Belgium: Less than Sum of Its Parts

Inroads 23, 2008

8 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2016 Last revised: 8 Aug 2016

See all articles by Johanne Poirier

Johanne Poirier

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2008


Belgium has moved from a model to be studied to a counterexample to be avoided. Belgians have superimposed a federal structure on preexisting constitutional compromises between Flemings and French speakers, which has led to a deeply polarized political and social landscape. The combined effect of consociative and federal institutions, along with Belgium’s key role in the European Union, provide much of the context for the Belgian drama. This article examines Belgium’s divisive institutions, such as its linguistically divided political parties, its purely proportional electoral system and its consequential need for coalition governments, its polarized and reductive political debates, its weak federal government, and its divided civil society. It then explores the possibility of Belgium’s units gaining independence within the European context. Finally, it closes with lessons for other divided societies.

Keywords: Belgium, Europe, federalism, divided societies, consociativism, institutional design, bridge-building, autonomy

Suggested Citation

Poirier, Johanne, Belgium: Less than Sum of Its Parts (January 1, 2008). Inroads 23, 2008 . Available at SSRN:

Johanne Poirier (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec


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