Three levels of government are described in the following sections: the federal institutions, the Community and regional institutions, and the provinces and municipalities.
The federal institutions
The Constitution (coordinated version of February, 17, 1994) provides for separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers. The King and the Federal Parliament, which consists of a Chamber of Representatives and a Senate, exercise legislative power. The King and the government, which is composed of ministers and secretaries of state, exercise executive power. The King appoints and dismisses ministers, but has no political responsibility. His acts are inoperative unless countersigned by a minister who assumes responsibility for the said act. The law courts exercise judicial power.
The Chamber and the Senate are both composed of a French-speaking group and a Dutch-speaking group.
The special province of the Chamber of Representatives is political control, in other words, the political responsibility of ministers and government may only be contracted before the Chamber. The Chamber also has sole responsibility for budgetary matters. The Chamber alone formulates the finance bill and votes the budget.
The Senate is composed of 71 senators (40 elected directly, 21 designated by the Parliaments of the Communities, and 10 co-opted) plus the senators by constitutional right, of whom there are currently three. As a rule, bills passed by the Chamber of Representatives pass through the Senate, which may amend them. Nevertheless, since the latest reforms, the primary role of the Senate is increasingly shifting to that of a ‘chamber of reflection’ handing down rulings on major societal debates, as well as that of a ‘chamber of representation’ of the federated entities at the national level.
The federal government is the main executive body and administers the State’s current affairs, foreign policy, national defense, judicial matters, financial matters, social affairs, etc.
The community and regional institutions
In Belgium, the Communities and Regions are political institutions vested with legislative power exercised by an elected assembly, the Council, and executive power exercised by a government. Prescriptive acts on a community and regional level take the form of decrees that have force of law. Their scope is equivalent to national laws.
The Council of the Walloon Region and the Council of the French Community are separate entities. As regards the Brussels-Capital Region, its internal structures are suited to its role as a dual community and bilingual entity.
Alongside the Flemish Council, there are a Council of the French Community, a Council of the German-Speaking Community, a Council of the Walloon Region, and a Council of the Brussels-Capital Region.
A Court of Arbitration organises the prevention and resolution of conflicts between the laws and decrees issued by the various Councils. It hands down rulings on jurisdictional conflicts and on any law or decree that violates the articles of the Constitution. Matters may be referred to it by any authority designated by law, by any jurisdiction, and – on a prejudicial basis – by any citizen.
The Walloon Region has competence in particular for scientific policy, training and employment.
The French Community has competence in particular for cultural affairs and the use of languages, as well as education, childhood, youth, and research. The Government of the French Community has three ministers directly concerned by childcare and education: a Minister for Education and Early Childhood, a Minister for Higher Education, Media and Scientific Research and a Minister for Social Advancement, Youth, Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities. A fourth minister is responsible for the budget, civil service and administrative simplification for the French Community and a fifth minister for training (among other areas) for the Walloon Region.
The provinces and municipalities
Belgium has 10 provinces and 589 municipalities. Each municipality is part of a region. The 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region are officially bilingual. On the periphery of the Brussels-Capital Region, there are several municipalities which are Dutch-speaking, but which offer ‘administrative conveniences’ for French-speaking inhabitants, who in some cases are in the majority.
Each municipality has a legislative assembly, the Municipal Council, whose members are elected for a term of 6 years. They also have an executive arm, the College of the burgomaster (chief magistrate) and aldermen, which is responsible for the administration of the municipality. Within the College, chaired by the burgomaster, one of the aldermen is usually assigned special responsibility for education.
A governor heads each of the ten provinces. The Provincial Council, whose members are elected for a term of six years, exercises legislative power. Executive power is in the hands of a Standing Deputation elected from the members of the Provincial Council. One of the standing deputies is responsible for education.
Since the federalisation of the State, provincial responsibilities are being progressively transferred on one side to the Communities and Regions and on the other side to the Municipalities.