Belgium is a federal state

Six state reforms  (1970, 1980, 1988-89, 1993, 2001 and 2014) have transformed unitary Belgium into a federal state consisting of two types of federated states: Communities and Regions. There are three Communities: the Flemish Community (including the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital region), the French Community (including the French-speaking inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital region) and the German-speaking Community. Besides there are three Regions: the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region and the Brussels-Capital Region.


The Belgian state consists of two different kinds of federated entities, regions and communities, whose territories partially overlap but with each entity responsible for different matters.

Regions are competent for matters such as economy, employment, infrastructure, spatial planning and environment. Communities are in charge of any matter relating to language, culture, education and care (hospital infrastructure included).

The Federal State retains important competences such as the judicial system, the army, the federal police, social security (the exception being child allowances), public debt, monetary policy, prices and incomes policy, protection of savings, nuclear energy, state-owned companies (such as Belgian Railways, the Post Office), the federal scientific and cultural institutions. Furthermore, the Federal State is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federated entities towards the European Union or NATO.

The Belgian federated states vote standards that are on an equal footing with laws. Consequently, there is no hierarchy between the standards adopted by the federated state parliaments and the standards adopted by the federal parliament. In this respect, Belgium is the opposite of Germany where the rule ‘Bundesrecht bricht Landesrecht’ applies.

Historical outline of the federalisation of Belgium |

Flanders Competence distribution:

The Flemish authorities exert a huge influence over the life of every Flemish citizen and are responsible for shaping Flanders.

An overview of the jurisdiction of the Flemish Government:

Public works, mobility and traffic safety
  • roads
  • waterways and inland navigation
  • seaports
  • regional airports
  • regional transport (public transport agency “De Lijn”)
  • Belgian institute for traffic safety and technical inspection
  • driving instruction, driving schools and exam centres
Personal assistance
  • youth protection
  • youth policy
  • family policy (Child & Family)
  • family allowance, child birth allowances and adoption allowances
  • child care
  • policies for the elderly and the disabled
  • equal opportunities policies and the Equal Opportunities Centre
  • the integration of immigrants
  • all aspects of educational policy
  • except for a small number of matters such as compulsory education and teachers’ pensions which are a federal competence
  • arts
  • cultural heritage
  • museums
  • libraries
  • media (the Flemish Public Broadcaster VRT)
  • sports and tourism
Environment and water policy
  • environmental protection
  • waste management (Public Waste Agency of Flanders OVAM)
  • drinking water
  • waste water purification
  • sewage systems


Language legislation
  • use of languages by the authorities
  • use of languages in the business community


  • distribution of electricity and natural gas
  • promotion of rational energy consumption


  • support to companies
  • permits for trading establishments
  • foreign trade
  • statistical research
  • labour market policy and employment (Flemish Service for Employment and Vocational Training VDAB)
  • employment programmes
Health care
  • hospital policy
  • preventive health policy
  • home care
  • policy for the elderly and homes for the elderly
  • mental welfare
  • assistance to disabled persons
Municipalities and provinces
  • financial resources
  • administrative supervision
Justice policy for the Flemish competences
Foreign affairs
  • international treaties regarding Flanders’ competences
  • Cooperative development
  • foreign trade
  • building of social housing
  • financial housing support
  • rental of commercial and residential properties, leases, expropriations
Scientific research about the Flemish competences
Land-use planning and nature conservation
  • land consolidation
  • parks
  • forest
  • hunting
  • fisheries
  • animal welfare
Spatial planning
  • town and country planning
  • building permits
  • urban renewal
  • monuments and landscapes
Agriculture and sea fisheries
  • support to agricultural and horticultural companies
  • Flemish Promotion Centre for the Marketing of Agriculture, Horticulture and Fisheries (VLAM)