A modern Federal European State
"Belgium is a federal state made up of communities and regions." The first article of the Belgian constitution begins with this sentence. In other words, in Belgium, decision-making powers are not centralised but are distributed among the following entities:
• the federal state
• the three communities: the French Community, the Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community
• the three regions: the Walloon Region, the Flemish Region, and the Brussels-Capital Region
The federal level is competent in matters concerning all Belgians. It exercises these competencies throughout the country. It involves in particular foreign affairs, defence, justice, finance, social security, part of public health and home affairs. The federal government is entirely responsible for Belgium and its federated entities in respect of the international organisations it belongs to. The federal level is also competent to address any matter that does not fall specifically within the competence of the communities and the regions.
The three communities are defined along linguistic and cultural lines. The main areas of responsibility for the communities are education, culture, youth welfare, and certain aspects of health policy.
The three regions are responsible for matters related to the notion of territoriality, including, for instance, public works, agriculture, employment, land use, and the environment.
Each entity has its own legislative and executive powers. In Flanders, the regional and community authorities come together in a single government and a single parliament.
Belgium is aiming for multilateral cooperation insofar as the major challenges of the twenty-first century are no longer confined to national or regional borders, and as global responses are increasingly necessary. The Council of Europe deserves special attention in view of its historical role in promoting democracy and human rights. Moreover, the activities of multilateral organisations have a significant impact on the policies and actions of the various governments involved.
Belgium’s communities and regions have sole jurisdiction over the international aspects of the areas for which they are responsible, including as regards the conclusion of international agreements.
That is why the federated entities implement bilateral and multilateral policies at the international level. This work is done in the context of Belgium’s membership in multilateral organisations, particularly through membership in management bodies and participating in technical meetings. Moreover, the federated entities maintain close relations with these organisations.
In the context of Belgium’s membership in multilateral organisations, federated entities influence the political and strategic orientation of these institutions. Thus the positions of the federated entities are taken into account when determining the position of Belgium through COORMULTI, the interfederal consultation platform (a multilateral coordinating unit).
Belgium's strong points
Belgium, in the heart of Europe
Belgium is in the heart of Europe, surrounded by Germany, the Netherlands, France and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Its excellent airport, road, rail, harbour and port facilities bring the country closer to several other European countries.
This privileged strategic position has helped make the country a force to be reckoned with on the international scene, as much in political terms as in terms of the economy or tourism. With its 70 kilometres of coastline in the north and its hilly south, Belgium has plenty of tourist attractions to offer anyone who also wishes to discover its numerous cities, rich in art and history.
The country where life is good
It is commonly said about Belgium that it’s a country where you can live well. With a high human development index (17th in the UNDP ranking for 2012/2013), the country enjoys a high quality of life. Furthermore, Belgium has a lot of strong points: a healthcare system that is among the most highly developed in the world, its particularly dense transport network, its numerous green spaces, its open, diversified economy, and so on.
A major economic player
Situated along a major economic and urban axis, Belgium also has a North Sea coastline. Enriched by its three national languages – French, Dutch, and German – it is at the top of many European competitiveness and productivity rankings.
The Belgian economy is known for its great diversity, a guarantee of a certain stability. Most of Belgium's multicultural workers are therefore deployed in the food, automotive, or aerospace sectors, or in industries specialising in pharmaceutical products, biotechnology, and transport and logistics.
The country is also characterised by its open economy. Although it has just 0.2% of the world’s population, Belgium is ranked 13th in the world in terms of both exports and imports (WTO 2012). It is the biggest exporter of diamonds, medicine, and polyethylene.
The Federal Government
The Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs
The Federal Public Service (FPS) Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation aims to contribute to the creation of a safe, just and prosperous world. Its particular objectives are to:
- promote, around the world, our basic values, such as democracy, human dignity, and human rights
- contribute to peace and security in the world
- make solidarity across the board a reality and fight effectively against poverty
- strengthen the multilateral system and the international legal order
- strengthen our links with our partner countries.
The FPS also contributes to the coherence of Belgium’s policies on multilateral and global matters, by encouraging and ensuring the coordination and cooperation required within theFPS, with other federal public services, and with the communities and the regions, as well as with organisations in civil society.
FPS Chancery Of The Prime Minister
The Federal Public Service Chancery of the Prime Minister assists the Prime Minister with content, administration, logistics, legal matters, and communications, in connection with the steering and coordination of government policy. This policy is defined at the beginning of the legislative term in the government’s policy declaration. It is made concrete each year in the general policy declaration and in the budget for the next calendar year.
As regards international and European politics, the Prime Minister is supported by advisers from the General Policy Coordination Unit or the Strategy Unit.
The Chancery is the symbol of the leadership of Belgium. The main policy decisions for the country come before the Council of Ministers or the Consultation Committee, both of which are based at 16, rue de la Loi. The Chancery keeps the country’s citizens and organisations informed of the political activities the government and its Federal Public Services. It also works to promote a positive image of Belgium to the world, making use of the latest communication techniques. Thanks to its central position in the political landscape, this Federal Public Service has built up a tradition of expertise and experience.
The Federal Public Service Employment, Labour And Social Dialogue
The Federal Public Service (FPS) Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue is responsible for preparing, implementing, promoting and monitoring policy in the following areas:
- collective labour relations
- individual labour relations
- well-being at work
- equality and diversity.
The FPS actively participates in the development and promotion of social legislation, nationally as well as internationally, through supporting the strengthening of Europe’s social fabric and the development of cooperation agreements.
Within the framework of the Belgian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue wishes to continue its work to promote social rights, notably by supporting the promotion of the European Social Charter.
To this end, the FPS supports the initiative of the FPS Social Security to organise a colloquium on 12 and 13 February 2015 to discuss what the future holds for the protection of basic social rights in Europe and, more particularly, of rights related to social welfare and work.
During this colloquium, the impact of the economic crisis and the questions raised by the implementation of social rights in the current socio-economic context will be examined, particularly as seen from the perspective of relations between the European Union and the Council of Europe. In this context, the FPS aims at promoting the European Social Charter as a support tool for social policies, even in times of crisis.
This colloquium is a follow-on to the inter-ministerial conference on these same issues held on 17 and 18 October 2014 in the context of the Italian presidency of the EU. It is expected to lead to the “Brussels Document”, which will summarise the findings of the various working sessions and carry authoritative weight in this area.
The Federal Public Service Home Affairs
The Federal Public Service (FPS) Home Affairs is at the service of Belgian society. It has the following mandates:
- the safety of its citizens and the protection of public and private property
- the registration and identification of natural persons
- the exercise of certain democratic rights
- access to and stays on the territory, and the settlement and removal of foreigners
Over 5,600 men and women work for the FPS Home Affairs. They help citizens, for instance in case of floods, they draw up national emergency plans, organise elections, ensure safety during football games, manage the flow of migrants, and so on.
In the framework of the Council of Europe, the FPS Home Affairs would like to highlight three events:
- a conference on the use of computer technologies in the electoral process, organised by the Directorate-General for Institutions and Population and to be held at the Egmont Palace in the last week of March 2015. This conference will also be
- the 12th conference of the European election management bodies (in cooperation with the Venice Commission (Council of Europe])
- the general meeting of RECEF (network of francophone election management bodies)
- a thematic workshop on electronic democracy at the level of local authorities, on the initiative of the Brussels Region
- participation in the conference on the inclusion of persons with a disability in preparations for and responses to catastrophes, organised by the Council of Europe (EUR-OPA) and to be held at the Egmont Palace on 4 and 5 December 2014
- participation of the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons in the launch by the Council of Europe of the curriculum on the European Human Rights Convention and asylum, in the framework of HELP (the European Program for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals) and the UNHCR, organised by HELP and taking place on 4 December 2014 in Brussels.
The Federal Public Service Justice
On the intersection of the three constitutional powers, the Federal Public Service (FPS) Justice holds the following mandates:
- the preparation and implementation of national and supranational legislation and support for the Minister of Justice in the exercise of his or her competencies
- management assistance and operational support for the judiciary (emphasising consultations, coordination, and the development of the organisation)
- the effective execution of judicial and administrative decisions (guaranteeing the legal security and the equal treatment of all parties concerned)
In carrying out its mandates, FPS Justice informs and listens to citizens and its partners.
The FPS Justice actively contributes to the Belgian presidency of the Council of Europe (CoE) by organising two conferences. These are in line with the priorities that Belgium has set out for its presidency – particularly the consolidation of human rights in CoE Member States, and the pursuit of work towards the reform of the European Court of Human Rights.
European conference on the best interests of the child: dialogue between theory and practice
This conference is taking place within the context of the 25th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and aims to improve the application of the concept of "the best interests of the child" in family matters. This event is being organised in partnership with the Flemish Community and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, with the support of the CoE.
High-level conference on the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights : our shared responsibility
This ministerial meeting will continue the process, which has been ongoing for a number of years, of reflecting on the reform of the Court. This conference will be held at just the right moment, following on the declarations of Interlaken (2010), Izmir (2011), and Brighton (2012).
The FPS Justice also takes part regularly in activities that fall within the purview both of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE and of the European Court of Human Rights.
The Federal Public Service Social Security
The FPS Social Security actively provides strategic support, user services (including for the disabled) and supports the fight against social fraud.
The Directorate-General Strategy and Research, which represents the FPS Social Security before the presidency of the Council of Europe, intervenes in matters and proceedings that go beyond the context of a branch of or a scheme for social welfare:
- international relations
- the fight against social fraud
- good governance
- the evolution of social welfare, and social indicators
The Multilateral Relations Department of this Directorate-General represents the positions and interests of Belgium and of the FPS within international institutions regarding social welfare matters.
Together with the FPS Labour, Employment and Social Dialogue, the FPS Social Security is organising an invitation-only colloquium that will be held in Brussels on 12 and 13 February 2015. The theme is "What the future holds for the protection of basic social rights in Europe". This will be an opportunity for a high-level exchange among academic experts, social partners, civic organisations, and representatives of international and political institutions. Proceedings will be summarised in an overview, the "Brussels Document”. It will be submitted to the presidency to facilitate the work of the different commissions on the basis of new and updated views.