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State structure

Article 1 of the Belgian Constitution stipulates that Belgium is a federal state made up of Communities and Regions. This division into three communities and three regions is typical for Belgian federalism. Both types of entities have their own exclusive competences. Their territories overlap geographically, since in fact they correspond to different combinations of Belgium’s four linguistic areas (the Dutch language area, the French language area, the German language area and the bilingual area).

The three communities are:

  • The Flemish Community (corresponding to the Dutch language area, with particular competences in the bilingual area of Brussels)
  • The French Community (corresponding to the French language area, with particular competences in the bilingual area of Brussels)
  • The small German-speaking Community (corresponding to the German language area)

The three regions are:

  • The Flemish Region (corresponding to the Dutch language area)
  • The Walloon Region (corresponding to the French and German language area)
  • The Brussels Capital Region (corresponding to the bilingual area)

There was a need for this particular type of federalism because federalisation had become an important issue. The Flemings were motivated by the wish to obtain cultural autonomy for all the Dutch-speaking people in Belgium, be it in the Dutch language area or in the bilingual area of Brussels. The Walloons wanted to be able to pursue their own social and economic policies in the Walloon area, without interference from the capital. The compromise between the two views resulted in the creation of:

  • Communities, with competences concerning culture, education, certain aspects of healthcare, language matters and co-operation between Regions and Communities
  • Regions, competent for economic policies, employment, energy matters, transport, agriculture, local authorities, environment, territorial planning and housing

Thus Belgium has six Parliaments and six Governments. Apart from the federal Parliament (consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate) and the federal Government, there are the different Parliaments and Governments for each of the three Communities and for two of the three Regions. This is because Flemish politicians decided in 1980 to merge the Flemish Community with the Flemish Region. As a result, Flanders has one Flemish Parliament and one Flemish Government with competence over community as well as over regional matters.