3.2 Overall description of the system
Belgium is a federal country which is divided into 3 regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels) and 3 linguistic communities (Flemish, French and German speaking communities), each with their competence for self-governance. The Regions are responsible for matters relating to territory including economy, environment, housing and employment. The Communities are responsible for culture, education, some aspects of health and welfare, language usage and inter-community co-operation. The Regions and Communities have competence in the area of international co-operation and are authorised to engage in international agreements and sign treaties.
Each Region and Community is organised on the basis of a legislative power (Council) and an executive power (government headed by a minister-president). In Flanders there is one government for both the Region and the Community which also covers the Dutch-speaking population in Brussels (as far as the Community competences are concerned). In the French speaking area of Belgium there is a government and a council for both the region and the community (with equal status) which includes the French-speaking population in Brussels.
The Federal state is responsible for cultural and scientific institutions of national importance (see chapter 3.1), as well as for certain policy areas including labour law, social security, taxation, and intellectual property rights. The Regions are responsible for monuments and sites and conservation of archaeological monuments. Basic principles for cultural policy to be followed by all three communities are laid out in the Cultural Pact Act of 1973 which is administered by the Federal state. It also sets out a compulsory consultative process, including the setting up of Councils or Commissions, to ensure that all political and philosophical voices are heard and integrated into policy development and implementation.
The aim of the current cultural policy is to achieve a relationship with the provinces and municipalities which is based on the principles of subsidiarity and complementarity. An example of this policy-in-action is the Decree on Local Cultural Policy. Another example is the principle of "heritage covenants", provided by the Cultural Heritage Decree: this lead to the implementation of a series of covenants between the Flemish Community and local authorities, or a partnership of neighbouring local authorities or the Flemish Community Commission in the Brussels Region. The Flemish Community offers a general framework for heritage policy, with enough possibilities for the local authority to adapt it to the local situation.
The relationship between the different government levels within the Flemish territory is currently under consideration. The implementation of a green paper and a white paper on the competence division between the Flemish Region / Community, the provinces and the cities / municipalities is being processed (see chapter 7.1).
The French Community exercises its competence over the territories of Wallonia and Brussels, the latter of which is home to the majority of cultural institutions and associations in French-speaking Belgium. Over the past decade, the government has been examining means to decentralise responsibility for cultural institutions in Wallonia and for more equitable division with Brussels. They have devised their cultural policies to reinforce partnership with the towns, municipalities and rural areas via special contracts in fields such as cultural centres, libraries, youth and continuing education organisations, community centres of expression and creativity, youth centres, regional drama centres, community television stations, and reception and production units.
Due to its size, the German-speaking Community is generally able to develop and carry out a cultural policy which closely reflects the needs of its citizens and the community. Thanks to its extensive degree of autonomy, it has the necessary freedom of action to develop its identity through socio-cultural events, while at the same time building up its national presence through the promotion of high-quality cultural products and productions.
The Constitution of Belgium grants a transfer of regional authority through the Walloon Region to the German-speaking Community. In the cultural field, responsibility for monuments and landscape protection (1994) and excavation (2000) has already been transferred to the Community to allow for better self-administration. Also in 2001, the exercise of powers in the area of employment was transferred, as a result of which the German-speaking Community's room for negotiation in the socio-cultural area was indirectly enlarged. On 1 January 2005, there followed a transfer of supervisory powers over local authorities; these relate to the nine German-speaking boroughs that constitute the German-speaking Community.