Only 25 countries out of the 193 world-wide existing operate with a federal political system . If we look at the ones situated in Europe, there are very few: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Spain , and Switzerland. I am here interested in the newest one: Belgium. The reforms starting the federalisation process only started in 1970 but, by 1993, Belgium had already become a federal state and, even though the process was and most likely still is not finished, it is nonetheless a remarkably fast change. Did Belgium succeed in becoming a federal state in reality, and not just on the paper, according to the regular definition? Or, to phrase it differently, to what extent is Belgium a sui generis federation i.e. a federation but unique in its type in a significant way. To address that question, I will approach it from different angles: first I will look at the concept of federalism and the Belgian history of federalism. Then I will see what the normal characteristics of a federal state are and whether or not Belgium possesses them. Finally, I will point out two aspects that, even though they are not basic federal characteristic, differentiate Belgium from most other federal states. To define federalism is not an easy task because, as Lijphart said in his book Patterns of democracy , federalism can be seen as everything that is in between a unitary state and an anarchy. Very different forms exist resting on different elements: law, co-operation, custom.
[...] That is also what was done: the Flemish Community and Flanders region merged their competencies. I will come back on that point later on when I will talk about asymmetry. That was achieved with the second reform (the 1980 reform). R. O'neill, “Re-imagining Belgium: New federalism and the political management of cultural diversity”. Parliamentary Affairs, 51/2, p.251 In his article “Belgium Hollowing the center”, Hooghe says the Belgian federalism is dual but with a twist: there still are some competencies that are concurrent and tempered by some co-operation. [...]
[...] Spain is not officially a federal state (it is a unitary state according to its Constitution) but, according to the Handbook of Federal Countries, it nevertheless operates as a federation. Handbook of Federal Countries: 2002, Montreal and Kingston: McGill- Queen's University Press A. Lijphart, Patterns of democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Heaven, Conn.: London: Yale university Press p. 18X F. L. Neuemann, “Federalism and freedom: a critique”. In Dimitrios karmis, Wayne Norman (eds) Theories of federalism, a reader. [...]
[...] Hence, Belgium is again not a typical federation when it comes to the guarantee mechanisms, that because of its weak constitutional court. Nevertheless, it is not a problem, it simply states that that federation does not rest so much on judiciary lines but more on institutional ones. The next federalist characteristic that Senelle enumerates is that “participation of the individual states in the federal legislative process”. Are most federations, that participate in the decision-making processed is institutionalised and takes place in the upper house. [...]
[...] Boeck and Van Gompel (1998) conclude that 186.5 billion BEF ( 4.6 billion were transferred in 1996 from Flanders to Wallonia.” Three main causes can explain these transfers: differences in economic performance and, therefore, in ability-to-pay, demographic structure (the population of Wallonia is older), and health care spending habits (the Walloons spend more in respect of a given objective risk). Cattoir and Docquier (1999, our translation) estimate these transfers at 68.9 billion BEF ( 1.7 billion to Wallonia and 23.2 billion BEF (575 million to Brussels. [...]
[...] For all these reasons I do think that Belgium is a sui generis to a great extent. Belgian federalism has been designed step by step for Belgium in order to accommodate its particular needs in terms of language, culture and place in the world for Brussels. What really makes Belgium a federation is the principle and the division of powers but the execution of federalism is proper to Belgium. Bibliography Belgian Consitution, http://www.fed-parl.be/constitution_uk.html Belgian Senate, http://www.senate.be Chambre des Représentants de Belgique, http://www.lachambre.be CRISP website (Centre de recherches et d'information socio-politiques) http://www.crisp.be Dardanelli, P., Long Road To Federalism: Belgium”, Lectures on Federalism and Regionalism in Europe, University of Kent Fitzmaurice, J., “Belgium A Laboratory of Federalism”. [...]
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