Publisher’s PDF, also known as Version of record. Publication date: 2010 The Socio-economic and Political Structure of Belgium. This chapter presents some
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23 Chapter 2 The Socio – economic and Political Structure of Belgium This chapter presents some background information on history, socio – econom ic development , state structure, electoral system , and poli ti cal and multiparty structure. Moreover, extensive attention is paid to the Flemish Community and the Flemish region. This information is intended to facilitate the understanding of the conc e ptual model and the empirical results presented in subsequent chapters. It should be observed that most of the information presented below is directly relevant for the understanding of subsequent chapters ; some other information only indirectly. The latter kind of information is presented to improve the coherence of the various parts that make up this chapter. 2.1 Brief History of Belgium 1 The name Belgium derives from a Celtic people known as the Belgae that originated from a region located in present day Be lgium. They were conquered by the Roman emperor Julius Caesar in 57 BC. Later, Germanic elements mixed with the Romanized Celtics. In the course of history, the Franks, the Burgundians, the Spaniards, the Austrians, and the French mixed with the original population. The population of Belgium is 10,827,519 (2010 estimate Eurostat) . The most populated region of Belgium is Flanders which makes up almost 60 percent of the entire national population. Only 3 percent of the population lives in rural areas while the other 97 percent lives in densely populated areas such as Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp. Belgium is among the most densely populated countries in Europe reaching 886 people per square mile. Brussels makes up about 10 percent of the Belgium population a nd is home to many foreign employees (Blackmon, 2006) . Belgium, which earned its independence in 1830, has been an area of great importance for many years. Many skirmishes have been fought for rights to the land throughout history. The country is bordered by the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Luxembourg (see Figure 2 .1 ) . Due to easy access to the North Sea and central location, Belgium has been a highly significant trading point since the Dark Ages (Blackmon, 2006) . 1 Thi s section is partly based on Blom and Lamberts (2006)
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24 Table 2.1 Some socioeconomic characteristics of Belgium Population 10,827,519 (2010 estimate) Population density 342 persons per sq km 886 persons per sq mi (2010 estimate) Urban population 97 percent Rural population 3 percent (2005 estimate) Official lang uages Dutch, French, German Chief religious affiliations 2 Roman Catholic, 47 percent Islam, 4 percent Protestant, 1.25 percent GDP (in U.S.$) $470.400 billion (2009 estimate) GDP per capita (U.S.$) $43,533 (2009 estimate) Life expectancy 79.1 years (20 08 estimate) Literacy rate 99 percent (1995) Source: Belgium Statistics 1998 – 2010, and Eurostat (2010) Belgium is divided into three regions, namely Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. The Flemish region consists of the Flemish provinces plus Hall and Vilvoorde. The Brussels region consists of the 19 communes of Brussel s and the Walloon region of the Walloon provinces. The three federal regions are further subdivided into the ten provinces. Provinces in Flanders are Antwerpen, Flemish Brabant, Limbourg, East Flanders, and West Flanders, while provinces in Wallonia are H ainaut, Liège, Walloon Brabant, Luxembourg, and Namur. There are two dominant groups (see Figure 2 .2 ) mainly divided and defined by language. The section of the population that lives in Wallonia and speaks French are called Walloo ns whereas the Flanders inhabitants who mainly speak Dutch (Flemish) are known as the Flemings. The Brussels region has a mixture of the Flemings and Walloons. The small number of people who speak German lives mainly along the eastern border. Each region i s fairly self – governed, but tension due to language, ethnicity, and national identity among the Flemings and Walloons still exists today (Blackmon, 2006) . country as a wh ole, strictly Dutch speakers make up about 56 percent, and French speakers 32 percent of the population. Only 1 percent of the people speaks German, while some 11 (Blackmon, 2006) . 2 International Religious Freedom Report 2006
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25 Figure 2.1 Map of Belgium Source: http ://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/time – zone/europe/european – union/belgium/map.htm Figure 2.2 Flemish and Walloon Regions Source: Belgium Statistics, 1998 – 2010 . French became the official l anguage of government after the Revolution of 1830, which was directed against The Netherlands. In the following decades Belgian cultural life was influenced mainly by France. But this dominance, along with Walloon social and
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26 economic domination, aroused a spirit of nationalism among the Flemings. They agitated for the equality of their language with French. A series of laws in the 1920s and 1930s was supposed to achieve this goal. However, antagonism between the two groups increased after World War II. (for details see the various contributions in Swenden et al., 2009; and Billiet et al., 2006). Politically, Belgium was definitely less than organized despite an improving economic state after the Second World War (Blackmon, 2006) . This was undoubtedly du e to political turmoil that caused a great divide resulting in the Socialists, Communists, and Liberals on one side and the Christian Democratic parties on the other. The Socialists Party called for a general strike in 1960 and violence erupted, particula rly in the Walloon south. Although the strike was called off, the crisis of the nation had sharpened the differences between Flemings and Walloons. Socialist leaders proposed that the unitary state of Belgium be replaced by a loose federation of the thre e regions Flanders, Wallonia, and the area around Brussels. linguistic communities, providing cultural autonomy for them, and also revising the administrative status of long – standing policy of centralization, the federalist parties opposed the revisions on the grounds that they did not go far enough (Billiet et al, 2006). Moreover, repeated efforts to transfer actual legislative authority to regional bodies were blocked by disagreements about the geographical extent of the Brussels region. In 1980 agreement was finally reached on the question of autonomy for Flanders and Wallonia. The Belgian constit ution was revised in 1971 and 1980 to provide Flemings with a greater degree of cultural and political autonomy (Brans et al , 2009). of major importance as to strengthen ethnic and cultural autonomy. This was a result of granting self – rule to the Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia regions in 1989. The different linguistic communities, cultural and political autonomy, and administrative status have surely shaped the Belgium p 2.2 The Belgian Economy in a nutshell 3 heavily industrialized, importing raw materials that are processed mainly for export. With 3 This section is based on Belgium Economic Statistics (1998 – 2010) and Begium Economic Outlook 87 Countries, (OECD, 2010).
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27 about three – economy is dependent upon its neighbors and the nation is a strong proponent of integrating (Blackmon, 2006) . In the early 1980s, Belgium was faced with a budget deficit that lasted for a decade. In economic development. As a remedy to the problem, the government reduced spending and raised taxes (Blackmon, 200 6) . By the early 2000s the government presented balanced budgets, and the economy was growing at a faster rate than the EU average. However, anticipated revenues of $16 2.2 billion and expenditures of $163.1 billion. Gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006 totaled $394 billion. Service industries account for 75 percent of Trade and transpor Brussels is home to many diplomats and foreigners. This is largely due to the fact that it is the Headquarters for NATO and the EU. Many firms and governments maintain offices in Brussels for access t o European Community decision – hotel, restaurant, and entertainment industries bring in sizable foreign earnings. trade. Even to Although Belgium is extremely agriculturally based, the farming industry only makes up about 2 percent of the labor force. 22 percent of Belgium is covered by wooded areas and is mainly used for recreational purposes. Although there is an abundance of trees, Belgium still fleets take advantage of its easy access to the North Sea. The c atch mainly consists of sole, cod, and plaice (Blackmon, 2006) . Belgium may very well be abundant in forested areas, but severely lacks in mineral resources. Natural resources such as coal and oil which used to be abundant were nearly non – existent by the 1 950s and several coal mines were shutdown with the last mine closing in 1992. Just like timber, both coal and oil are imported today for various industries (Blackmon, 2006) . ins one of the most highly industrialized countries of Europe, largely because of its geographical (Blackmon, 2006), but began to decline in the 1970s, when rec ession and obsolescence began seriously to erode many traditional sectors. Wallonia, which had been the center of the electronics developed in Flanders.
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29 Belgium is also the chief commander of the armed forces which means that he can declare war and d etermine treaties with parliamentary approval. As stated in the constitution, the King has the right to structure parliament, give titles of nobility, and grant pardons. In order for royal acts to be considered lawful, they must also be signed by the Prime Minister which in turn takes full responsibility. Under constitutional changes that were implemented during the 1995 election, the Chamber of Representatives and Senate were drastically decreased in size. The Chamber of Representatives went from 212 to 15 0 members whilst the Senate was reduced by more than 100; 184 to 71 members to be exact. Voting is required of the citizens and those that choose not to do so can incur fines. l to those of the executive and legislative departments. The highest tribunals are the five courts of of appeal by the courts of assize, which review both civil and criminal matters. In the assize courts 12 jurors decide all cases by majority vote. A special court was established in 1989 to resolve constitutional conflicts arising from the transfer of po (Blackmon, 2006) . Belgium’s Parliament in January approved the second of three phases of a group of measures designed to transfer power from the central government to the three regions of the countr y. The devolution plan was intended to ease the country’s deep political conflicts, rooted in its linguistic divisions, by allowing authority over some governmental programs to conform more closely to the demographic distribution of the population. 2.3. 2 The Federal Structure 5 As previously mentioned, Belgium is organized according to three communities who are responsible for education, culture and personal matters and three regions. Thus in principle there are six governments and six councils. Each of the three regions elects its own parliament, which in turn appoints a government that makes all decisions regarding development and planning, utilities, municipalities, and transportation. In 2001 the regions were given greater authority over taxation and expenditure (Brans et al. , 2009). The German, French, and Dutch communities all have their very own language councils that are responsible for matters such as communications, healthcare, and education (Blackmon, 2006) . However, the Flemish community and region have been integrated such that there is just one government and thus is a kind of sub state with one Flemish parliament and one executive which has authority over 5 This section is based on Blom and Lambert (2006) and Swenden et al (2009) and the various papers therein.
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30 both regional and community matters. In Brussels which originally was a Flemish city a nd which is located on Flemish territory, the Flemish are a minority. However, they have a disproportional number of seats in the region. Moreover, always one Flemish minister comes from the Flemish Community Commission. Finally there is a Flemish Communit y Commission in Brussels (Billiet et al., 2006). direct vote. The provinces are subdivided into administrative districts, often based in cities and towns, called communes. Ea (Blackmon, 2006) . There are three cultural communities: the Flemish Community (the inhabitants of the Flemish Region and the Dutch speaking inhabitants of Brussels); the French Community (the Walloon Region and the French – speaking inhabitants of Brussels); and a small German – speaking Community (the Wallon Region). The Communities have powers in areas where public services are highly dependent on language use, such as education, health and culture. The communitie s and regions each have their own Parliament (legislative) and their own Government (Executive). Hence, there are: – the Legislative and the Government of the Flemish – speaking Community, – the Legislative and the Government of the French – speaking Community , – the Legislative and the Government of the German – speaking Community, – the Legislative and the Government of the Flemish Region, – the Legislative and the Government of the Walloon Region, and – the Legislative and the Government of the Brussels – Capita l Region. The town legislature (council) has an official term of 6 years. The members of the council are elected directly while the board of aldermen are elected by the council itself. A high level of autonomy exists in all forms of regional governments a nd is a tradition within itself that can be traced back to feudal times (Blackmon, 2006) . As previously mentioned, Dutch, French, and German were all established as official langauges of Belgium by law in 1963. Nevertheless, the problem of discrimination based on ethnic origin and language was not so easily solved (Billiet et al, 2006). Both Flemish and Walloon workers protested discrimination in employment based on ethnic group and disturbances broke out at the universities of Brussels and Leuven, which caused the universities of Brussels and Leuven to be separated into French – speaking and Dutch – speaking institutions. Although during the 1960s the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist party remained the major contenders for power, both Flemish and Walloon federalists continued to make gains in the general elections, principally at the expense of the Liberal Party. Eventually separate Flemish and Walloon ministries were created for education, culture, and
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31 economic development. Finally, in 1971, th e constitution was revised to prepare the way for regional autonomy in most economic and cultural affairs (Dunn, 1974). During the 1980s the Christian Democratic parties normally with Wilfried Marten in control formed the cabinets. In January 1989 power wa s granted from the central government to the three ethnic regions. Even though the new law was in effect, the implementation was not so swift resulting in reduced influence for the Christian Democrats. Martens resigned shortly thereafter and Jean – Luc Dehae ne filled the position and organized a new center – left wing government. 1991 elections resulted in reduced influence for the Christian Democrats. Martens resigned as party leader, and his successor, Jean – Luc Dehaene, formed a new center – left – wing governme nt (Blackmon, 2006) . The final phase of the process intended to give the once unitary Kingdom of Belgium a federal structure, continued to be debated in Parliament. (Hessel, 2006) One controversial issue related to the drastic restructuring of the existing bicameral legislature: The upper house, or senate, would become either an appendix of the regional assemblies or an intermediary – senators would no longer be permi tted to sit in both the national and a regional legislature. Another proposal was to make regional governments responsible for social security disbursements (Cantillon et al, 2009). A new coalition, led by the Liberal parties, took office in July 1999, an d Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt of the Flemish Liberal Democrats became prime minister. The formation of the new government, which also included the left – leaning Socialist parties and the environmentalist Green parties, marked the first time since 1958 t hat the Christian Democrats had been excluded from government. Verhofstadt and his coalition remained in power following parliamentary elections in 2003. In local elections held in 2000 a right – wing party, Vlaams Blok (Flemish Block), achieved significan t gains. The Vlaams Blok wants independence for the Dutch – speaking region of Flanders and an end to immigration. In 2004 the Vlaams Blok was declared racist, deprived of funding, and subsequently disbanded. In parliamentary elections in June 2007, Verho in fourth place, and Verhofstadt resigned as prime minister. The Flemish Christian Democrats emerged as the single largest party to form a coalition government. It led to the formation of a five – party coa lition government. 2.4 The Electoral System and Multiparty Structure 6 male or female, who has reached the age of 18 has the right to cast one vote (unless this right 6 This section is based on Swenden et al (2009)
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32 has been suspended or the individual is ineligible for any reason). Voting in Belgium is compulsory and secret. Everyone is obliged to take part in the elections at the six different levels: the European level (members of the European Parliament), the Federa l level (all members of the Chamber of Representatives and some members of the Senate), the Community level (members of the Councils), the Regional level (members of the Councils), the Provincial level (members of the Councils) and the Municipal (members o f the Councils) level. In Belgium, the principle by which the members of the Federal Parliament, the European Parliament, and the Councils at the different levels (Community, Region, Province, and Municipality) are elected is one of proportional representa tion. It is a system in which the seats in the legislative assemblies are allocated roughly in proportion to the number of votes each party receives within the electoral district or constituency, which form the territorial basis for the direct elections. In Belgium, the Netherlands, and Western Europe generally, the political system and political parties have a variety of particular characteristics. There are usually more than two parties which are divided ideologically to a large extent, as indicated by their very nomenclature. They are also divided by ideological, regional, linguistic and cultural diversities. In Western Europe, most political parties are labeled either socialist (or social – democratic), liberal, conservative or Christian Democratic, wi th radical parties (Communists for example) on the extreme left and sometimes fascists or other such groups operating under various names on the right (as in Italy). The political culture offers Western European electorates an ideological frame of referen ce which is much more varied and broader than in the United States, for example. The Chamber of Representatives has twenty constituencies. For the Senate, there are only three constituencies, geographically similar to the three regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. Representation in the assemblies can be by individuals or political parties (see: André Allen: Treatise on Belgian Constitutional Law, 1992, p. 60 – 62) . In Belgium, the votes in the legislature are divided and distributed among the political p arties or groupings, each of which has the same proportion of the legislature as it does of the popular vote. In principle, proportional representation of the parties is combined with selection of the actual persons who sit in the assembly on behalf of the parties. Thus the voter in Belgium has several options: (1) he may simply cast his vote for a party list and thereby accept the priority list of the party in question. This is called a “top – of – the – ly sit in the assembly, he may cast a preference vote by marking an individual candidate on his ballot sheet (Meersseman, et al, 1999). The proportional representation system in Belgium is closely linked to its multi – party system.
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