Understanding Belgium today

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  • Intitulé du programme
    Understanding Belgium today
  • mnémonique du programme
  • Programme organisé par
    • ULB Formation continue
    • Université libre de Bruxelles
  • Type de titre
    formation continue
  • Secteur et domaine d'études
    Sciences humaines et sociales/Sciences juridiques
  • Accessible en reprise d'études
  • Type d'horaire
    En journée
  • Durée de la formation
    courte (2 à 5 jours)
  • Catégorie / Thématique
    Sciences humaines et sociales - Sciences politiques et sociales



Informations générales

Type de titre

formation continue

Durée de la formation

courte (2 à 5 jours)

Type d'horaire

En journée

Catégorie(s) - Thématique(s)

Sciences humaines et sociales - Sciences politiques et sociales

Faculté(s) et université(s) organisatrice(s) Accessible en reprise d'études



This series of lectures is meant for newcomers to Belgium and/or anyone interested in understanding Belgium Professors and experts in the field, will identify elements which have lead to the formation of Belgium, as we know today. Through examples and anecdotes, they will illustrate the concept Belgitude.

Calendrier & inscriptions

Calendrier & inscriptions

Renseignements complémentaires

Ces conférences sont disponibles en français sur demande. Ce cycle de conférence a pour objectif de vous faire découvrir la Belgique dans toute sa réalité et sa complexité. Cinq conférences ciblées vous permettront de découvrir :

  • comprendre la Belgique : Culture et histoire

  • une introduction au système fédéral belge;

  • l'histoire de Bruxelles;

  • le réseau hospitalier et le système de santé en Belgique;

  • le système scolaire en Communauté française de Belgique;

Des professeurs, experts dans leur domaine, vous décriront les éléments qui ont présidé à la Belgique telle que nous la vivons aujourd'hui. Grâce à des exemples et anecdotes, ils illustreront le concept de belgitude.

Et avec le soutien des sociétés Euromut, Ethias, de la revue 'The Bulletin', du Bureau de liaison 'Bruxelles-Europe' et avec le soutien de BrusselsLife.be


I. Culture and history

Kenneth Bertrams, FNRS Researcher, ULB and University of Montréal

Date: Tuesday 17/02/2009 at 17h

Belgium is not easy to understand! Visitors, diplomats, Belgian themselves even are bewildered by its present institutional set-up: one federal State but 3 official Communities and 3 Regions each with its own government and, in addition, some deep-rooted philosophical divisions within the French and the Flemish speaking Communities. The main objective of the lectures is to provide an in-depth comprehension of Belgian history since the 19th century as a key to an understanding of the present-day structures of the State. The focus will be on the socio-economic development of Belgium, the philosophical debate between Catholics and non-Catholics and the linguistic question. These three main themes will contribute to explain the origin in 1830 of the new State as a result of a national and international consensus, the reasons of its economic successes in the 19th and 20th century, the difference in economic development between the two main regions, the cultural and political debates. To conclude, the complexity of the contemporary Belgian institutions will be related to the very complexity of Belgian society.

II. Introduction to the Belgian federal system

Johanne Poirier, Professor at the Faculty of Law

Date: Tuesday 17/03/2009 at 17h

Belgium is a small European country of 10 million people, divided into three main language groups (French, Dutch and German speakers). Over the last 30 years, the Belgian unitary and relatively centralised system has gradually been transformed into one of the most decentralised federations. The Belgian experience illustrates how a mixture of self-rule and shared-rule has allowed, sometimes with significant tensions, several cultural communities to share a common political space. This brief presentation will introduce participants to the factors which contributed to the adoption of a federal structure. We will examine some of the unique features of the Belgian federal system, the principal being the co-existence and overlapping of two distinct types of constitutive units. The federation is composed of three Regions, which are traditional territorial units, and of Communities, which provide democratic institutions to cultural groups. It will be pointed out, however, that in Belgium, even this version of personal federalism has strong territorial limitations. The reasons behind this double-stratification will be outlined. These include the need to enable both Communities to manage cultural institutions in Brussels, without enforcing a particular and definitive ethnic or linguistic label on the inhabitants of the capital-city. We will also canvass some original power-sharing and conflict resolution arrangements within federal institutions (executive and major courts composed of an equal number of French and Dutch speakers, despite demographic differences, for instance). This part of the presentation will underline the bipolar, nearly confederal, dimension of the Belgian constitutional set-up, despite the existence of six constitutive units. Finally, current challenges facing the Belgian federation will also be examined, including the impact that institutions designed to accommodate diversity can have on the strengthening of these identities. In other words, institutions will be examined both as a solution to the tensions inherent in complex multicultural, multi-lingual and multinational societies, and as the potential source of tension in federal regimes.

III History of Brussels

Benoit Majerus, FNRS Researcher, ULB

Date: Tuesday 28/04/2009 at 17h

As capital of Europe as well as of Belgium and of Flanders, as an urban conglomeration of 19 boroughs (communes) but also as full fledged region of federal Belgium, Brussels is fascinating in its complexity. Its spatial structure, its architecture but equally the major building works that shaped its history (the vaulting over of the river Senne, the North-South railway junction) pattern a most original urban landscape. To understand the city of today, one needs to look back at its past. Careful scrutiny will reveal Brussels as a recent city, established on the banks of a small, meandering river, the Senne. It took advantage of the agrarian growth of the 10th-13th centuries and has since become part of the most prosperous and densely populated European space. As early as the 16th century, the Court and the central institutions of the Spanish Netherlands were established in the city which henceforth enjoyed a well-established European reputation. Throughout the next centuries, the city becomes the beacon of the region and so naturally in 1830, the capital of the small very centralised and rapidly developing kingdom of Belgium, Brussels then plays a fundamental role in the political and economic development as well as the cultural artistic and scientific growth of Belgium: the city becomes the country's showcase. But, this is often overlooked, Brussels imposes itself also as early as the 19th century as the country's most important industrial centre. From the middle of the 20th century, following its European vocation, Brussels has attracted many international, in particular European institutions. It is, however, institutionally, a remarkably complex entity: the progressive move towards a federal state has redistributed powers and turned Brussels into one of the three constitutive regions but the only one in which the two communities are officially represented. Concurrent with this evolution, the Brussels population has steadily increased, with among others the important accretion of numerous immigrants from the Mediterranean countries at the end of the last century. This mixing of people of different backgrounds constitutes the real challenge of a contemporary multicultural Brussels.

IV. The school system in French-speaking Belgium

Philippe Tremblay, Research worker at the Faculty of Psychology - ULB

Date: Tuesday 13/06/2009 at 17h

The aim is to provide a picture of the school system as it is organised today in French-speaking Belgium and to indicate succinctly the historic events that shaped the present situation. The characteristics of the French-speaking educational system will be delineated and situated in the European educational set-up.


  1. Education as a competence of the French-speaking Community (since 1989), impact and consequences of the devolution.

  2. State schools and private schools (confessional, non confessional), the networks, the school agreement (law of May 29, 1959), definition of neutrality (decree of March 31, 1994), internetwork and autonomy of organisational powers.

  3. Compulsory education and non compulsory education: evolution of obligatory school age, consequences of the extension of obligatory school age till 18 (law of June 29, 1983).

  4. Organisation of compulsory education (since the establishment of the renewed system (enseignement rénové), now called Type 1); the decree about MISSIONS of July 24, 1997.

  5. Organisation of non-compulsory education: higher education and university education, the practical results of the Bologna process (decree of March 31, 2004).

  6. A wide open educational system (no national or regional exam at the end of secondary education, no admission exam to non compulsory education except for a few specific schools).

  7. Figures about the French-speaking educational system (based on the annual statistics published by the French Ministry of Education and other publications reproducing the indications of the OCDE.

  8. A few difficulties and challenges facing the French-speaking educational system today.

V. Hospital networks and health system

Alain De Wever, Vice-President of the School of Public Health - Professor at the Faculty of Medecine - ULB

Date: Tuesday 26/05/2009 at 17h

Belgium experienced a particular social history which created philosophical, political and linguistic divisions. The coverage insurance efficiently protects Belgian citizens and those who live in Belgium: indeed healthcare costs today are covered in excess of 80 % by public authorities and social security. On the other hand, the infrastructures and the health workers are particularly outstanding and in the forefront of the latest developments in medical science. Healthcare is based upon 2 basic concepts which are the freedom of choice of the physician and the therapeutically freedom of the provider.