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To what extent is Belgium a sui generis federation?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Defining federalism.
  3. Belgium's federalisation process.
  4. Analyzing the characteristics of a federal state.
  5. Traditional way of solving the problem.
  6. Possessing mechanisms and institution(s) that guarantee the stability of the system.
  7. Participation of the individual states in the federal legislative process.
  8. Federal solidarity between the different units.
  9. Conclusion.
  10. Bibliography.

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. [...]


[...] Its process is unique because the change from a very unitary system to a federalised one was very fast. In Lijphart's Patterns of democracies, there is a table showing the evolution of 20 countries on the federalist-unitary scale[6]: none has evolved so much as Belgium. More generally, if we look at Germany, Switzerland or Austria, all these countries had at one point or another had a federal, co federal or dual structure. These countries had gained experience over time on how to conduct that special form of government. [...]

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