Belgium, a Federal State



General overview

The first article of the Belgian Constitution states: "Belgium is a Federal State which consists of communities and regions."

During 140 years, Belgium remained a unitarian state with a decentralisation of responsibilities to the provinces and municipalities. Via four successive phases of institutional reform in 1970, 1980, 1988-89 and 1993, the country evolved progressively into a federal state. A fifth reform is currently under process. The redistribution of the decision-making power followed two lines: 

(1) The first concerned linguistics, and more broadly, everything related to culture. It gave rise to three communities, based on language and related to population groups: the Flemish-, French- and German-speaking Communities. 

(2) The second main line of the state reform was inspired historically by economic concerns and led to the founding of three regions corresponding to geographical entities: the Flemish Region (or Flanders), the Brussels Capital Region and the Walloon Region (or Wallonia).

The Flemish Community and Flemish Region have merged into one competent body. This was not possible for the Walloon region, which hosts the French Community and the German-speaking Community. The French and Flemish Communities also attend to the interests of the French- and Flemish-speaking population in Brussels.

The country is furthermore divided into 10 provinces and 589 municipalities. The current decision-making structure of the country is therefore made of several levels: 

  • the upper level comprises the federal state, the communities and the regions;
  • the middle level is occupied by the Provinces, and
  • the lower level is that of the municipalities.

The provinces and municipalities act within the framework of competences at the federal, community or regional level.


Distribution of competencies for biodiversity issues

The federal state, the communities and the regions have different levels of competence regarding biodiversity-related issues and the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

As the regions have authority in territorial matters such as town planning, the environment, agriculture, rural development and nature conservation, implementation of biodiversity agreements within Belgium is therefore nearly entirely of regional competence. 

Communities are in charge of education and public-awareness, while the federal level deals principally with the external dimension of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the coordination of Belgian positions at the international level and territorial matters related to areas of Federal competence (e.g. Belgian territorial waters in the North Sea, military domains, railway embankments).

The first National Report to the Convention gives a synopsis of the political framework relevant to biological diversity.

Contact information is given on the following pages: ministers and their administrations.


Elaboration of international positions

Due to the complex organisational structure, decisions regarding international aspects of the environment policy are taken as a consensus between the different decision-making levels. 

The consultation process takes place through the Co-ordinating Committee for International Environmental Policy (CCIEP), which is composed of representatives of all the competent federal and regional administrations. This body functions under the high level authority of the Inter-ministerial Conference for the Environment (ICE), chaired by the Federal Minister for Environment. The main tasks of the CCIEP are to prepare the positions of the Belgian delegations in international conferences and to organise consultation processes to establish a coordinated execution of international decisions and recommendations.


Quick links


See also our page on "General information on Belgium", for links on federal institutions, the Monarchy, regions and communities, tourism and universities in Belgium.



Home > Implementation > Legislation and policy > Federal State

Last updated  29-11-2004

Belgian Clearing-House Mechanism, 2001.
On the Internet since 7 October 1996.
Contact us

Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences