch, this being facilitated by an interpreter system with earphones.

A court of accounts, the members of which are appointed by the chamber of representatives, has authority to control all the operations of the treasury as well as the revenue and expenditure of provinces. It sees that the budget is not exceeded, and that funds are not transferred from one authorized purpose to another.

2. Local Government: the constitution recognizes the existence of nine provinces: Antwerp, Brabant, West Flanders, East Flanders, Hainaut, Liege, Namu and Luxembourg. These provinces and their communes are the principal units of the government . local authorities administer affairs under the control of the central government through the minister of the interior but posses a considerable amount of autonomy. The executive head of each province is the governor, who is selected by the king on the advice of the minister of the interior. The governor transmits instructions from minister of the interior to the communal councils and in general holds a watching brief for the central authority. He is also responsible for the execution of the provincial councils decisions on the public services coming within his competence.

The legislative power of the province resides in the provincial council, which is elected by parliamentary voters for a term of four years. The main duties of the provincial council are voting the budget and looking after such services as highways, drainage and education. The working administrative body within the province is the deputation permanente, a core of the council elected by its own members. The body meets frequently under the presidency of the governor, whom it also advises; it can not be suspended or dismissed by the central government.

The province is divided administratively into districts, of which there are 41. In every district there is district commissioner who supervises communes of fewer than 5.000 inhabitants. The municipality, of which there are 2.663, is the basic unit of local government and there is a uniformity throughout the country in the details of its administration. The administrative power is vested in the burgomaster, the college of the burgomaster and aldermen, and communal councils. The burgomaster is nominated by the council and appointed by the king, and is usually a member of the council. He holds office for a period of six years, which may be renewed. The communal council also serves for six years and has the duties of voting the budget, of organizing police, public institutions and services and of administer in public property. It is not responsible to any superior authority, but any decrees which overstep its powers can be annulled and its budget must be approved by the governors and the king. The executive power of the council is delegated to the burgomaster and the collage of salaried aldermen, of which the burgomaster is president.

3.Political Parties: the Social Christian, Liberal and Socialist parties are often called the constitutional parties. The first two existed when Belgium became independent, although they were not organized. The liberal party was founded in 1846 in Brussels. The Catholic party took shape at a congress at Mechelen in 1863. The Belgian Workers party was created in 1885. The present denominations Social Christian party and Belgium Social party were introduced after World War II.

The Social Christian party is an amalgam of land downers industrialists, middle classes, peasants and workers linked by their devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. The farmers, through the Boerenbond with about 300.000 members, exercises a great influence and are responsible for the protectionist agricultural policy. Since World War II the influence of the Roman Catholic trade unions has been predominant in the party, which is stronger in the Flemish than in the Walloon area.

The Socialist party recruited its first adherents among the textile workers in the Ghent region and the miners and metal workers in the Walloon industrial centres. After World War II the party gained some support among intellectuals and even among the farm workers, and aimed at overtaking the Social Christian party, the socialist in the 1950s did not press for nationalization of industries and preferred forms of co-operation between private management and local or provincial authorities.

4.Taxation: Income tax is levied at a rate of up to 35% of earned income with separate taxes on unearned income, on real property and personal complementary tax. In addition there are customs and excise duties transfer tax, stamp duties and estate taxes. Local governments are also authorized to levy taxes.

5.Welfare Services: Social welfare in Belgium is operated under law passed in Dec. 1994, amplified and extended by subsequent bills and decrees. The services are administered by the central National Office of Social Security, which collects contribution from both employers and employees, and distributes sums to various national institutions dealing with family allowances, health, old age and holidays with pay, the state contributes only to old age pension schemes.

6.Justice: The Belgian constitution provides that the judicial power can be exercised by courts and tribunals in the name of the king. The legal system itself is to a large degree patterned upon that of France. The administration of justice is centralized under the control of a minister of justice; there is a codified body of law.