DD situation in Belgium

By Jos Verhulst
WIT movement for direct democracy in Belgium

* How does the institutional stetting for I&R looks like?

A binding initiative or a binding referendum are precluded by articles 33, 36 and 42 of the Belgian Constitution. It is impossible to change these articles before 2005.

* Which are the positive/negative experiences with DD?

A non-binding initiative exists at the communal level since 1995. There have been about 10 such initiatives since 1995. Most of these failed, because of the existence of a participatory quorum or othe legal obstacles. Moreover, local authOrities have rejected the result of an initiative in one case (Boechout 1998) and basically altered the subject of an initiative in another case (Gent 1999). There have been two initiatives that were clearly successful (Gent 1997; Sint Niklaas 1998). Theoretically, a non-binding initiative is also possible at the provincial level.

There has been one important non-binding national referendum in 1950, on- the dethronement'of the king. The outcome of this'referendum has not been respected. There was a national majority against dethronement, but a majority of the French-speaking South wanted the king to go. The situation deteriorated, there were severe riots, and in the end the king resigned. Opponents of DD , when arguing that DD is impossible in Belgium, often refer to this 'precedent'.

* What are the perspectives for reform and which movements and campaigns are ongoing to strengthen/weaken DD in your country?

The introduction of the initiative is part of the 'regeringsverklaring' (declaration) of the present government. This government is backed by a coalition of liberals, socialists and greens. The liberals, especially on the Flemish side, are rather pro-initiative, as are the ecologists. The Wallonian socialists tend to boycott direct democracy, and the Flemish socialists are also very hesitant. The Christian democrats, the major party of the opposition, has always been an opponent of direct democracy, but has changed its positions very recently (although with much hesitation). The right wing party 'Vlaams Blok' strongly favors direct democracy. In the parliament, a commission has been installed that prepares the introduction of the initiative. WIT, the movement for DD in Belgium, has lobbied among the members of this commission. At present, the outcome remains unpredictable.

June 2000

Then follows a Manifesto for Direct Democracy in German.

The WIT website: http://www.directe-democratie.be/