Primauté au fédéral? Voorrang voor het federale niveau?

Must federal legislation trump regional legislation?

Re-Bel Webinar, Tuesday 8 June 2021, 12.15-1.45 pm 

Background documents

Primauté au fédéral?
Johanne POIRIER, présentation au webinar Re-Bel du 8 juin 2021

Vers une hiérarchie entre Etat fédéral et entités fédérées?
Céline ROMAINVILLE et Karel REYBROUCK, Le Soir, 3 juin 2021

Krijgt het federale niveau de dirigeerstok van België?
Karel REYBROUCK en Céline ROMAINVILLE, De Standaard, 7 juni 2021


Belgium’s current federal structure aims to facilitate policy making by allocating exclusive competences to the federal government and parliament on the one hand and to the governments and parliaments of Belgium’s regions and communities on the other. Both levels are sovereign in their respective domains. There is no hierarchy that confers primacy to federal legislation over regional and community legislation, in contrast, for example, with Germany’s federal system, where Bundesrecht bricht Landesrecht is one of the guiding principles.

However, the measures necessitated by the pandemic, the need to honour EU-level commitments on the climate and the controversies over Brussels’ air traffic noise norms and congestion charges led many to question the wisdom of dispensing with such a federal primacy principle. To avoid confusion, delays and blockages, would it make sense to allow the federal level to coordinate regional action, issue binding policy guidelines or even overrule regional and community legislation? In other words, should Belgium establish some form of hierarchy between the federal level and the regional level, possibly under specific conditions, such as emergency situations or the risk of failing to comply with European obligations? Or would this amount to depriving the regions and communities of some of their autonomy without any significant gain in the efficiency of policy making? 

Language regime: Dutch and French
Moderation : Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir) & Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard)
Welcoming: Philippe VAN PARIJS (Re-Bel & UCLouvain) 
Introduction: Gwendolyn RUTTEN (Open VLD)
Challenges: Johanne POIRIER (McGill University, Montreal), Patricia POPELIER (UAntwerpen), Marc UYTTENDAELE (ULB)
General discussion
Concluding comments: Paul DE GRAUWE (Re-Bel & LSE)

Naar een België met vier? Vers une Belgique à quatre?

Re-Bel webinar, Thursday 22 April 2021

Background documents

Naar een België met vier?
Paul De Grauwe en Philippe Van Parijs, coördinatoren van het Re-Bel initiatief
De Standaard, 20 april 2021

Vers une Belgique à quatre?
Paul De Grauwe et Philippe Van Parijs, coordinateurs de l’initiative Re-Bel
Le Soir, 20 avril 2021

Belgisch Federalisme: 2 + 2 = 4 ?
Willem Sas, University of Stirling & KU Leuven, slides presented on 22 April 2021

Il est nécessaire de simplifier le modèle institutionnel
André Alen, Le Soir, 22 avril 2021

Geef dit land meer (fede)realisme en minder surrealisme
Willem Sas, De Tijd, 27 april 2021

De afspraak
André Alen in gesprek met Phara DE AGUIRRE en Theo FRANCKEN, 28 april 2021 (min. 20 tot 30)

Belgium. Une utopie pour notre temps – Chapitre 4 (“Quatre régions”)
Philippe Van Parijs, Bruxelles: Académie royale de Belgique, 2018

Belgium. Een utopie voor onze tijd – Hoofdstuk 4 (“Vier gewesten”)
Philippe Van Parijs, Antwerpen: Polis, 2018

La Belgique doit-elle prendre exemple sur le modèle suisse?
Philippe VAN PARIJS & Nenad STOJANOVIC, Le Soir, 18 mai 2021.

Zou Brussel kunnen werken op zijn Zwitsers?
Philippe VAN PARIJS & Nenad STOJANOVIC, De Standaard, 18 mei 2021, p.33.


Whether expressed as “2+2”, as “3+3-2” or simply as “4”, there seems to be growing support for the idea that Belgium’s federal structure could be more legible and more efficient if it simply consisted in four territorially defined components: Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels and Ostbelgien. This would enable the parliaments and governments of each one of these components to exercise a more comprehensive and coherent set of competences. But in this simplified federal Belgium, how should the competences currently exercised by the Flemish and French Communities be efficiently reallocated and sustainably funded? Must the reallocation operate in the same way in all sectors, from culture and education to scientific research and the media, and must it operate symmetrically for the competences of the French and Flemish Community? Can the outcome be improved democratic accountability rather than wasteful duplication ?

Language regime: Dutch and French
Moderation : Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir) & Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard)
Welcoming: Philippe VAN PARIJS (Re-Bel & UCLouvain)
Introduction: Sven GATZ (finance minister in the governement of the Region of Brussels-Capital) and Paul MAGNETTE (president of the Parti socialiste)
Challenges: André ALEN (KU Leuven), Céline ROMAINVILLE (UCLouvain) and Willem SAS (University of Stirling)
General discussion
Concluding comments: Paul DE GRAUWE (Re-Bel & LSE)

Het dialoogplatform over de toekomst van het Belgisch federalisme / La plate-forme de dialogue sur l’avenir du fédéralisme belge

Re-Bel Webinar, Monday 1 March 2021

Hoe kan het dialoogplatform over de toekomst van het Belgisch federalisme zo vruchtbaar mogelijk worden gemaakt ?

Comment rendre la plate-forme de dialogue sur l’avenir du fédéralisme belge aussi féconde que possible ?

How can the government’s “dialogue platform about the future of Belgian federalism” be made as fruitful as possible ?

In their joint policy note of 13 November 2020, the federal ministers for institutional reform and democratic renewal announced the creation of a “dialogue platform about the future of Belgian federalism” which they would chair and which would involve “a wide consultation of citizens, especially the young as well as civil society, the university world, experts and local authorities”. They also invite the Chamber to experiment with new forms of participation and set up panels that would be “invited to formulate recommendations to the Platform”. A report that includes the recommendations emerging from the Platform is expected to be submitted to the federal government by the end of 2021. 

Such an unprecedented initiative is certainly a welcome response to the dissatisfaction with the current functioning of Belgium’s federalism, especially as it involves from the start in a common reflection citizens from both sides of the linguistic border. But is it not easy job to design it in such a way that it yields fruitful outcomes rather than even greater frustration. This webinar will invite the ministers in charge to explain how they see their bold initiative at this stage and it will share evaluations of analogous initiatives abroad and host a critical discussion of suggestions about what could be fruitful, by the stated deadline, in the present Belgian context.

Language regime: Dutch and French
Moderation : Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir) & Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard)

Welcoming: Philippe VAN PARIJS (Re-Bel & UCLouvain) 

Prologue: David CLARINVAL and Annelies VERLINDEN (federal ministers for institutional reform and democratic renewal)

Lessons from experience abroad:
Conférences citoyennes (France):  Hélène LANDEMORE (professeure de science politique à Yale University, auteure de Open Democracy, 2020)
Klimaattafels (Netherlands): Ed NIJPELS (kroonlid van de Sociaal-economische Raad, voorzitter van het Klimaatberaad)

How best to proceed in Belgium: David VAN REYBROUCK (historian, initiator of the G1000 initiative), Hugues DUMONT (professor of constitutional law, Université Saint Louis)

Concluding comments: David CLARINVAL and Annelies VERLINDEN (federal ministers for institutional reform and democratic renewal), Paul DE GRAUWE (Re-Bel & LSE)

Background documents

Burgerplatform: een echte dialoog of een schijnvertoning ?
Paul De Grauwe en Philippe Van Parijs, coördinatoren van het Re-Bel initiatief
De Standaard, 26 februari 2021

Dialogue citoyen sur l’avenir du fédéralisme belge: comment éviter le fiasco?
Paul De Grauwe et Philippe Van Parijs, coordinateurs de l’initiative Re-Bel
Le Soir, 26 février 2021

Dumont. Intervention Re-Bel-1-3-21

Intervention de Hugues Dumont lors du débat Re-Bel du lundi 1er mars 2021
Hugues Dumont, USL-B

How can one facilitate the formation of Belgium’s federal government?

Tuesday 12 January 2021, 12.15-13.45 FR/NL
Zoom Webinar

Comment faciliter la formation du gouvernement fédéral?
Hoe kan men de formatie van de federale regering vergemakkelijken?

The exceptional length of the search for a federal government coalition after the elections of May 2019 stimulated thinking about the ways in which it could be facilitated. In a booklet published by the think tank Itinera (Pleidooi voor politieke renovatie/ Plaidoyer pour une rénovation politique), Christophe Convent makes a number of proposals: the replacement of proportional representation for most of the seats in the Chamber by a French-style electoral system, the possibility of minority governments, the calling of new elections after a certain time, and the creation of a federal constituency. Apart from a radical change in the electoral system — which raises many other issues outside the scope of our meeting — do any of these proposals offer any hope of accelerating the formation of our federal government? Are there any other more promising proposals?

Language regime: Dutch and French
Moderation : Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir)/Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard)
Introduction: Edoardo TRAVERSA (Re-Bel & UCLouvain)
Lead speaker: Christophe CONVENT (DPG Media)
Commentators: Anne-Emmanuelle BOURGAUX (UMons), François DE SMET(DEFI), Koen GEENS (CD&V & KU Leuven)
Conclusion: Paul De Grauwe (Re-Bel & LSE)
Prior registration indispensable.
A zoom link will be sent in due course to all those registered.

Background documents

Hoe vormen we sneller een federale regering?
Dave Sinardet en Edoardo Traversa bespreken enkele voorstellen om ‘marathonformaties’ te vermijden.
De Standaard, 8 januari 2021

Comment faciliter la formation du gouvernement fédéral?
Edoardo Traversa (UCLouvain) et Dave Sinardet (VUB/ USaint-Louis – Bruxelles) au nom de l’initiative Re-Bel
Le Soir, 8 janvier 2021

Een staatshervorming voor betere gezondheidszorg / Une réforme de l’Etat pour de meilleurs soins de santé

Thursday 12 November from 12 to 1.30 pm
22nd public event of the Re-Bel initiative
Zoom Webinar

Should our federal institutions be modified in order to better address the challenges of health in the 21st century? If so, how?

The webinar is coordinated by Erik SCHOKKAERT (KU Leuven and Re-Bel).

It will be conducted in Dutch and French and chaired by Béatrice DELVAUX (Le Soir) and Karel VERHOEVEN (De Standaard).

The introduction by Jan DE MAESENEER, professor emeritus, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, WHO Collaborating Centre on Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, UGent, will be followed by comments by 
Margot CLOET (CEO of Zorgnet-Icuro, a large network of Flemish organizations active in health care and other forms of care, formerly chief of cabinet of the Flemish minister for welfare and public health),
Jean HERMESSE (economist, secretary general of the Christian Mutualities from 2007 to 2020),
Jean MACQ (professor at UCLouvan’s Faculty of public health and the Institute Medecine & Society,
and by an online Q&A session.

The webinar will close with the usual wise words by Paul DE GRAUWE (LSE and Re-Bel).

An opinion piece on this subject co-signed by the new federal minister of social affairs and health Frank Vandenbroucke, his chief of cabinet Ri De Ridder and two of our speakers, Jan De Maeseneer and Jean Hermesse, was published on 31 July 2020 in De Standaard and Le Soir. A longer version of this piece that can serve as background for our webinar can be downloaded from our site in French and in Dutch. Another opinion piece in which members of Re-Bel outline the main challenges is due to be published shortly before the webinar in De Standaard and Le Soir.

 A Zoom link will be sent in due course to all those registered.

Minority government: why and why not?

Thursday 17 September from 8pm to 9.15 pm
21st public event of the Re-Bel initiative
Zoom Webinar

It is our pleasure to confirm Re-Bel’s first online public debate. It will be held on Thursday 17 September from 8pm to 9.15 pm, using Zoom, and address the question “Minority Government: why and why not ?”. Since December 2018, Belgium has been living under a minority government.

Since May 2019, it is in search of a party coalition that would be willing to form a majority government. Unsuccessfully so far. No wonder therefore that the idea of settling for a minority government has been voiced repeatedly and taken more seriously than ever before — the more so as several other democracies seem to get away with it without major upheaval. How sensible is the idea of a minority government in general, and in particular in the Belgian context? Even if a majority government ends up being formed this time, this question will keep surfacing in the future.


Re-Bel’s debate will be introduced by Bonnie FIELD, professor of political science at Bentley University (Massachussetts), author of Why Minority Governments Work (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and Lucien RIGAUX, assistant at the Law Faculty of the ULB, author of “Les gouvernements minoritaires en Belgique” (Revue belge de droit constitutionnel, 2019). These short introductions will be followed by a discussion with the online audience moderated by Kris DESCHOUWER, professor of political science at the VUB, chair of the European Consortium for Political Research and member of Re-Bel’s core group.

To register, please fill in the form below. A Zoom link will be sent to all those registered shortly before the event.

Federale kieskring / Circonscription fédérale

EVENT CANCELLED Given the threat of the coronavirus pandemic and the measures adopted by the Federal government, it will come as no surprise to you that we have to cancel our debate on the Federale kieskring/ Circonscription fédérale. We shall try to find another way of fostering a well-informed debate on this proposal (and several others). To be informed of future events, visit the Contact page.

Friday 20 March 2020, 17.00-19.00

Kan hij echt helpen om federaal België weer vlot te krijgen?
Peut-elle vraiment aider à débloquer la fédération belge ?

20th public event of the Re-Bel initiative
University Foundation, 11 rue d’Egmontstraat, 1000 Brussels

[Texte français ci-après]


In februari 2007 lanceerde de Pavia-groep het idee om een ​​deel van de Kamerzetels toe te wijzen aan een kieskring dat heel België omvat. Dit voorstel werd door verschillende politieke partijen overgenomen. En het werd besproken in een Paritaire Kamer-Senaatscommissie die haar verslag in april 2014 heeft ingediend.

Het voorstel beoogt de democratische werking van de Belgische federale staat te verbeteren door diegenen die het land willen besturen te onderwerpen aan de electorale sanctie van alle Belgische burgers. Door politici aan te moedigen om projecten voor te stellen die ten goede komen aan de hele bevolking, hoopt dit voorstel de terugkerende kortsluitingen in de vorming van een federale regering te voorkomen. Het debat op 20 maart heeft als doel na te gaan of het voorstel aan deze ambitie voldoet. Tijdens dit debat zullen zowel de argumenten voor als de bezwaren tegen aan bod komen.

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

Alexander DE CROO, vicepremier (Open VLD) en Jean-Marc NOLLET (covoorzitter van ECOLO) zullen het voorstel verdedigen. Christian BEHRENDT (ULg) en Jeroen VAN NIEUWENHOVE (KU Leuven en Raad van State) zullen de discussie openen.

Inschrijving: gratis maar verplicht, ten laatste op 15 maart.

NB: Re-Bel organiseerde in december 2009 een internationale workshop over het onderwerp en publiceerde een Re-Bel e-book, dat in het Engels, het Nederlands en het Frans beschikbaar is.  De pagina “Documents” van de website van de Pavia-Groep bevat bovendien een groot aantal kritische discussies van het voorstel.


En février 2007, le Groupe Pavia a lancé dans le débat public l’idée d’allouer une partie des sièges de la Chambre dans une circonscription couvrant l’ensemble de la Belgique. Cette proposition a été reprise par plusieurs partis politiques et elle a été discutée au sein d’une Commission parlementaire mixte Chambre-Sénat qui a remis son rapport en avril 2014.

La proposition vise à améliorer le fonctionnement démocratique de la Belgique fédérale en soumettant ceux qui dirigent ou veulent diriger le pays à la sanction électorale de tous les citoyens belges. En les incitant ainsi à formuler d’emblée des projets justifiables face à l’ensemble de la population, elle prétend contribuer à éviter les blocages récurrents dans la formation d’un gouvernement fédéral. Le débat du 20 mars vise à déterminer si la proposition est à la hauteur de cette ambition, 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).

Alexander DE CROO, vice-premier ministre (Open VLD) et Jean-Marc NOLLET (co-président d’ECOLO) défendront la proposition. Christian BEHRENDT (ULg) et Jeroen VAN NIEUWENHOVE (KU Leuven et Conseil d’Etat) ouvriront la discussion.

Inscription : gratuite mais obligatoire, au plus tard le 15 mars.

NB : Re-Bel a organisé en décembre 2009 un workshop international sur le sujet et publié Re-Bel e-book disponible en anglais, en néerlandais et en français. En outre, la page « Documents » du site du Groupe Pavia rassemble un grand nombre de discussions critiques de la proposition.


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

Documents / Documenten
Version officielle de la proposition: en français
Officiële versie van het voorstel: in het Nederlands

[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.  

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.