Article 2 of the Belgian Constitution: "Belgium comprises three Communities: the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German-speaking Community.”
The competences of the Communities
According to the Belgian Constitution, the core competences of the Communities are:
- cultural matters,
- personal matters (i.e. family, health and social issues),
- education, with the following exceptions:
- the determination of the beginning and end of compulsory schooling,
- the minimum conditions for issuing diplomas,
- the pension regulations for the staff within the educational system,
- inter-community and international cooperation, including the conclusion of agreements on the above matters,
- cooperation between the Communities and international cooperation, including the conclusion of treaties.
In principle, the Communities also regulate the use of languages
- in administrative matters,
- in the educational institutions,
- in the social relations between employers and their staff.
However, there are some important exceptions to these general constitutional regulations:
- The German-speaking Community is only competent for the use of languages in education.
- The German-speaking Community can carry out regional competences.
- A complex structure was created in Brussels which allows both the French and Flemish Communities to carry out competences there.
- The Walloon Region and the French language group in the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region can carry out competences of the French-speaking Community.
It should also be noted that the different authorities from the Flemish Community (Parliament, Government, Ministry) are de facto merged with the regional bodies.
The French-speaking Community
The French-speaking Community exercises Community powers over the French-speaking area and vis-à-vis the French-speaking institutions in Brussels. The Parliament and the Government have their seat in Brussels.
However, the French-speaking Community has transferred some of its powers to the Walloon Region and to the French language group of the Brussels Parliament: tourism policy, education and training, school transport, subsidies for municipal and private sports facilities, family care and assistance, immigration policy, senior citizen’s policy, care of the disabled, etc.
The 94-member Parliament of the French-speaking Community is not directly elected; it is composed of the 75 members of the Walloon Regional Parliament and 19 members of the French language group in the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region.
The Government of the French-speaking Community may have a maximum of eight members, at least one of whom must reside in the bilingual area of Brussels-Capital.
The Flemish-speaking Community
The Flemish institutions are different from the ones on the French-speaking side: In Flanders, a single parliament and government exercise both Community and regional powers. The Flemish Parliament is the legislative body for the Flemish Community institutions in Brussels.
- The Flemish Parliament counts 118 members (+ 6 members, who are not responsible for Flemish regional affairs, but only for Community matters).
- The Flemish Government may have 11 members, including at least one member from Brussels.
- The seat of the Flemish Parliament and the Flemish Government is in Brussels.
Community matters in Brussels
Community matters are not territorial like regional affairs, but people-related. On the other hand, Belgium applies the territorial principle. For Brussels, this means that citizens cannot be automatically assigned to the French and Flemish language groups - and therefore not to one or the other community. A particularly complex institutional network was created in Brussels in order to deal with Community matters:
The French Community Commission:
It exercises, within the framework of the decrees adopted by the French Community, regulatory powers over the French-speaking institutions in Brussels: French-speaking schools, radio stations, libraries, health facilities, etc. The French Community Commission is composed of the French-speaking members of the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region (72 members).
The Assembly of the French Community Commission exercises legislative powers over a series of Community matters transferred by the French Community to the Walloon Region.
The Board of the French Community Commission (the French-speaking members of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region) is responsible for the implementation of the decisions.
The Flemish Community Commission:
It exercises, within the framework of the decrees adopted by the Flemish Community, regulatory powers over the Flemish-speaking institutions in Brussels: Flemish-speaking schools, radio stations, libraries, health facilities, etc. The Flemish Community Commission is composed of the 17 directly elected members of the Brussels-Capital Region.
The Board of the Flemish Community Commission (the Dutch-speaking members of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region) is responsible for the implementation of the decisions.
The Common Community Commission:
It is composed of the members of the two language groups of the Brussels-Capital Region, i.e. the members of the Brussels Parliament. The Common Community Commission exercises powers over bodies, which do not belong exclusively to one or another community (e.g. public welfare centres, municipal hospitals). It also regulates powers which apply only to persons (and not to institutions): home care, care of the disabled, health care, etc.
The executive power lies in the hands of the Joint Board, composed of the members of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region (without the State Secretaries).