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Possibly Necessary but not Necessarily Possible: Revision of the Constitution in Belgium

  • Maureen Covell

Abstract

Wilfried Martens, the prime minister who led the government responsible for the 1980 revision of the Belgian constitution, once remarked that the revision was possibly necessary but not necessarily possible. As his remark suggests, the process of revising a constitution is characterised by uncertainty and paradox. Constitutional change of the magnitude attempted in Belgium usually results from serious conflicts about the manner in which a state is organised and makes decisions and about the content of those decisions. The very conflict that makes basic changes necessary also makes it difficult to agree on what the changes should be.

Keywords

Political Elite Revision Process Ethnic Conflict Economic Council Cultural Autonomy 
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Notes

  1. 3.
    For histories of the conflict, see Shepard B. Clough, A History of the Flemish Movement (New York: Richard R. Smith, 1980); Carl-Henrik Hojer, Le Régime Parlementaire Belge de 1918 à 1940 (Brussels: Centre de Recherche et d’Information Socio-Politiques, 1975); Aristide Zolberg, ‘Splitting the Difference: Federalization without Federalism in Belgium’, in Milton J. Esman (ed.) Ethnic Conflict in the Western World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977); and Hervé Hasquin, Historiographie et Politique: Essai sur l’Histoire de la Belgique et la Wallonie (Charleroi: Institut Jules Destrée, 1981).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    For an excellent discussion of the language laws and their genesis see Arthur E. Curtis, New Perspectives on the History of the Language Problem in Belgium (PhD dissertation, University of Oregon, 1971).Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    For a discussion of the movements and the available bibliography, see Hervé Hasquin, ‘Le Mouvement Wallon: Une Histoire qui Reste à Ecrire’, Revue de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1981, 1–2, pp. 147–56.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    The debate on the status of Brussels has generated a voluminous literature. For an early example, see the colloquium including both Flemish and francophone participants reported in Georges Goriely, Rapport Introductif sur ‘Bruxelles et le Fédéralisme’, Res Publica XIII (1971) 3–4, pp. 397–422. For a series of studies on language use in the capital, see E. Witte (ed.) Taal en Sociale Intégratie (Brussels: Centrum voor Interdisciplinair Onderzoek Naar de Brusselse Taaltoenstanden, 1981).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    For reports on popular opinion, see Albert Verdoodt, ‘Les problèmes Communautaires Belges à la Lumière des Études d’Opinion,2 Centre de Recherche et d’Information Socio-Politiques (CRISP), Courrier Hebdomadiar no. 880, 9 May 1980.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    The classic description of the conflicts that divide the Belgian political system is Val Lorwin, ‘Belgium: Religion, Class and Language in National Politics’, in Robert A. Dahl (ed.) Political Opposition in Western Democracies. For a discussion of the early relationship between the cleavages, see Derek W. Urwin ‘Social Cleavages and Political Parties in Belgium: Problems of Institutionalization’, Political Studies 18 (1970). For further description of the system, see Mark Elchardus, ‘Bureaukratisch Patronage en Etno-linguisme’, Res Publica 20 (1978) and Martin O. Heisler, ‘Institutionalizing Societal Cleavages in a co-optive Polity: The Growing Importance of the Output Side in Belgium’, in Martin O. Heisler (ed.) Politics in Europe (New York: David McKay, 1974).Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    See Robert Sennelle, ‘The Revision of the Belgian Constitution, 1967–70’, Memo from Belgium (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade) nos. 128–9 (1970) and 132–3 (1971) and Pierre Wigny, La troisième revision de la constitution belge (Brussels: Emile Bruylant, 1972).Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    For a short description and data on party membership, see Luc Rowies, Les partis politiques en Belgique (Brussels: CRISP Dossier no. 10, 1977).Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    See Jeffrey Obler, ‘Intraparty Democracy and the Selection of Parliamentary Candidates: the Belgian Case’, British Journal of Political Science IV (1972) 4, and Andre Philippart, ‘Les polls electoraux’, Res Publica XVII (1975).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    For an extreme form of this argument, see Aristide R. Zolberg, ‘Splitting the Difference: Federalization without Federalism in Belgium’, in Milton J. Esman (ed.) Ethnic Conflict in the Western World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977) pp. 103–42.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    For the relationship between political cleavages and political entrepreneurship, see Maureen Covell, ‘Ethnic Conflict and Élite Bargaining: the Case of Belgium’, West European Politics IV (1981) 3; also Martine de Ridder, Robert L. Peterson and Rex Writh, ‘Images of Belgian Politics: the Effect of Cleavages on the Political System’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, III (1978).Google Scholar
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    Vincent Goffart, ‘La Crise de Louvain’, Res Publica IX (1969), 1.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    For a description and an account of the early activities of the councils, see J. Brassinne and H. Van Impe, ‘Les Conseils Culturels’, CRISP, Courrier Hebdomadiare nos. 627, 628, 7 December 1973, 14 December 1973. There are two ministers in each case, Dutch-speaking and French-speaking.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    Jacques Brassinne, ‘La reforme de l’état’, CRISP Courrier Hebdomadaire nos. 874–5, 893–4, 21 March, 10 October 1980.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Keith G. Banting and Richard Simeon 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maureen Covell

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