The linguistic differences between the Flemish and the Walloons on the one hand and the economic imbalance between the south and the north of the country on the other have brought the political development of Belgium forward from the 60s onwards. The separation became apparent on various levels:
- the administrative level: the new language legislation of 1962-1963 divided the country into four linguistic areas;
- intellectual: the French-speaking faculties were expelled from the old Flemish university town of Leuven after Flemish student protests;
- the media: public service broadcasting – and thus the Belgian media landscape – split into a French-speaking and a Flemish part;
- from a political point of view: the former national parties were divided into independent French-speaking and Flemish parties;
- the economy: in 1966, the Flemish gross national product per capita exceeded that of the Walloon region for the first time.
At the end of the 1960s, a fundamental reform of the state was introduced, replacing the structures of the old Belgian unitary state with modern federal structures. This laid the foundation for a pacification of the country and a better coexistence of the language groups.
Two types of constituent states: Communities and regions
Federalisation brought Belgium two distinct types of constituent states: communities and regions. Communities and regions, as political bodies, are responsible for different matters.
The Belgian model of the constituent states is complex mainly because the territories of the communities and the regions are not congruent. The asymmetric allocation of the territory is due to the particular challenges faced by Belgium's politicians in transforming the country into a federal state:
- a solution to Flanders' linguistic and cultural equality challenges;
- a solution for the economic and political autonomy claims of Wallonia;
- an elaborated compromise for the capital Brussels; this compromise had to equally do justice to the French-speaking and the Flemish-speaking population.
However, the division of competences between the federal state, the communities and the regions is much simpler than in other European federal states; there are hardly any competing areas of competences.
Theoretically, the federal and member state levels each exercise their powers with their own parliamentary and governmental systems and an independent administrative substructure.
Belgium's federalisation process has continued since the first state reform of 1968-1971 and has not been completed until today.