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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Historical development

Belgium - Flemish Community

1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.1Historical development

Last update: 27 November 2023

Historical developments

The evolution towards the federal state of Belgium

Belgium became an independent state with a constitutional monarchy in 1830.

From the second half of the 19th century, Belgium faced a language struggle to have Dutch, the language of half the population, recognized as a fully-fledged language alongside French. The language struggle led to the Dutchification of the judicial system (1959), the Ministry of Culture (1962) and the Ministry of Education (1968). In 1963, Belgium was divided into four language areas

  • The Dutch-speaking region: Flanders (the provinces of Antwerp, Limburg, Flemish Brabant, East and West Flanders)
  • The French-speaking region: Wallonia (the provinces of Hainaut, Liege, Namur and Walloon Brabant)
  • The German-speaking region (the nine municipalities of the East Cantons)
  • The bilingual Brussels-Capital Region (the 19 Brussels municipalities) with six Dutch-speaking suburban municipalities with administrative language facilities for the French-speaking inhabitants.

The language struggle in the 1960s led to six State reforms (1970, 1980, 1988, 1993, 2001, 2011-2012) and constitutional changes that formed a double federation: a federal union of three regions and a federal union of three communities.

The communities are responsible for cultural and personal matters: culture, education, health care, assistance to persons (youth policy, family policy, childcare, disabled persons policy, equality policy, integration policy) and justice (prosecution policy, youth sanction law, legal assistance and courts). The regions are responsible for land-related matters: spatial planning, housing, environment, land use planning and nature conservation, water policy, agriculture and sea fishing, economy, tourism, animal welfare, energy policy, employment, public works, regional public transport, local authorities, scientific research (regarding their own competencies) and international matters (regarding their own competences).

Education has thus been a community matter in Belgium since the constitutional reform of 15 July 1988. The Flemish Community is responsible for the education and training policy on Flemish territory, including Dutch-speaking education in Brussels. The federal administration remains responsible for:

  • compulsory school age
  • the minimum requirements for obtaining  a qualification;
  • the pension system for teachers;
  • military training;
  • police training.

The consecutive State reforms have led to the following structure:

  • The Flemish Community comprises the Flemish Region but also the Dutch-speaking institutions on the territory of the Brussels-Capital Region.
  • The Brussels-Capital Region is the bilingual area of Brussels-Capital consisting of 19 municipalities. The region should not be confused with the city of Brussels which is only one of the 19 municipalities of Brussels. In the Capital Region, the decisions of the communities only apply to those institutions which, on the basis of their organizational characteristics are assigned exclusively to one community (e.g. the Flemish schools in Brussels).
  • The French Community comprises the Walloon Region without the German-speaking area but including the French-speaking institutions on the territory of the Brussels-Capital Region.
  • The German-speaking Community comprises the German-speaking area.
  • The Flemish Region: the Dutch-speaking area.
  • The Walloon Region: the French-speaking area and the German-speaking area.

Each community and each region has its own parliament and government. Those of the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community are combined.

Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, the European Economic Community and Euratom in 1957 and consequently of the European Union.

Education as a community competence

A separate Ministry of Public Education was created in 1878. In 1884, the Ministry was dissolved and until 1907, it was placed under the authority of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. From 1907 until 1932, education fell under the Ministry of Culture and Sciences. From 1932, it was known as Public Education, from 1961, National Education and currently, Education and Training.

Freedom of education is set out in the Constitution (article 24). That article states that everybody is free to organize education, that the State guarantees freedom of choice to the parents and that the State provides neutral education.

Freedom of education gave rise to several so-called “school conflicts”. The first school conflict was the consequence of a new law on primary education (1879) and secondary education (1881). The law stipulated that municipalities should have at least one official state school, it was no longer allowed to accept and fund free schools, all teachers had to have a qualification from an official normal school and religious education could no longer be given in state schools during class hours. After the elections of 1884, a new law on primary education was passed in which municipalities could again “accept” free schools, they could decide for themselves whether religious education was included in the curriculum and teachers were no longer required to have an official qualification.

The second school conflict (1950-1958) resulted from the increase in pupils in secondary education and revolved around the funding of secondary schools. Official education had fewer schools than free education but received funding contrary to those institutions in free education. The Harmel Acts (1951-1952) gave free secondary schools an important financial injection. The Collard Act (1955) considerably reduced these subsidies, tightened the conditions of funding and provided for the establishment of a large number of official schools. This led to a period of demonstrations. The school conflict ended with the school pact of 6 November 1958 and the School Pact Act of 29 May 1959. Schools in compulsory education were funded by the Government provided they met a number of conditions. Agreements were made about quality management (curriculum and timetable).

Education became a community competence of education by entering the basic principles in article 24 of the Constitution, amended on 15 July 1988. Other articles (art. 127, para. 1.2 and art. 142) assign the responsibility for respecting that freedom of education in the future to the communities and no longer to the federal government. Article 142 of the revised Constitution (17 February 1994) gives every interested citizen the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court if they are of the opinion that there is a violation of the principles and the guarantee that are established in articles, including article 24 of the Constitution, concerning education.