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Modern Europe

The Belgian Dynasty

by William Willems, 2 October 2020

King Leopold I of the Belgians
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Kings 1830-1951
Part 3: The Kings 1951-2020
Part 4: Belgium Today
[1] The precise process is more complicated of course, and especially so when Belgium fails to find an agreed prime minister. The full process is described here: Confirming a Belgian Prime Minister.


The role of the monarchy

As the head of state, the king's constitutional role implies that he must ensure unity amongst the Belgians in all areas and the maintenance of that which will guarantee the existence of the kingdom. The king remains the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The principal aspects of the king's function are his political role, his symbolic and representative function, and his social mission.

Because the National Congress had chosen a constitutional sovereign with republican institutions, the principle of ministerial responsibility was selected. None of the king's acts are effective unless they are covered by a minister who assumes responsibility for them, the king himself being absolved from such responsibility. Regarding the exercising of both legislative power and of executive power, combined action by the king and his ministers is needed to produce any effect. Following federal elections, the king invites the winning party to form a new government. [1]

As the symbol of the unity and permanence of the nation and the moderator of political life, the king has a very subtle and discrete role in terms of external activities as he visits the leaders of other countries or meets personalities and grants audiences. He also occasionally makes speeches but does not grant interviews. He also does not discuss politics in public and nor does he take part in debates.

Belgium today

Between 1970 and 1993 the country evolved into a more efficient federal structure through a total of six state reforms. As a result, the first article of the Belgian constitution reads today: 'Belgium is a federal state, composed of communities and regions'. The power to make decisions is no longer the exclusive preserve of the federal government and the federal parliament but was redistributed along two concepts: the communities and the regions. This has resulted in a somewhat complicated situation.

The European Parliament building in Brussels
The new (in 2016) European Union headquarters building in Brussels features a glass box which contains a curvaceous glowing 'lantern'

The federal state, government, and parliament

The federal state is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federalised institutions towards the European Union or Nato.

The federal state retains a considerable 'common heritage' of important authorities which covers everything which is connected to the public interest such as, for example, foreign affairs, national defence, justice, finance, social security, important sections of national health, and domestic affairs.

The federal government exercises federal executive power and implements legislation.

The federal government's authority also covers everything which does not specifically fall under the aegis of the communities or regions.

Belgium's federal parliament is composed of two chambers: the chamber of representatives and the senate.

Communities and regions

The communities refer to persons who make up a community and the bond which unifies them, namely their language and culture. As a result, Belgium today has three communities which correspond with its population groups: the Flemish Community, the French-Speaking Community (comprising Wallonia and Brussels), and the German-Speaking Community (the 'East Cantons').

The concept of the regions was historically inspired by more economic autonomy as they required it, which resulted in the establishment of three regions: the Flemish Region, the Brussels Capital Region, and the Walloon Region.

The regions have legislative and executive organs: a regional parliament and the regional government. In the Flemish Region/Community, the regional and community institutions are merged, meaning there is only one parliament/government combined.

The Brussels Capital Region and the Walloon Region each have a regional parliament and a regional government.

The French-Speaking Community (Wallonia and Brussels) and the German-Speaking Community each have a parliament and a government.

Both communities and regions also have the power to establish and maintain foreign relations. On the other hand, the federal state also has powers for exemptions and restrictions on the powers of the communities and the regions.

The country is further divided into ten provinces and 581 municipal councils.

Sint-Michielsbrug Bridge in Ghent

The buildings off Ghent's Sint-Michielsbrug Bridge are immediately recognisable from a great swathe of photographs which are available online


Main Sources

De Zeen

The Belgian Dynasty website of the Royal Family of Belgium

The Belgium.be Official Information & Services website



Text copyright © William Willems. An original feature for the History Files.