Communities, regions and language areas of Belgium

Belgium is a federal state comprising three communities and three regions that are based on four language areas. For each of these subdivision types, the subdivisions together make up the entire country; in other words, the types overlap.

The language areas were established by the Second Gilson Act, which entered into force on August 2, 1963. The division into language areas was included in the Belgian Constitution in 1970.[1] Through constitutional reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, regionalisation of the unitary state led to a three-tiered federation: federal, regional, and community governments were created, a compromise designed to minimize linguistic, cultural, social, and economic tensions.[2]

Belgium provinces regions striped
Map indicating the language areas and provinces of Belgium. Provinces are marked by the thinner black lines.
  Bilingual FR/NL
Community:   Region:
Flemish   Flanders
Flemish and French   Brussels
French   Wallonia
German-speaking   Wallonia

Schematic overview

This is a schematic overview of the basic federal structure of Belgium as defined by Title I of the Belgian Constitution.

Each of the entities either have their own parliament and government (for the federal state, the communities and the regions) or their own council and executive college (for provinces and municipalities). The entities in italics do not have their own institutions — arrondissements because they are purely administrative; language areas because they merely define the linguistic regime of a municipality; and the Flemish Region because its powers are exercised by the Flemish Community.

federal state 1  Kingdom of Belgium
language areas 4 Dutch bilingual French German
communities 3  Flemish Community  French Community  German-
speaking Com.
regions 3  Flemish Region  Brussels
Capital Region
 Walloon Region
provinces 10 West Flanders East Flanders Antwerp Limburg Flemish Brabant Walloon Brabant Hainaut Luxem­bourg Namur Liège
arrondissements 43 8 6 3 3 2 1 1 7 5 3 4
municipalities 581 64 60 69 42 65 19 27 69 44 38 75 9
judicial areas 5 Ghent Antwerp Brussels Mons Liège
judicial arrondissements 12 1 1 1 1 1 1 (2) 1 1 1 1 1 1

Country subdivisions

The three communities are:

The three regions are:

The four language areas (as taalgebieden in Dutch and Sprachgebiete in German), occasionally referred to as linguistic regions (from French régions linguistiques), are:

  • the Dutch language area
  • the French language area
  • the German language area
  • the Bilingual Brussels-Capital area

All these entities have geographical boundaries. The language areas have no offices or powers and exist de facto as geographical circumscriptions, serving only to delineate the empowered subdivisions. The institutional communities are thus equally geographically determined. Belgian Communities do not officially refer directly to groups of people but rather to specific political, linguistic and cultural competencies of the country.

All Communities thus have a precise and legally established area where they can exercise their competencies: the Flemish Community has legal authority (for its Community competencies) only within the Dutch language area (which coincides with the Flemish Region) and bilingual Brussels-Capital language area (which coincides with the Region by that name); the French-speaking Community analogously has powers only within the French language area of the Walloon Region and in the Brussels-Capital Region, and the German Community in the German language area, which is a small part of the province of Liège in the Walloon region, and borders Germany.

The constitutional language areas determine the official languages in their municipalities, as well as the geographical limits of the institutions empowered for specific matters:

Public services rendered in the language of
individuals expressing themselves…
the Communities the Regions (and their provinces) the
Flemish[a] French German-
Flemish[a] Walloon Brussels-
…in Dutch …in French …in German
Dutch language area Green tick in 12 municipalities
(limited to 'facilities')
Green tick Green tick Green tick
French language area in 4 municipalities
(limited to 'facilities')
Green tick in 2 municipalities
(limited to 'facilities')
Green tick Green tick Green tick
Bilingual area Brussels-Capital Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick
German language area in all 9 municipalities
(limited to 'facilities')
Green tick Green tick Green tick Green tick
By Law, inhabitants of 27[b] municipalities can ask limited services to be rendered in a neighbour language, forming 'facilities' for them.
'Facilities' exist only in specific municipalities near the borders of the Flemish with the Walloon and with the Brussels-Capital Regions,
and in Walloon Region also in 2 municipalities bordering its German language area as well as for French-speakers throughout the latter area.

Although this would allow for seven parliaments and governments, when the Communities and Regions were created in 1980, Flemish politicians decided to officially merge the Flemish Region into the Flemish Community, with one parliament, one government and one administration, exercising both regional and community competencies, although Flemish parliamentarians from the Brussels-Capital Region cannot vote on competencies of the Flemish Region; thus in the Dutch language area a single institutional body of parliament and government is empowered for all except federal and specific municipal matters.[2][a] While the Walloon Region and the French Community have separate parliaments and governments, the Parliament of the French Community draws its members from the French-speaking members of the Walloon Parliament and the Parliament of the Brussels-Capital Region, and ministers of the Walloon Government often serve as ministers in the Government of the French Community as well.

Subordinate divisions

The Flemish Region and the Walloon Region each comprise five provinces. The Brussels-Capital Region is not a province, nor does it contain any. The three regions are further subdivided into 581 municipalities, which in general consist of several sub-municipalities. These sub-municipalities were independent municipalities in the past, but no longer serve an official purpose.

Lesser subnational entities include the intra-municipal districts (which currently only exist in the city of Antwerp), the administrative, the electoral and the judicial arrondissements, police districts, as well as the new inter-municipal police zones (lower level than the police districts).


The Federal State retains a considerable "common heritage". This includes justice, defence (Belgian Army), federal police, social security, public debt and other aspects of public finances, nuclear energy, and state-owned companies (such as the Belgian Railways which is in fact an exception on regionalized transport; the Post Office was federal as well, but is being privatised). The State is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federalized institutions towards the European Union and NATO. It controls substantial parts of public health, home affairs and foreign affairs.[4]

Communities exercise competences only within linguistically determined geographical boundaries, originally oriented towards the individuals of a community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education, the use of the relevant language. Extensions to personal matters less directly attributed to the language comprise health policy (curative and preventive medicine) and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.)[5]

Regions have authority in fields connected with their territory in the widest meaning of the term, thus relating to the economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit, and foreign trade. They supervise the provinces, municipalities and intercommunal utility companies.[6]

In several fields, the different levels each have their own say on specificities. On education for instance, the autonomy of the communities neither includes decisions about the compulsory aspect nor sets minimum requirements for awarding qualifications, which remain federal matters.[4] Each level can be involved in scientific research and international relations associated with its powers.[5][6]


Name Flemish Community French Community German-speaking Community
Dutch name Vlaamse Gemeenschap  (Franse Gemeenschap )   (Duitstalige Gemeenschap )  
French name (Communauté flamande) Communauté française (Communauté germanophone)
German name (Flämische Gemeinschaft) (Französische Gemeinschaft) Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft
Location Vlaamse GemeenschapLocatie Franse GemeenschapLocatie Duitstalige GemeenschapLocatie
Flag Flag of Flanders Flag of Wallonia Flag of the German Community in Belgium
Capital Brussels Brussels Eupen
Population 76,328 [2015][7]
(0.7% of Belgium)
Minister-President Geert Bourgeois (list)
(joint with Flemish Region)
Rudy Demotte (list) Oliver Paasch (list)

Communities were created in 1970 as "cultural communities" with limited power. In 1980, more power was transferred from the federal state to these entities and they became simply "communities".

Both the Flemish and French Community have jurisdiction over the area of the Brussels-Capital Region. Consequently, they do not have a defined number of inhabitants. The German-speaking Community is the only community with an area over which they have sole jurisdiction as a community. It is located within the Walloon Region, which has even transferred some regional powers to the German-speaking Community with regards to its area.


Region Flemish Region Walloon Region Brussels-Capital Region
Dutch name Vlaams Gewest  (Waals Gewest )   Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest 
French name (Région flamande) Région wallonne Région de Bruxelles-Capitale
German name (Flämische Region) Wallonische Region (Region Brüssel-Hauptstadt)
Location Vlaams GewestLocatie Wallonia (Belgium) BelgiumBrussels
Flag Flag of Flanders Flag of Wallonia Nieuwe vlag Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest
Seat Brussels Namur Brussels
Area 13,522 km2
(44.29% of Belgium)
16,844 km2
(55.18% of Belgium)
161 km2
(0.53% of Belgium)
Provinces none
Municipalities 308 262 19
Population 6,516,011 [2017][7]
(57.5% of Belgium)
3,614,473 [2017][7]
(32.0% of Belgium)
1,191,604 [2017][7]
(10.5% of Belgium)
Population density 480/km2 215/km2 7,401/km2
Minister-President Geert Bourgeois (list)
(joint with Flemish Community)
Willy Borsus (list) Rudi Vervoort (list)
Web site

Flemish Region

The Flemish Region or Flanders (Dutch: Vlaams Gewest or Vlaanderen) occupies the northern part of Belgium. It has a surface area of 13,522 km2 (5,221 sq mi), or 44.29% of Belgium, and is divided into 5 provinces which contain a total of 308 municipalities.

The official language is Dutch. French can be used for certain administrative purposes in a dozen particular "municipalities with language facilities" around the Brussels-Capital Region and at the border with the Walloon Region.

The Flemish Region has no institutions on its own. Upon the creation of the provisional regions in 1974, a provisional Flemish Regional Council was installed with Mechelen as seat. However, with the definitive regions in 1980, its competencies were transferred to the Flemish Community in order to have unified Flemish institutions that combine both regional and community competencies, namely the Flemish Parliament and Flemish Government and its administration. Regional laws (called decrees) do however need to mention whether they are applicable to the community, the region or both.

Since the capital of the Flemish Community is Brussels and its institutions have their seats there, it also indirectly serves as seat of government of the Flemish Region, even though the city is not part of it. Additionally, the city of Mechelen still has a relation to the Flemish Region as seat; it serves as the location for head office during European (and formerly Senate) elections.[8]

Flanders contains five provinces: West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp, Flemish Brabant and Limburg.

Brussels-Capital Region

The Brussels-Capital Region (Dutch: Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, French: Région de Bruxelles-Capitale, German: Die Region Brüssel-Hauptstadt) or Brussels Region is centrally located and completely surrounded by the province of Flemish Brabant and thus by the Flemish Region. With a surface area of 162 km2 (63 sq mi), or 0.53% of Belgium, it is the smallest of the three regions. It contains the City of Brussels, which acts both as federal and regional capital, and 18 other municipalities. Its official languages are both Dutch and French. In the region ±78% speak French at home and ±22% speak Dutch, although a significant number of people combine these two languages.[9] The Brussels Capital Region contains only one administrative arrondissement, the Arrondissement of Brussels-Capital. However, for juridical purposes, it forms an arrondissement with surrounding Flemish areas, the arrondissement of Brussels (equivalent in area to the former electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde).

Within Brussels, the two Communities have their own institutions that act as "intermediary levels" of government and public service, sitting below the Community institutions, and above the municipal institutions:

In addition to these two, a Common Community Commission exists which is the entity when the Brussels-Capital Region exercises community powers. In these cases, there are more requirements for the legislative process in order to safeguard the interests of both linguistic communities (de facto the Flemish community).

Since the splitting of Brabant in 1995, the Brussels Region does not belong to any of the provinces. Within the Region, most of the provincial competencies are assumed by the Brussels regional institutions and community commissions. Additionally, there is a governor of Brussels-Capital, analogously to provinces.

Walloon Region

The Walloon Region or Wallonia (French: Région Wallonne or Wallonie) occupies the southern part of Belgium. It has a surface area of 16,844 km2 (6,504 sq mi), or 55.18% of Belgium, and is also divided into 5 provinces which contain a total of 262 municipalities. Its capital is Namur.

The official languages are French and, only in the nine eastern municipalities that form the German-speaking Community near the German border, German. Dutch however, may be used for administrative purposes in the four municipalities with language facilities at the border with Flanders, and German in two such municipalities near the German-speaking Community.

The Walloon Region contains five provinces: Hainaut, Walloon Brabant, Namur, Liège and Luxembourg.

See also


  1. ^ a b c The Constitution set out seven institutions each of which can have a parliament, government and administration. In fact there are only six such bodies because the Flemish Region merged into the Flemish Community. This single Flemish body thus exercises powers about Community matters in the bilingual area of Brussels-Capital and in the Dutch language area, and about Regional matters only in the latter.
  2. ^ Apart from the municipalities with language facilities for individuals, the French language area has three more municipalities in which the second language in education legally has to be either Dutch or German, whereas in its municipalities without special status this would also allow for English.[3]


  1. ^ "Als goede buren– Vlaanderen en de taalwetgeving– Taalgrens en taalgebieden" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2007-07-10.
  2. ^ a b "Politics — State structure". Flemish Government. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-24.
  3. ^ Lebrun, Sophie (7 January 2003). "Langues à l'école: imposées ou au choix, un peu ou beaucoup" (in French). La Libre Belgique. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  4. ^ a b "The Federal Government's Powers". .be Portal. Belgian Federal Government. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
  5. ^ a b "The Communities". .be Portal. Belgian Federal Government. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
  6. ^ a b "The Regions". .be Portal. Belgian Federal Government. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
  7. ^ a b c d Population statistics as of 1 January 2015, Statbel
  8. ^ Article 12 of the law of 23 March 1989 concerning the election of the European Parliament designates Mechelen as electoral college headquarters
  9. ^ Janssens, Rudi (2013). BRIO-taalbarometer 3: diversiteit als norm (PDF) (in Dutch) (Brussels Informatie-, Documentatie- en Onderzoekscentrum ed.). Retrieved 12 September 2015.
Arrondissements of Belgium

Arrondissements of Belgium are subdivisions below the provinces of Belgium. There are administrative, judicial and electoral arrondissements. These may or may not relate to identical geographical areas.

Belgium, a federalized state, geographically consists of 3 regions, of which only the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region are subdivided into five provinces each; the Brussels-Capital Region is neither a province nor is it part of one.


Belgitude is a term used to express the Belgian soul and identity.


The area within Belgium known as Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde encompasses the bilingual (French and Dutch) Brussels-Capital Region, which coincides with the arrondissement of Brussels-Capital and the surrounding Dutch-speaking area of Halle-Vilvoorde, which in turn coincides with the arrondissement of Halle-Vilvoorde. Halle-Vilvoorde contains several municipalities with language facilities, i.e. municipalities where French-speaking people form a considerable part of the population and therefore have special language rights.

This area forms the judicial arrondissement of Brussels, which is the location of a Court of First Instance, Commercial Court and a Labour Court. It was reformed in July 2012 as part of the sixth Belgian state reform.

It also forms the more commonly known electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, which, as part of the same 2012 reform, was completely split into a Brussels electoral district and, together with the electoral district of Leuven, into the electoral district of the province of Flemish Brabant. All Belgian electoral arrondissements now coincide with the Belgian provinces. The Brussels-Capital Region does not belong to any province and has formed its own electoral district since July 2012. Before the splitting, the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde was an exception since Halle-Vilvoorde is part of the province of Flemish Brabant, the other part being the Arrondissement of Leuven (which formed its own electoral district). One peculiarity remaining after the reform is that inhabitants of the six municipalities with language facilities around Brussels can still choose to vote for electoral lists of the Brussels-Capital Region.

Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde has been the subject of a highly sensitive dispute within Belgium and was one of the main topics of the 2007–2011 Belgian political crisis. A majority of the Flemings wanted to split it into two arrondissements (like the administrative ones), while the Francophones wanted to keep it as it was or, at a minimum, split it with concessions.

The lists for the federal and European elections were composed of both Dutch and French-language parties (in all other electoral areas it is either Dutch or French-language parties), while the area is partly monolingual Halle-Vilvoorde and bilingual Brussels. Consequently:

French-speakers living in monolingual Dutch-speaking Halle-Vilvoorde could vote for French-language parties; whereas

Dutch-speakers living in monolingual French-speaking Walloon Brabant could not vote for Dutch-language parties.In 2003, the Court of Arbitration (in the meantime renamed the "Belgian Constitutional Court") ruled the BHV district to be unconstitutional, due to the unequal voting rights. It was abolished as part of the 2012 sixth Belgian state reform.


Flanders (Dutch: Vlaanderen [ˈvlaːndərə(n)] (listen), French: Flandre French pronunciation: ​[flɑ̃dʁ], German: Flandern German pronunciation: [ˈflandɐn]) is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium and one of the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium. However, there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history, and sometimes involving neighbouring countries. The demonym associated with Flanders is Fleming, while the corresponding adjective is Flemish. The official capital of Flanders is Brussels, although the Brussels Capital Region has an independent regional government, and the government of Flanders only oversees the community aspects of Flanders life in Brussels such as (Flemish) culture and education.

Flanders, despite not being the biggest part of Belgium by area, is the area with the largest population (68.5%). 7,876,873 out of 11,491,346 Belgian inhabitants live in Flanders or the bilingual city of Brussels. Not including Brussels, there are five modern Flemish provinces.

In medieval contexts, the original "County of Flanders" stretched around AD 900 from the Strait of Dover to the Scheldt estuary and expanded from there. This county also still corresponds roughly with the modern-day Belgian provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders, along with neighbouring parts of France and the Netherlands. Although this original meaning is still relevant, during the 19th and 20th centuries it became increasingly commonplace to use the term "Flanders" to refer to the entire Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, stretching all the way to the River Meuse, as well as cultural movements such as Flemish art. In accordance with late 20th century Belgian state reforms the Belgian part of this area was made into two political entities: the "Flemish Community" (Dutch: Vlaamse Gemeenschap) and the "Flemish Region" (Dutch: Vlaams Gewest). These entities were merged, although geographically the Flemish Community, which has a broader cultural mandate, covers Brussels, whereas the Flemish Region does not.

Flanders, by every definition, has figured prominently in European history since the Middle Ages. In this period, cities such as Ghent, Bruges, and later Antwerp made it one of the richest and most urbanized parts of Europe, trading, and weaving the wool of neighbouring lands into cloth for both domestic use and export. As a consequence, a very sophisticated culture developed, with impressive achievements in the arts and architecture, rivaling those of northern Italy. Belgium was one of the centres of the 19th century industrial revolution but Flanders was at first overtaken by French-speaking Wallonia. In the second half of the 20th century, however, Flanders' economy modernised rapidly, and today Flanders and Brussels are significantly more wealthy than Wallonia and in general one of the wealthiest regions in Europe and the world.Geographically, Flanders is mainly flat, and has a small section of coast on the North Sea. Much of Flanders is agriculturally fertile and densely populated, with a population density of almost 500 people per square kilometer (1,200 per square mile). It touches France to the west near the coast, and borders the Netherlands to the north and east, and Wallonia to the south. The Brussels Capital Region is an officially bilingual enclave within the Flemish Region. Flanders has exclaves of its own: Voeren in the east is between Wallonia and the Netherlands and Baarle-Hertog in the north consists of 22 exclaves surrounded by the Netherlands.

Flemish Diamond

The Flemish Diamond (in Dutch: Vlaamse Ruit) is the Flemish reference to a network of four metropolitan areas in Belgium, three of which are in the central provinces of Flanders, together with the Brussels Capital Region.

It consists of four agglomerations which form the four corners of an abstract diamond shape: Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven. Over five million people live in this area, with a population density of about 820 per square kilometre.

Language legislation in Belgium

This article outlines the legislative chronology concerning the use of official languages in Belgium.

Minister-President of Flanders

The Minister-President of Flanders (Dutch: Minister-president van Vlaanderen) is the head of the Flemish Government, which is the executive branch of the Flemish Region and Flemish Community (see the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium).

The incumbent Minister-President is Geert Bourgeois, head of the Bourgeois Government (Regering-Bourgeois) since July 2014.

Municipalities of Belgium

Belgium comprises 581 municipalities (Dutch: gemeenten; French: communes; German: Gemeinden) 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. As such, only Antwerp, having over 500,000 inhabitants, became subdivided into nine districts (Dutch: districten). The Belgian arrondissements (also in French as well as in Dutch), an administrative level between province (or the capital region) and municipality, or the lowest judicial level, are in English sometimes called districts as well.

Outline of community

The following outline is provided as an overview of topics relating to community.

A community is a group of people whose identity as a group lies in their interaction and sharing. Many factors may affect the identity of the participants and their degree of adhesion, such as intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs and risks.

Provinces of Belgium

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.

Most of the provinces take their name from earlier duchies and counties of similar location, while their territory is mostly based on the departments installed during French annexation. At the time of the creation of Belgium in 1830, only nine provinces existed, including the province of Brabant, which held the city of Brussels. In 1995, Brabant was split into three areas: Flemish Brabant, which became a part of the region of Flanders; Walloon Brabant, which became part of the region of Wallonia; and the Brussels-Capital Region, which became a third region. These divisions reflected political tensions between the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish; the Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual.

The division into provinces is fixed by Article 5 of the Belgian Constitution. The provinces are subdivided into 43 administrative arrondissements, and further into 581 municipalities.

Regions and provinces of Belgium

Regions and provinces of Belgium may refer to:

Provinces of Belgium

Communities, regions and language areas of Belgium

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