Federal Government of Belgium

The Federal Government of Belgium (Dutch: Federale regering, French: Gouvernement fédéral, German: Föderalregierung) exercises executive power in the Kingdom of Belgium. It consists of ministers and secretary of state ("junior", or deputy-ministers who do not sit in the Council of Ministers) drawn from the political parties which form the governing coalition.[1] The federal government is led by the Prime Minister of Belgium, and Ministers lead ministries of the government. Ministers together form the Council of Ministers, which is the supreme executive organ of the Government (equivalent to a cabinet).

Formally, executive power is vested in the King, who formally appoints the ministers. However, under the Constitution of Belgium, the King is not politically responsible for exercising his powers, and his acts must be countersigned by a minister. Thus, in practice, the ministers do the actual day-to-day work of governing.[2]

Function and composition

At the federal level, executive power is wielded by the Federal Government, whilst the Prime Minister is the head of the government. Each minister heads a ministry, and secretaries of state, who are deputy to a minister, help run these ministries. The government reflects the weight of political parties that constitute the current governing coalition for the Chamber. No single party or party family across linguistic lines holds an absolute majority of seats in Parliament.

The number of ministers is limited to 15, equally divided between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking ministers, according to Article 99 of the Constitution. Although the Prime Minister is officially exempt from this quota, no francophones held the post from 1979 to 2011. Some of the ministers are also Deputies Prime Minister; but in addition to taking the position of Acting Prime Minister, they are also the link between the government and their political parties. (A Deputy Prime Minister is the voice of their political party within the federal government, and is also the voice of the federal government within their political party). Government meetings are conducted through simultaneous interpreters.

The Prime Minister and his ministers administer the government and the various Federal Public Services (roughly equivalent to ministries in other countries’ administrative organization). As in the United Kingdom, ministers must defend their policies and performance in person before the Chamber.

An important de facto body is the "inner cabinet" (kernkabinet; conseil des ministres restreint or kern), consisting of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers. They meet to make the most important political decisions.

Formation

After the elections, the Prime Minister of the former government offers his resignation to the King, and the formation process for a new government starts. The incumbent government remains in office in a caretaker role until the new government is sworn in.[3] This process is based largely on constitutional convention rather than written law. The King is first consulted by the President of the Chamber of Representatives and the President of the Senate. The King also meets a number of prominent politicians in order to discuss the election results. Following these meetings, an Informateur is appointed.

The Informateur has the task of exploring the various possibilities for the new Federal Government and assessing which parties can form a majority in the Federal Parliament.[3] He also meets with prominent people in the socio-economic field to learn their views on the policy that the new Federal Government should conduct. The Informateur then reports to the King and advises him about the appointment of the Formateur.[3] However the King can also appoint a second Informateur or appoint a royal mediator. The task of a royal mediator is to reach an agreement on contentious issues, resolve remaining obstacles to the formation of a Federal Government and prepare the ground for a Formateur. On 5 July 2007 King Albert II appointed Jean-Luc Dehaene as royal mediator to reach an agreement on a new State Reform.[4]

The Formateur is appointed by the King on the basis of the informateur's report. The task of the Formateur is to form a new government coalition and lead the negotiations about the government agreement and the composition of the government. If these negotiations succeed, the Formateur presents a new Federal Government to the King. Usually, the Formateur also becomes the Prime Minister.[3]

In accordance with article 96 of the Belgian Constitution, the King appoints and dismisses his ministers. However article 106 of the Belgian Constitution states that the King cannot act alone, and exercises his powers through the ministers. All of his acts must be countersigned by a minister. In turn, that minister assumes political responsibility for the act in question. Thus, in practice, the outgoing Prime Minister countersigns the Royal Order appointing the new Prime Minister. Subsequently, the new Prime Minister countersigns the Royal Order accepting the resignation of the outgoing Prime Minister and the Royal Orders appointing the other members of the new Federal Government.

The appointed ministers take the oath of office before the King. After they have taken the oath, the new Council of Ministers meets to draw up the declaration of government, in which the Federal Government sets out the main lines of the government agreement and outlines the government agenda. The Prime Minister reads the declaration of government to the Chamber of Representatives, which then holds a debate on the declaration of government. Following this debate, a vote of Confidence takes place. If the Prime Minister obtains the confidence of the majority, he can begin implementing the government agreement.

Recent political developments

Catholics and later Christian democrats have led most of the governments in Belgian history. However, from 1999 until 2007, liberal Guy Verhofstadt led two "purple" governments of liberals and socialists, the first of which also included greens. Afterwards, after difficult negotiations and an interim third Verhofstadt government, a government was eventually formed in 2008 led by Christian democrat Yves Leterme. New elections were called in 2010 after liberal Open Vld quit the government. After a record-breaking government formation, the Di Rupo Government was formed; Elio Di Rupo was the first francophone to hold the post of Prime Minister since Paul Vanden Boeynants left office in 1979. The formation of the Di Rupo Government ended the period of political instability between 2007 and 2011. During the 2014 elections, there was political consensus to not repeat this, and the Michel Government was relatively quickly formed, notably excluding socialists and including the Flemish nationalist N-VA.

In May 2019 federal elections in the Flemish-speaking northern region of Flanders far-right Vlaams Belang party made major gains. In the French-speaking southern area of Wallonia the Socialists were strong. The moderate Flemish nationalist party the N-VA remained the largest party in parliament.[5] Belgium’s first female prime minister Sophie Wilmes led the caretaker government since October 2019. The parties finally agreed on federal government 16 months after the elections and The Flemish Liberal party politician Alexander De Croo became new prime minister in October 2020.[6]

Incumbent government

The current De Croo Government, a seven-party cabinet since October 2020, consists of 14 Ministers in a coalition of the Flemish Open Vld, sp.a, CD&V and Groen, and the Walloon Mouvement Réformateur, Parti Socialiste and Ecolo.

Portfolio Minister Took office Left office Party
Prime Minister
Prime Minister   Alexander De Croo 1 October 2020 Incumbent Open Vld
Deputy Prime Ministers
Minister of Economy and Employment   Pierre-Yves Dermagne 1 October 2020 Incumbent PS
Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade and Federal Cultural Institutions   Sophie Wilmès (deputised by David Clarinval) 1 October 2020 Incumbent MR
Minister of Mobility   Georges Gilkinet 1 October 2020 Incumbent Ecolo
Minister of Finance, in charge of the Coordination of the Fight against Fraud   Vincent Van Peteghem 1 October 2020 Incumbent CD&V
Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health   Frank Vandenbroucke 1 October 2020 Incumbent Vooruit
Minister of Civil Service, Public Enterprises, Telecommunication and Postal Services   Petra De Sutter 1 October 2020 Incumbent Groen
Minister of Justice and the North Sea   Vincent Van Quickenborne 1 October 2020 Incumbent Open Vld
Ministers
Minister of the Small Businesses, Self-Employed, SMEs and Agriculture, Institutional Reforms and Democratic Renewal   David Clarinval 1 October 2020 Incumbent MR
Minister of Pensions and Social Integration, in charge of Persons with Disabilities, Combating Poverty and Beliris   Karine Lalieux 1 October 2020 Incumbent PS
Minister of Defence   Ludivine Dedonder 1 October 2020 Incumbent PS
Minister of Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development and Green Deal   Zakia Khattabi 1 October 2020 Incumbent Ecolo
Minister of the Interior, Institutional Reforms and Democratic Renewal   Annelies Verlinden 1 October 2020 Incumbent CD&V
Minister of Development Cooperation and Urban Policy   Meryame Kitir 1 October 2020 Incumbent Vooruit
Minister of Energy   Tinne Van der Straeten 1 October 2020 Incumbent Groen
Secretaries of State
Secretary of State for Recovery and Strategic Investments, in charge of Science Policy
Deputy to the Minister of the Economy and Employment
  Thomas Dermine [fr] 1 October 2020 Incumbent PS
Secretary of State for Digitization, in charge of Administrative Simplification, Privacy and Buildings Administration
Deputy to the Prime Minister
  Mathieu Michel (politician) [fr] 1 October 2020 Incumbent MR
Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity
Deputy to the Minister of Mobility
  Sarah Schlitz 1 October 2020 Incumbent Ecolo
Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, in charge of the National Lottery
Deputy to the Minister of the Interior, Institutional Reforms and Democratic Renewal
  Sammy Mahdi 1 October 2020 Incumbent CD&V
Secretary of State for Budget and Consumer Protection
Deputy to the Minister of Justice and the North Sea
  Eva De Bleeker [nl] 1 October 2020 Incumbent Open Vld


See also

Further reading

  • Diermeier, Daniel; Eraslan, Hülya; Merlo, Antonio (August 2007). "Bicameralism and government formation". Quarterly Journal of Political Science. Now Publishing Inc. 2 (3): 227–252. doi:10.1561/100.00005004. hdl:10419/117965.

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