Belgium on the Road to Confederation: Problems and Prospects

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2021-65-7-80-88
T. Zvereva (, 
Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 53/2, Ostozhenka Str., Moscow, 119021, Russian Federation; 
National Research University Higher School of Economics, 20, Myasnitskaya Str., Moscow, 101000, Russian Federation

Received 15.01.2021.

Abstract. The article is about the Belgian federal system transformation, as well as the factors that aggravate or, on the contrary, restrain the centrifugal trends in the country. The specific nature of Belgian federalism determines its evolution from federation to confederation, but the answer to the question about the prospects of this transformation remains open. On the one hand, the Belgian Kingdom history, its geographical location, as well as economic and cultural-linguistic features predetermined the existence and deepening of dividing lines between the two main ethnic communities in the country – the Walloons and the Flemings. Decentralization, as a response to the aggravation of interethnic contradictions, allows political elites to partially control the process and minimize, as far as possible, the costs of this conflict of interest for the economy and the population, but at the same time, it feeds centrifugal tendencies. Reforms do not remove the problem of separatism from the agenda, but, vice versa, give the regions and communities all the necessary resources, reducing the central authorities’ competences. Each reform creates the basis for the next redistribution of power. The logic of the decentralization process predefines the dual, asymmetric, dissociative and improvisational nature of the federal system of Belgium, and contributes to its extreme complication. The main drivers of centrifugal tendencies remain Flemish nationalists when the institutions and mechanisms designed to unite the country do not function effectively enough. On the other hand, the scenario of a complete collapse of the Belgian federation is not something predetermined and inevitable. There are still internal and external factors unifying Belgians (the Senate, the King, the absence of a provision for a national referendum in the constitution, a special place in the federation of the Brussels-Capital region, the country’s membership in the EU), but their influence on the entire system is gradually decreasing. Belgium’s active participation in the European integration contributing to creation of a highly developed modern economic system and high living standards, as well as stable GDP growth (with exception of crisis periods), play an important role in stabilizing the Belgian federation. So, the European Union prevents a rapid development of separation process, but does not change its main trends. The EU accompanies the Belgian federal system transformation, in order to reduce its costs for society and the European integration, but does not set the task of inversing its evolution. At the same time, the unstable political situation in the country has a certain negative impact on the European integration, exacerbating the complexity of the decision-making process within the EU. The coronavirus pandemic became a catalyst for controversial political processes in Belgium, brought renewal of the social and environmental contract and a new view of European solidarity. However, the pandemic highlighted the main shortcomings of the existing federal system. The dissociation of the federation and its drift to a confederation is a peaceful and slow process, but the country’s unifying factors are gradually eroding. It is not yet clear whether and when a full-fledged confederate system will be created and the separation will be stopped, or whether the confederation will become the next stage on the Belgium’s way to the final division. It is impossible to completely exclude a rollback scenario of the strong federation restoration while reducing competencies of regions and communities, but it is obvious that its probability is extremely small.

Keywords: Belgium, federation, confederation, Flanders, Wallonia, decentralization, European integration


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For citation:
Zvereva T. Belgium on the Road to Confederation: Problems and Prospects. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2021, vol. 65, no. 7, pp. 80-88.

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