Belgium - Government

Belgium is a hereditary monarchy governed under the constitution of 1831. This document has been frequently amended in recent years to grant recognition and autonomy to the Dutch- and French-speaking communities. Executive power is vested in the king, who appoints and removes ministers, civil servants, judges, and officers. In June 1991, parliament approved a constitutional amendment to allow female members of the royal family to succeed to the throne. The monarch, however, would continue to be known as king regardless of gender.

With approval of parliament, the king has the power to declare war and conclude treaties; he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. According to the constitution, the king's rights include conferring titles of nobility, granting pardons, and administering the coinage of money. However, none of the king's acts becomes effective unless countersigned by a minister, who assumes responsibility for such acts before parliament. Therefore, the king must choose ministers who represent the majority in parliament. Each ministry is created in response to necessity, and there is no fixed number of ministers.

Legislative power is vested in the king and in the two-chamber parliament. The Chamber of Representatives has 150 members, who are elected for a four-year term through a system of proportional representation. The Senate has 71 members, with 40 directly elected and 31 indirectly elected or co-opted for a four-year term. All persons 18 years of age and older are entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, and those who fail to vote are subject to fines. In time of emergency, the king may convoke extraordinary sessions. The government and both chambers may introduce legislation, and both chambers have equal rights. When a bill is introduced, a committee examines it and appoints a rapporteur, who reports on it before the full assembly. The king may dissolve the chambers either simultaneously or separately, but an election must be provided for within 40 days and a session of the new parliament must meet within two months.

In accordance with the constitutional reform of 1980, there are three communities: the Dutch-, the French-, and the German-speaking communities. They have, in a wholly autonomous manner, responsibility for cultural affairs, education, and for matters concerning the individual. There are also three regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels), which are responsible for the regional aspects of a broad range of concerns, including the economy, energy, public works and housing, employment, and environmental policy. The institutions of the communities and regions are based on the same principles as those of the national political structure: each entity has a "regional parliament" (the council), whose decisions are implemented by a "regional government" (the executive). The council and the executive are directly elected and can only be brought down by a vote of no confidence.

On 14 July 1993, parliament approved a constitutional revision creating a federal state.

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