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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 28 November 2023
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  1. Main concepts
  2. Institutions of representative democracy

Main concepts

During the P.R.I.M.A. process (Partizipation, GestaltungsRäume, Information, Miteinander & Anerkennung; Participation, Room for Creation, Information, Togetherness & Recognition)  that was organized in 2005/2006 to elaborate recommendations for youth policy in the German-speaking Community, participation was defined as such:

Participation means, that all stakeholders have a say, take part in the decision-making process and share responsibility. Youth policy at community level requires an efficient partnership and involvement of all participants, so that young people can develop their personality and their identity according to their age. Young people are encouraged to bear responsibility. In order to initiate this general culture of co-determination and self-administration, we need a reflection in all structures and organisations in which young people take part.

Institutions of representative democracy

At the top level, we find the Federal State, the Communities and the Regions, all three of which are equal from the legal viewpoint. They are on an equal footing but have powers and responsibilities for different fields.

The next level down is as of now still under the responsibility of the provinces. Before the state reform of 1993, the provinces were only under the supervision of the central state. Now they are supervised by all the higher government authorities, in the context of the federal, community or regional powers.

At the bottom of the pyramid, we find the communes, which is the level of administration that is closest to the people. Like the provinces, they are under the supervision of the higher authorities. Depending on the powers exercised, they are supervised by the Federal State, the Community or the Region. In general, they are financed and audited by the Regions.

The federal state

Since Belgium became a federal state in 1993, the federal level has retained a number of powers that concern all Belgians and which are executed over the whole territory. These are: foreign affairs, defence, justice, finance, social security, an important part of public health and internal affairs.

The legislative power is executed:

  • by the federal parliament which consists of two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate
  • by the king. The king is relieved of all responsibility. His ministers sign the bills elected by parliament and royal decrees, and bear full responsibility for this.

The executive branch is in the hands of the federal government.

The communities

The communities are political entities which are based on language. Because Belgium has three official languages, there are also three communities. These are authorised within the language areas:

  • The Flemish Community is authorised for the Dutch language are and also exercises authority in the bilingual Brussels-Capital area.
  • The French Community is authorised for the French language area and also exercises authority in the bilingual Brussels-Capital area.
  • The German-speaking Community is authorised for the German Language area.

The communities are authorised for all matters that concern the Dutch-speakers, French-speakers and German-speakers. This includes for example: language, culture, the audiovisual sector, education, care for those in need.

Each community has a parliament and a government.

The regions

Belgium is divided into three regions:

The regions are territorial entities. The Flemish Region territory coincides with the Dutch language area. The Walloon Region territory covers the French and German language areas. The Brussels-Capital Region is authorised in the bilingual Brussels-Capital area.

The regions manage everything that concerns the interests of Flemish people, people from Brussels and Walloons. They exercise their authorities with regard to the economy, employment, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment and environmental planning in their territory.

The regions are also authorised for international affairs within their authority domains.

Each region has a parliament and a government. In Flanders, the region and community authorities are merged into one government and one parliament.

The provinces

The country of Belgium is divided into three regions. Two of these regions, the Flemish Region or Flanders, and Walloon Region, or Wallonia, are each subdivided into five provinces. The third region, the Brussels-Capital Region, is not divided into provinces, as it was originally only a small part of a province itself.

The division into provinces is fixed by Article 5 of the Belgian Constitution. The provinces are subdivided into 43 administrative arrondissements, and further into 589 municipalities.

The municipalities

Belgium comprises 589 municipalities grouped into five provinces in each of two regions and into a third region, the Brussels-Capital Region, comprising 19 municipalities that do not belong to a province. In most cases, the municipalities are the smallest administrative subdivisions of Belgium, but in municipalities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, on the initiative of the local council, sub-municipal administrative entities with elected councils may be created (e.g. Antwerp).


Elections are an important tool for the operation of a democratic state. They ensure that the population is represented by political parties in legislative bodies of various levels of governance, such as parliaments and councils. Participation in elections, i.e. voting, is mandatory in Belgium.

In Belgium, you can vote in five different elections:

  • European elections: representatives for the European Parliament
  • federal elections: for the federal parliament (the Chamber of Representatives)
  • regional elections: for the legislative bodies of the federated regions, e.g.:
    • the Flemish Parliament
    • the Walloon Parliament
    • the Parliament of the Brussels Capital Region
    • the Parliament of the German-speaking Community
  • provincial elections: for the Provincial council
  • municipal elections: for the Municipal council.

On certain conditions, also non-Belgians can vote in a number of elections.

Level of governance


Right to vote of non-Belgians


every 6 years

EU citizens

non-EU citizens


every 6 years

no right to vote


every 5 years

no right to vote


every 5 years

no right to vote


every 5 years

EU citizens