Belgium is world-renowned for its’ infamously complex government structure, which includes regions, municipalities, and even linguistic and cultural communities.
The Belgian political system can be very difficult for foreigners (and sometimes locals) to understand. It has a constitutional monarchy – the king or queen, who is, in fact, the head of state; as well as a Prime Minister, who is the head of government in a multi-party system.
The federal authorities are the King, the Prime Minister, the ministers, state secretaries and the federal parliament, which includes the Senate as well as the Chamber of Representatives.
The King is currently King Philippe (since 21 July 2013); his heir is his daughter, Princess Elisabeth.
The head of government is Prime Minister Elio di Rupo (since 6 December 2011).
Belgium’s federal system
The federation is made up of three territorial regions and three language-based communities.
The territorial regions include Flanders in the north, Wallonia in the south and the Brussels-Capital region – each region also has its own government with its own parliament.
Belgium’s three communities, named after the language they speak: Dutch (in Flanders and Brussels), French (in Wallonia and Brussels), and German (in specific areas of Wallonia).
Belgium is also a member state of the European Union, meaning that Belgian residents cast their ballots in European elections.
Belgian political parties
Parliamentary democracy usually means there’s a coalition government in Belgium.
New-Flemish Alliance, N-VA
This Flemish political party was founded in 2001, and wants Flanders to be separated from the rest of Belgium. It’s generally considered to be center-right.
Socialist Party, PS
This is a French-speaking social democratic party, generally supported by urban working-class people in Wallonia. It’s the dominant party there.
Christian Democratic and Flemish Party, CD&V
This centrist party advocates the Flemish cultural identity.
Reformist Movement, MR
A French-speaking liberal party that campaigns for a united Belgium.
Socialist Party, SP.A
A Flemish social democratic party.
Flemish Liberals and Democrats, VLD
This party was quite right-wing when it started, but quickly became more mainstream.
Flemish Interest, VB
This party campaigns for independence for Flanders, and also has strict immigration rules. It’s a right-wing nationalist party, and a cordon sanitaire means other parties, in fact, cannot enter into coalitions with it.
The Humanist Democratic Centre, CDH
This party’s ideology is a mix of centrist leanings about the economy, as well as Christian-inspired humanism.
Ecologists confederated for the organization of original struggles, Ecolo
This is a French-speaking green political party, in Wallonia and Brussels.
The Flemish green party, focusing on progress, responsibility, and solidarity.
Dedecker List, LDD
A right-wing party that endorses greater autonomy for the Belgian regions.
People’s Party, PP
This liberal party advocates justice, security, the simplification of administrative systems, and economic liberalism.
Bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate or Senaat (Dutch), Senat (French) (71 seats; 40 members directly elected by popular vote, 31 indirectly elected).
Members serve four-year terms and a Chamber of Deputies or Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers (Dutch), Chambre des Representants (French) (150 seats; members are generally directly elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms).
Legal system in Belgium
Belgium has a civil law system based on the French Civil Code.
There are 27 judicial districts. Nine provincial courts deal with jury heard criminal cases – there is no appeal from these, but the Court of Cassation can overturn their decisions. It cannot hear cases in the first instance, however.
The Council of State is a legislative body that also acts as the highest court for administration – although, no judge can alter parliamentary legislation.
Judges are appointed for life by the government and candidacies also have to be submitted by the High Justice Council.