Worden alle Belgen er echt beter van?
Tous les Belges s’en porteront-ils vraiment mieux?

19th public event of the Re-Bel initiative
Thursday 12 December 2019, 17.00-19.00
University Foundation, 11 rue d’Egmontstraat, 1000 Brussels

[Nederlandse tekst onderaan]

En février 2014, la N-VA adoptait, sous l’appellation “confédéralisme”, une proposition de réforme profonde des institutions de la Belgique. Aujourd’hui, ce modèle confédéral n’est pas présenté comme une étape éphémère vers la scission du pays mais comme un arrangement de long terme qui profiterait durablement à chacune des composantes de l’état fédéral belge. Le débat du 12 décembre vise à déterminer si le modèle est capable de tenir cette promesse en essayant de mieux comprendre tant les arguments en sa faveur que les objections à son encontre.

Le débat se déroulera en français et en néerlandais et sera modéré par Béatrice DELVAUX (éditorialiste en chef, Le Soir) et Karel VERHOEVEN (rédacteur en chef, De Standard).

Sander LOONES, député fédéral, présentera le modèle confédéral de la N-VA, dont il est un des concepteurs. Edoardo TRAVERSA (juriste, UCLouvain) et Frank VANDENBROUCKE (économiste, Universiteit van Amsterdam) ouvriront la discussion.

In februari 2014 deed de N-VA onder de naam “confederalisme” een voorstel voor een grondige hervorming van de Belgische instellingen. Vandaag presenteert de partij dit confederale model niet meer als een kortstondige fase in de richting van de splitsing van het land, maar als een lange termijnregeling die voordelig zou zijn voor elk onderdeel van de Belgische federale staat. Het debat op 12 december heeft tot doel te onderzoeken of het model deze belofte kan waarmaken door een poging te doen om de argumenten voor en tegen beter te begrijpen.

Het debat wordt (in het Nederlands en het Frans) gemodereerd door Béatrice DELVAUX (hoofdeditorialiste, Le Soir) en Karel VERHOEVEN (hoofdredacteur, De Standaard).

Sander LOONES, federaal parlementslid, presenteert het confederale model van de N-VA, waarvan hij een van de ontwerpers is. Edoardo TRAVERSA (jurist, UCLouvain) en Frank VANDENBROUCKE (econoom, Universiteit van Amsterdam) zullen de discussie openen.  


Event Registration

Are Belgium’s institutions fit for the job of tackling poverty?

18th public event of the Re-Be initiative
Thursday 20 June 2019, 2-6pm
Coordinated by Bea CANTILLON and François MANIQUET

Despite high social spending and work-related welfare reforms, poverty remains a largely intractable problem for policy-makers.The poverty risk in Wallonia is almost twice as high as in Flanders and the difference has increased in recent years. Despite this divergence, similar trends can be observed in Belgium’s three regions, most notably adecreasing adequacy of social protection for the working-age age population and an increasing gap between poverty rates among the high skilled and among the low skilled. How well does social assistance do its job of eradicating poverty in Belgium’s three regions? Has the regionalization of child benefits made them better instruments against child poverty? What can the regions learn from each other ?

Download the presentations

Sébastien Bastaits, The Evolution of the social situation and social protection in Belgium
Tania Dekens, Has the regionalization of child benefits made them better instruments against child poverty?
Wim Van Lancker, The regionalization of child benefits: A tale of two mistakes and a missed opportunity
Marjolijn De Wilde, Discretion and the poverty reduction capacity of social assistance in Flanders
Laurence Noël, Non take-up in Brussels: precariousness in development


1.30pm: Registration

2-3.45pm: Part 1, chaired by Bea Cantillon (UA & Re-Bel)
Has the regionalization of child benefits made them better instruments against child poverty?
Sebastien Bastaits (Federal Public Sevice Social Security), Poverty and social protection in Belgium and its regions : a state of the art.
Tania Dekens (Iriscare), The Sixth State Reform : the operational transfer of new competencies.
Wim Van Lancker (KU Leuven), Child Poverty in Belgium’s regions: What can be expected from the new child benefit systems ?

3.45-4.15pm: Coffee break

4.15-6pm: Part 2, chaired by François Maniquet (UCLouvain & Re-Bel)
How well does social assistance do its job of eradicating poverty in Belgium’s three regions?
Marjolijn Dewilde (UA), Discretion and the poverty reducing capacity of social assistance.
Laurence Noël (Commission Communautaire Commune de Bruxelles), Non take up: a major threat to the protective role of social assistance ? 

Conclusion: Paul De Grauwe (LSE & Re-Bel)

6pm: Reception

Multi-level Nationalism? The Catalan question and its lessons for Belgium and for Europe

Re-Bel e-book 20, published in June 2018, 67 pages

Coordinated by Bruno De Wever, Isabelle Ferreras, Philippe Van Parijs
Contributions by Louis Vos, Eric Storm, Clara Ponsati, Vincent Scheltiens Ortigosa, Bart Maddens, Paul De Grauwe, Sophie Heine
Appendix Bart De Wever, Justine Lacroix and Paul Magnette


On the 14th of December 2017, the Re-Bel initiative invited the participants in its 15th public event to reflect on the following questions: “Are nationalism and/or patriotism tolerable? Are they legitimate? Might they even be indispensable to the smooth functioning of a democratic polity? If so, at what level(s) and under what conditions? And what follows as regards the drawing of borders and the allocation of sovereignty?”
We were then in the immediate aftermath of the Catalan independence referendum, and half of the event focused on the clash between Catalan nationalism and Spanish nationalism, with the active participation of one member of the Catalan government in exile, Professor Clara Ponsati. But the purview of the event was broader. The questions listed above are no less present in the Brexit process and throughout the debate on European integration. And they are of course at the core of many discussions about the future of Belgium.

The present e-book collects a written version, sometimes significantly expanded, of most of the presentations at the public event. Louis Vos offers an historical introduction to the concepts of nation and nationalism. The contributions by Eric STORM (University of Leiden) and Clara PONSATI (University of St Andrews, formerly education minister in the Catalan govenment) highlight a number of features of the historical background of today’s Catalan situation that help understand the sharp differences between the respective narratives of Catalan and Spanish nationalists. Vincent SCHELTIENS (University of Antwerp) and Bart MADDENS (University of Leuven) each present their own analysis of the Catalan conflict and spell out what they see as the main similarities and differences with the Belgian situation. In a (particularly popular) piece previously published on his blog, Paul DE GRAUWE (London School of Economics) draws a parallel between the motivation and consequences of Catalan independence and Brexit. Finally, Sophie HEINE (University of Oxford) argues for a sovereign European Union that does not rely on nationalism on any level.

Within the framework of our public event, we had hoped to host a conversation between Bart DE WEVER and Paul MAGNETTE about the role they each assign to patriotism/nationalism, from the level of the cities of which they are mayors — as it happens, the largest cities in Flanders and Wallonia, respectively — to that of the European Union — to which both profess critical support. Paul Magnette could accept our invitation, but Bart De Wever, in the end, could not. At about the same time, however, they had an interesting public exchange, in connection with the refugee crisis, about the role to be given to nation states and their borders. Though not directly related to the secession issue raised by the Catalan crisis, this exchange is centrally concerned with the question of what it means to be a (rich) nation and what follows from it, in particular as regards the undeniable tension between maximal solidarity among a nations’s insiders and maximal hospitality to outsiders keen to move in. We therefore decided to include an English version of this exchange as an appendix to this e-book.

Mobility and urban development: all powers to the regions?

17th Public Event of the Re-Be initiative
Thursday 13 December 2018
Coordinated by Erik SCHOKKAERT

All over the world, environmental challenges and sharp increases in congestion are turning the transportation of people and goods and the correlative allocation of space into central issues in public debate and public policy. In our country, the fact that a significant part of this mobility crosses regional borders raises difficult institutional questions. 

What are and should be the respective roles of the federal state, the regions and the local authorities in mobility policy? At what level(s) should investments in transport infrastructure be decided and at what level should they be funded? And how should mobility policy be coordinated with urban development policies and its objectives, such as adequate housing and a concern for green spaces and biodiversity? Can decisions about the allocation of space stop at the borders of a commune, a region, the federal state? What is the best way of allocating and coordinating decision powers between these various levels?


1.30pm: Registration

2-3.45pm: Part 1: Background
Chair and introduction: Erik SCHOKKAERT (KU Leuven & Re-Bel))
Keynote lectures by
Isabelle THOMAS (geographer, UC Louvain)
Stef PROOST (economist, KU Leuven)
Pierre LACONTE (president, Foundation for the Urban Environment)

3.30-4.00pm: Coffee break

4.15-6pm: Part 2: General discussion introduced by the two regional bouwmeesters
Chair: Estelle CANTILLON (ULB & Re-Bel)
Introduction by
Kristiaan BORRET (Maître architecte/ Bouwmeester Brussels)
Leo VAN BROECK (Vlaams Bouwmeester)
General discussion

Conclusion: Paul DE GRAUWE (LSE & Re-Bel)
6pm: Reception

Belgium, a utopia for our times?

16th Public Event of the Re-Be initiative
Thursday 21 June 2018, 2 to 6pm

A critical discussion of

Belgium. Une utopie pour notre temps

(L’ Académie en Poche, Bruxelles, juin 2018)

Belgium. Een utopie voor onze tijd

(Polis, Antwerpen, juni 2018)

by Philippe VAN PARIJS

A critical discussion of a book published in June 2018: Belgium. Une utopie pour notre temps (L’Académie en Poche), Belgium. Een utopie voor onze tijd (Polis), by Philippe VAN PARIJS. Presentations of the various chapters by members of the Re-Bel core group were followed by comments by outsiders and a response by the author. The event was coordinated by Paul DE GRAUWE.

Part I: Selective presentation of the various chapters
Bruno DE WEVER (UGent)
members of Re-Bel’s core group

Part II: Critical comments
Jean-Benoit PILET (ULB)

Philippe VAN PARIJS (UCL & KU Leuven)

The Future of the Belgian Press

Re-Bel e-book 19, Published in June 2018, 67 pages

Contributions by Bruno DE WEVER, Louis VOS, Clara PONSATI, Bart MADDENS, Paul DE GRAUWE, Vincent SCHELTIENS, Eric STORM, Paul DE GRAUWE, Sophie HEINE, Bart DE WEVER, Paul MAGNETTE and Justine LACROIX


The 13th public event of the Re-Bel initiative, from which this e-book stems, was held on 18 June 2015. It hosted highly instructive presentations by Els De Bens (UGent), Frédéric Antoine (UCL) and François Heinderyckx (ULB), followed by a lively panel with the participation of Ides Debruyne (Journalism Fund), Béatrice Delvaux (Le Soir), Tom Naegels (De Standaard), Leo Neels (ex-Belga) and Karl van den Broeck (Apache).

Central at the meeting was the sharp contrast between trends in circulation (i.e. average number of copies printed per day, whether sold or not) in the Dutch-language and French-language daily press, as strikingly illustrated by Figure 5 in the lead piece. From a media landscape massively dominated by the French-language press up to the middle of the twentieth century, we have been moving at a quick pace to one dominated by the Dutch-language press. Such a phenomenon is far from irrelevant for an initiative such as ours that is focused on Belgium’s institutional future.

Patriotism at the local, regional, national and European levels: Are they compatible? Are they necessary?

15th Public Event of the Re-Be initiative
Thursday 14 December 2017, 2 to 6pm
Coordinated by Isabelle Ferreras, Bruno De Wever & Philippe Van Parijs

Are nationalism and/or patriotism tolerable? Are they legitimate? Might they even be indispensable to the smooth functioning of a democratic polity? If so, at what level(s) and under what conditions? And what follows as regards the drawing of borders and the allocation of sovereignty? Such questions keep popping up in the context of the Catalan crisis. But they are no less present in the Brexit process and throughout the debate on European integration. And they are of course at the core of the discussion about the future of Belgium.


1.30 pm

2-3.45 pm
Bruno DE WEVER (UGent & Re-Bel): Welcome and general introduction
Part 1: Multi-level patriotism ?
Chair: Philippe VAN PARIJS (UCLouvain & Re-Bel)
Louis VOS (historian, KU Leuven): Conceptual and historical framework
Bart MADDENS (political scientist, KU Leuven): A Flemish perspective
Paul MAGNETTE (political scientist, ULB, mayor of Charleroi): A Walloon perspective
Sophie HEINE (political scientist, Centre for international studies, Oxford): A European perspective
General discussion

3.45-4.15 pm
Coffee break

4.15-6 pm
Part 2 : The Catalan situation and its relevance to Belgium
Chair: Isabelle FERRERAS (UCLouvain & Re-Bel)
Eric STORM (historian, University of Leiden)
Clara PONSATÍ I OBIOLS (economist, University of St Andrews, until she became minister of education in the Catalan government)
Vincent SCHELTIENS-ORTIGOSA (historian, University of Antwerp)
General discussion

Paul DE GRAUWE (LSE & Re-Bel): Concluding words

Integration policies in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels: are they different? And should they be?

14th Public Event of the Re-Be initiative
Thursday 15 June 2017, 2 to 6pm

In the past few decades, political authorities have developed policies aimed at the integration of newcomers. This has produced quite some discussions about the exact aims of integration policies and about the ways in which integration is to be achieved. 

In some places – including Belgium – the authorities responsible for the integration policies are the substates. This generates two additional questions that will be explored during this event:

1. Is there a tension between attempts of substates to build and protect their identities and their ambition to be open and welcoming societies.

2. How should one address the high probability of overlap between levels of government for policies that touch upon language, culture, education, employment, security and more.


1.30 pm

2-3.45 pm
Part 1: Integration policies in federal states – an overview 

Ilke Adam (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Catherine Xhardez (Université Saint-Louis & Sciences Po Paris)
Ricard Zapato Barrero (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

3.45-4.15 pm: Coffee break

Part 2: Are integration policies different in the Belgian regions, and should they be different?

Fabrice Ciaccia (Centre Régional d’Intégration de Charleroi – CRIC)
Eric De Jonge (Brussels Reception Agency for Integration – BON)
Karl Vanlouwe (Member of the Flemish Parliament for the N-VA)

6pm: Reception

Terrorism / Regions going international

13th Public Event of the Re-Bel initiative
Thursday 16 June 2016, 2 to 6pm

Terrorism and Belgium’s institutions
Belgium’s regions going international: a fiasco?

We are please to invite you to the next public event of the Re-Bel initiative to be held on 16 June 2016 from 2 to 6 pm at the University Foundation (11 rue d’Egmontstraat, 1000 Brussels). 

As previously announced, it will address the question “Belgium’s regions on the international scene: does it need to end up in a fiasco ?”, but only from 4.15 to 6 pm. Owing to the Brussels terrorist attacks, we have decided to make room for a second theme: “Terrorism and response to terrorism in Brussels and other cities: do institutions matter?”, which will be addressed from 2 to 3.45 pm. A brief presentation of each of these two themes and the programme of both parts of the afternoon feature below.


1.30 pm


Philippe VAN PARIJS, professor of economic and social ethics, UCLouvain, member of Re-Bel’s core group

2.05-3.45 pm
Part I: Terrorism and response to terrorism in Brussels and other cities: do institutions matter?

Several people who grew up in Brussels were involved in the recent terrorist attacks in both Paris and Brussels. Besides, the (over?)reaction to these events by the authorities inflicted a lasting blow to Brussels’ economic, social and cultural life. Unsurprisingly, this raised the question of whether these events had anything to do with the way in which Belgium’s institutions, especially but not only Brussels’ complex institutional framework (19 communes, 2 communities, etc.), address the challenge of mutlicultural cities. In the light of some comparisons with other cities, we shall try to answer this question and, depending on the answer, explore the desirability of institutional reforms. 

The discussion will be introduced by
Sarah CARPENTIER, doctoral researcher at the Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, Universiteit Antwerpen.
Dirk JACOBS, professor of sociology, Université libre de Bruxelles
Dyab ABOU JAHJAH, master in political science (UCLouvain), columnist for De Standaard
and moderated by
Estelle CANTILLON, professor at the Solvay Brussels School of economics and management, member of Re-Bel’s core group

3.45-4.15 pm
Coffee break

4.15-6 pm
Part II: Belgium’s regions on the international scene: does it need to end up in a fiasco ?

The period preceding the recent COP 21 Paris conference on climate change saw particularly laborious negociations between Belgium’s regional governments. Does this instantiate a serious structural problem for climate change negociations that concerns all countries with relevant competences devolved to the sub-national level? How can it best be handled? Is there an analogous and equally serious problem at the level of the Council of Ministers of the European Union whenever competences of our Regions or Communities are involved? How is it currently addressed? How should it be addressed?

The discussion will be introduced by
Jos DELBEKE, director general for Climate Action at the European Commission
Peter BURSENS, professor of political science at the Universiteit Antwerpen
Herman VANROMPUY, president emeritus of the European Council, professor of European studies at the UCLouvain
and moderated by
Bea CANTILLON, director of the Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, Universiteit Antwerpen , member of Re-Bel’s core group


Paul DE GRAUWE, professor of economics, London School of Economics and Political Science, member of Re-Bel’s core group


(Con)federalism: Cure or Curse?

Re-Bel e-book 18, Published in English in July 2015, 41 pages

Editors Kris Deschouwer & Johanne Poirier
Contributions by Kris Deschouwer, Philippe Destatte, Michael Keating, John Loughlin, Johanne Poirier, Jan Velaers


This e-book addresses two questions. Is there, or can there be a clear and unambiguous way to distinguish between different types of territorial (re)organization, in particular between federalism and confederalism. In a country that invests considerable energy in debates concerning its institutional future, it might be useful to agree on some basic terminology. Afgainst this background, in a country that is engaged in apparently never-ending discussions about what it actually is, and what it might become, it is also interesting to ask whether fiddling with the territorial organization of the state is a fruitful avenue. Can federal-type solutions really bring about a stable and lasting equilibrium? Or is there something like an inevitable slippery slope from unitarism to federalism to confederalism and finally full separation?

In the end, the question of whether (con)federalism is a cure or a curse for complex societies in general, and for Belgium is particular, is given a predictably nuanced answer by the contributors to this volume. Institutional designs, whether federal, confederal, or hybrid carry a number of advantages and hazards, which evolve with time and do not call for unanimous evaluations. A cure for some may be a curse for others. And, more importantly, a cure at some point in time may turn into a curse in the long run. Conversely, what may have appeared as a curse for some time may actually carry the seeds of (a temporary) cure. This volume challenges the idea that there are simple univocal definitions, unquestionable normative solutions or “once and for all” institutional arrangements.