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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 31 December 2023

Main concepts

Definitions according to the decree of January 20, 2012 on the renewed youth and children’s rights (Decreet houdende een vernieuwd jeugd- en kinderrechtenbeleid) :

  • youth work: socio-cultural work based on non-commercial purposes by or for young people of three to thirty years, during leisure time, with educational guidance and to promote the general and integral development of the young people who participate in it on a voluntary basis
  • A political youth movement is a membership association of persons up to thirty years old, which encourages young people to take up active citizenship and that sensitizes and develops young people in view of their participation in political decision-making, in the operation of a particular political party and in public debate. 
  • A political party is defined as the association of persons participating in the elections for the Flemish Parliament, the House of Representatives, or the European Parliament. 

In Flanders, political participation in elections is regulated by the Belgian legislation. All other forms of democratic and civic participation are specific for the Flemish community and region.

Institutions of representative democracy

Constitutional structure

Belgium is a constitutional parliamentary monarchy. It is a federal State composed of Communities and Regions. The country comprises three Communities (the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German-speaking Community) and three Regions (the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region and the Brussels Region). The power to make decisions is divided among different institutions, who independently exercise their authority within their domains. Each entity has its specific area of responsibility.

The concept of 'Community' refers to persons that make up a community and the bond that unifies them, namely their language and culture. So, in Belgium the Communities have powers for culture (theatre, libraries, audiovisual media, etc.), education, the use of languages and matters relating to the individual which concern on the one hand health policy (curative and preventive medicine) and on the other hand assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.) They also have powers in the field of scientific research in relation to their powers and international relations associated with their powers.

Regions have powers in fields that are connected with their region or territory in the widest meaning of the term. So the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region have powers relating to the economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport (except Belgian Railways), the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, foreign trade, supervision of the provinces, communes and intercommunal utility companies. They also have authority relating to scientific research and international relations in those fields.

In the general interest of all Belgians, the Federal State manages the public finances, the army, the judicial system, social security, foreign affairs as well as substantial parts of public health and home affairs. The Federal Government's powers also cover everything that does not expressly come under the Communities or Regions. The Federal State also has powers for exemptions and restrictions on the powers of the Communities and the Regions.


Main representative institutions

In Belgium, elections are held at five different levels (see below). They are organised for legislative bodies only, and not for executive functions. Belgium has a multi-party system, with several political parties (with an electoral threshold of 5% since the parliamentary elections of 2003). Voting has always been compulsory and all elections use proportional representation which in general requires coalition governments. The voting age has been 18. For the next elections (2024) two modifications are planned but at this moment not yet implemented. First, voting will no longer be compulsory for the Municipal and Provincial elections. Second, young people (16-17) will get the opportunity to vote for European Elections (for this group voting will not be compulsory). 

The elections that are held in Belgium are:

  1. European elections (every 5 years)
  2. Federal elections (every 5 years)
    1. the House of Representatives (de Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers), which  is composed of 150 members that are elected for five years. Based on the results of the elections of May 26, 2019 the House counts in this legislature 89 members of the Dutch language group and 61 members of the French language group.
  3. Regional elections for the legislative bodies of the communities and regions (every 5 years)
    1. the Flemish Parliament (Vlaams Parlement) : Unlike the French Community and the Walloon Region (which are separate administrative levels), Flemish politicians decided in 1980 to merge the Flemish Community and the Flemish Region. As a result, Flanders has one Flemish Parliament and one Flemish Government with competence over Community matters as well as over Regional matters. The Flemish Parliament consists of 124 Flemish representatives that are elected for a period of 5 years.
    2. The Walloon Parliament (Parlement de Wallonie
    3. The Parliament of the German speaking Community
    4. The Parliament of the French Community, since 2011 called the Parliament of the Federation Wallonia - Brussels 
    5. The Brussels regional Parliament (Brussels Parlement
  4. Provincial elections for the provincial councils (every 6 years)
  5. Municipal elections for the municipal councils (every 6 years)

The next elections for the European, federal and regional level will take place on Sunday, June 9th, 2024. The next elections of the provincial and municipal councils will take place on Sunday, October 13th, 2024. 

Voting in Belgium is done by paper voting or electronic voting on a computer depending on the place of voting. Belgian voters are given five options when voting. They may:

  • Vote for a list as a whole, thereby showing approval of the order established by the party they vote for
  • Vote for one or more individual candidate(s) belonging to the same party. This is a "preference vote"
  • Vote for one or more of the "alternates (substitutes)"
  • Vote for one or more candidates, and one or more alternates, all of the same party
  • Vote invalid or blank so no one receives the vote

In certain circumstances, people have the possibility to vote by proxy (see 5.2).

Binding referendums in Belgium are not legally possible because of the constitutional principle that the country's powers are exercised by the nation and not by the people. Consequently, Belgium is a representative democracy, (almost) without any form of direct democracy.