Belgium Federal state


In Belgium, a new reform of the federal state has had an impact on the local and regional organisation of the country.

The sixth reform of the state, an institutional agreement reached in October 2011, marks a new stage in Belgian federalism. This agreement provides for an increase in the fiscal independence of the three regions as well as the transfer of competences from the federal level to the regional level pertaining to public health, employment, justice and mobility, which represents around 4.4% of Belgian GDP. On the other hand, other reforms are currently on-going: extension of the system of municipal administrative sanctions (decriminalisation of small incivilities) and organization of emergency services. Finally, local governements must implement new budget working methods to meet the requirements of the European Stability and Growth Pact.

Changes were also introduced within the regions. The municipalities have generally experienced a slight increase in their missions. A regional programme has been implemented which aims to modernise governance and municipal management as well as build up local democracy and relations with the citizens. On the other hand, experiences of inter-municipal cooperation are developing, with encouragement from the federal and regional level.

In Flanders, local procedures have been simplified and a sensitive debate has also been opened on a possible merger of municipalities.

Lastly, there are also plans to reform the provinces. This region-initiated reform will probably lead to a transfer of certain competences to the regions or municipalities. At the same time, there has already been a drop in the number of elected members and staff of these governing bodies. The Brussels-Capital Region has been granted new competences, and manages the same competences as the two other regions.

Local self-government in Belgium:

While the regions and municipalities have acquired greater responsibilities, these additional competences might come at the cost of a decrease in financial resources. The financial transfers between the federal government to the local and regional governments are increasingly limited.


  • Unitary Law of 1961: merger of local governements.
  • 1970: constitutional reform.
  • Act of 23 July 1971: extension of merger reforms to large conurbations.
  • 1972: municipal merger plan (Cossard plan).
  • 1 July 1977: reform enters into force.
  • 1975: merger of Belgian municipalities.
  • 1983: agreement reached on mergers around the city of Antwerp.
  • 1989: Belgian becomes a federal state.
  • Act of 13 July 2001: regionalisation process.
  • 2011: sixth constitutional reform
    • At the federal level:
      • New federal organisation
      • Transfer of welfare and employment powers to the regions
      • Development of municipal public order assignments and reorganisation of fire services (ongoing)
      • Integration of municipal budget surpluses into state budget planning
      • Cut in the number of provincial elected representatives and civil servants
    • In the Flemish Region:
      • Efficiency and cost-cutting programme
      • New, long-term budgetary and financial planning system
      • Discussions around municipal mergers
      • Transfer of provincial powers to municipalities
    • In the Walloon Region:
      • Modernisation of governance and municipal management
      • Strengthening of local democracy and citizen participation in local life
      • Strengthening of inter-municipal cooperation