Since the 1970s, Belgium has peacefully transformed from a unitary into a federal state. The most striking feature of the current structure is Belgium’s division into:
Flanders is the umbrella term for the Flemish Region (roughly the northern half of Belgium) and the Flemish Community (the inhabitants of the Flemish Region and the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of Brussels). The Flemish Region and the Flemish Community are governed jointly as a parliamentary democracy by the Flemish Parliament and Flemish Government, supported by the Flemish administration. Unlike many other federal states, in Belgium there is no hierarchy between the federal and regional governments; each has been allocated autonomous competences.
Town and country planning, housing, road infrastructure, culture, education and tourism, for example, are exclusively regional competences. Defence, justice and social security, among others, are exclusively federal competences. The federal state is responsible for managing all matters affecting the interests of all Belgians, independent of any linguistic, cultural or territorial considerations. These include foreign affairs, national defence, justice, finance, social security and most public health and domestic affairs matters. It also assumes all responsibilities that Belgium and its federated entities have towards the European Union and NATO.
The Flemish Government comprises up to eleven ministers, at least one of which must come from Brussels. The political party with the largest number of seats in parliament provides the prime minister. The political party with the second largest number of seats provides the deputy prime minister. Each minister is responsible for a specific portfolio and has a staff of direct political advisors and ministerial officials.
Legislative and supervisory powers lie with the Flemish Parliament. Flanders has a single chamber system. The parliament is elected directly by the Flemish population every five years. There are 124 members of parliament. The Flemish Parliament has its seat in Brussels.
To avoid confusion: the laws made by the Flemish Parliament are known as ‘decrees’, but decrees are not subordinate to federal acts. The Flemish Parliament also appoints the ministers of the Flemish government. The Flemish Parliament cannot be dissolved before the end of its five-year term. Early elections are not allowed.
Flanders has 308 municipalities and is divided into 5 provinces. Each municipality and each province has its own executive body and directly- elected council. Municipal and provincial elections are held every six years. Flanders has full sovereignty over the municipalities and provinces. The municipality’s executive body is the mayor’s cabinet, presided over by the mayor. The executive body of a province is the Permanent Deputation. A governor heads each provincial administration.
The five provinces are: