Municipalities with language facilities
There are 27 municipalities with language facilities in Belgium which must offer services to residents in Dutch, French or German, in addition to their official languages. All other municipalities – with the exception of those in the Brussels region which is bilingual – are unilingual and only offer services in their official languages, either Dutch or French.
Belgian law stipulates that:
- 12 municipalities in Flanders must offer services in French; of these 12, six (located around Brussels) are now believed to have become majority French-speaking.
- Wallonia contains two language areas:
- In the French-speaking part of Wallonia, four municipalities offer services in Dutch and another two offer services in German.
- All municipalities in the German-speaking part of Wallonia (annexed after WWI) offer services in French.
- In Brussels, Dutch and French are co-official.
- At the federal level, Dutch, French and German are all official languages.
There were three language areas as from the 31 July 1921, law: the Dutch-speaking Flemish area, the French-speaking Walloon area, and the bilingual area of Brussels (capital city). These language areas of 1921 actually had no institutional translation in the structure of the Belgian state, then still constitutionally divided into provinces and municipalities. Thence a French-speaking unilingual municipality could, for instance, be part of the province of West Flanders.
The Belgian law of 28 June 1932, on the use of languages for administrative matters based the language status of every Belgian municipality on the decennial census that included, since 1846, several language questions about the knowledge as well as the day-to-day practice. The criterion to belong to the Flemish- or Walloon-language area was the a threshold of 50%; whereas with a threshold of 30% the municipal authorities had to offer services in the minority language as well. A municipality could ask the government to change its linguistic status by a royal decree only after a census showed a passage over the 30% or 50% threshold.
The German- and Luxembourgish-speaking minorities in Eastern Wallonia were not mentioned in the 1921 or 1931 laws. The German-speaking minority was mostly settled in the 'Eastern Cantons', several Prussian municipalities ceded to Belgium by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and administered from 1920 to 1925 by a Belgian military High Commissioner. There was, and still is, a Luxembourgish-speaking minority in some municipalities bordering the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
The 1932 law was implemented only once, as the invasion of Belgium by Nazi Germany in 1940 prevented the organization of the decennial census, which was organized in 1947 and applied only on 2 July 1954, when an ad hoc law modifying the law of 28 June 1932 on the use of languages for administrative matters transferred three previously unilingual Flemish municipalities with language facilities to the French-speaking minority (Evere, Ganshoren and Sint-Agatha-Berchem) to the bilingual region of Brussels, thus and introduced language facilities for the French-speaking minority in four previously unilingual Flemish municipalities (Drogenbos, Kraainem, Wemmel and Linkebeek).
In 1962–1963 four language areas were formally determined: the Dutch-language area (now also corresponding with the Flemish Region), the bilingual area of Brussels-Capital, (whose borders came to determine those of the present Brussels-Capital Region), the French-language area and the German-language area (together coinciding with Wallonia).
The situation around Brussels (in the rim municipalities, see below) differs from the situation along the border between Flanders and Wallonia, and between the German- and French-speaking areas in Wallonia, where certain municipalities have had linguistic minorities for several centuries. The language border appears quite stable and peaceful, except for the municipalities of Voeren (French: Fourons) and, to a much lesser extent, Mouscron (Dutch: Moeskroen) and Comines-Warneton (Dutch: Komen-Waasten).
During the 1970s, many municipalities were merged into a bigger municipality in order to lessen administrative overhead. However, the difficult situation of the municipalities with language facilities had the effect that no other municipalities liked to merge with those (unless they had the same facilities already). As a result, many of the smallest municipalities in Belgium today are municipalities with language facilities. S.a. the least populated municipality (Herstappe) and the smallest municipality with a city title (Mesen).
In the early 1990s, a revision of the Belgian Constitution made it more difficult to change the language status of the concerned municipalities by requiring that any such change had to gain a majority in each of the two language groups in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Previously, an overall majority would have been enough, which could have in theory allowed a near unanimity of Flemish representatives to impose an abolition of the facilities against the unanimous wish of the French-speaking representatives. This revision of the Constitution was widely seen by French speakers as a recognition that language facilities had a permanent status.
Currently, both Dutch and French speakers complain about poor or absent respect by certain authorities for their linguistic rights. Belgian and European courts are frequently solicited to arbitrate. Related political debates often take place in the various Belgian assemblies i.e. the federal, regional and community Parliaments.
In accordance with Article 6 of the Act on linguistic arrangements in educational matters promulgated on 30 July 1963 and Article 3 of the Royal Decree of 14 March 1960 (implementing Article 4 of the law of 29 May 1959 to which it refers): nursery and primary education may be organised in another national language than the official language of the linguistic area under the condition that:
- at least 16 heads of households residing in the same municipality make an official request for such a school;
- the language most commonly used by their children to be provided with schooling is the considered language
- there is no school providing education in that language at less than 4 kilometres.
Since the 1988 reform which transferred educational matters from the federal government's level to the Communities’ level, the hosting Community is responsibility to finance schools that meet the above criteria. However, the finances come from a special federal fund, which is shared between Communities according to the number of schools/pupils they respectively have in charge under the above legal arrangements. Annual subvention: nearly 10 million Euros.
In conformity with the above legal arrangements:
- The Dutch-speaking Community finances nine French-speaking nursery and primary schools for French speakers in Drogenbos (1), Linkebeek (1), Sint-Genesius-Rode (2), Wemmel (1), Kraainem (1), Wezembeek-Oppem (2), and Ronse (1).
- The French-speaking Community finances a Dutch-speaking nursery and primary school for Dutch speakers in Mouscron.
In addition, the Decree of the Belgian French-speaking Community of 13 July 1998 and subsequent decrees and circulars on the organisation of education authorise schools which are funded by the French-speaking Community to offer language immersion education. In 2011, the French-speaking Community finances 152 nursery and primary schools and 101 secondary schools providing such type of education in Wallonia and Brussels. Out of them, 118 nursery and primary schools and 76 secondary schools use Dutch as language of immersion and 16 are located in municipalities with language facilities for Dutch speakers:
Apart from the above, there are also:
- 1 small private Dutch-speaking nursery and primary school in the Walloon municipality of Comines-Warneton. Since the above legal criteria to establish such a school had not been met, it is financed by the Dutch-language Community.
- 1 special French-speaking school for sick children (falling under a different law) in the Flemish municipality (not with language facilities) of De Haan, linked with the paediatric medical centre of Zeepreventorium. It is financed by the Dutch-language Community.
In 2011, Dutch-speaking schools in Wallonia and French-speaking schools in Flanders are respectively inspected by Dutch- and French-speaking school inspectors. In 2007, the Flemish government decided that French-speaking schools in Flanders should be inspected by Flemish inspectors but the Constitutional Court cancelled this decision in 2010 for the municipalities with language facilities around Brussels and confirmed its judgement in 2011 while extending it to all Flemish municipalities with language facilities for French speakers.
Communication and translation
The language facilities are regulated by the Belgian laws promulgated on 8 November 1962 and 2 August 1963. The administration of municipalities with facilities is internally monolingual (the administration works in one language) and externally bilingual (it communicate with the population in two languages). Until the 1990s, these laws were implemented in addressing the local residents in their own respective languages and in publishing public notices in both languages.
In the late 1990s, two Flemish ministers (Leo Peeters and Luc Vandenbrande) proposed a stricter interpretation of the above laws and instructed the Flemish municipalities with facilities for the French speakers to send all documents only in Dutch and to provide a French translated version only to people who would place an individual formal request which should be renewed for every document. These instructions sharpened the practice until then condoned by the Permanent Commission for Language Control, a joint commission set up by the law to control the correct application of the language laws in Belgium.
French speakers asked the Council of Europe to advice on the general situation of protection of national minorities in Belgium and sued, in Belgium, the Flemish Region to restore the previous practice. In 2002, after having sent various representatives to investigate the situation, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1301 (2002) on Protection of minorities in Belgium supporting French speakers' claim to be recognised as a "national minority" in the Flemish region, like Dutch speakers and German speakers in Wallonia. However, this assembly, contrary to the Belgian and regional legislators and the Belgian and European judiciary, has no legal competency in these matters, only a moral one. With regard to the case opened in Belgium: in 2004, in a rare case of disavowing the recommendation of its Auditor, the 12th Flemish Chamber of the Council of State judged that the Flemish interpretation of the linguistic laws did not contradict the aforementioned laws. French speakers have generally considered that this ruling was politically motivated and legally unsound; and have kept demanding that the Flemish interpretation of linguistic laws be softened and that Belgium ratifies the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as per the Council of Europe's recommendations (a demand presently blocked by most Flemish political parties).
Until now, neither the French-speaking authorities nor the German-speaking authorities have taken any formal step to restrict language facilities in a similar way for the Dutch/French/German speakers living in Walloon municipalities with language facilities. However, in 2005 the Flemish newspaper De Tijd pointed out that the documents sent to the residents of the Walloon municipality of Enghien were generally written only in French while including just a small note in Dutch asking the receiver to inform whether he/she wished to get a Dutch copy. Since then, the municipality has corrected this practice.
Belgian courts are extremely reluctant to arbitrate in all matters related to the linguistic and ethnic rights of the various ethnic and language groups in Belgium.
Over time, Flemings have become dissatisfied by the continued and growing presence of French speakers in the "rim" municipalities around Brussels. As a result, there is now a strong and growing reaction in Flanders demanding that the current language facilities should be phased out, especially for the recent 'migrants' around Brussels. For the facilities in the municipalities with historic minorities on the Walloon–Flemish border, there is still a willingness to consider maintaining them on condition of reciprocity (that these facilities are also properly implemented in Wallonia).
French speakers want to maintain all current facilities in Flanders, the more militant wing wanting to extend them in scope and/or area. French-speaking political parties, especially, protested against the Flemish ministerial circular letters from the socialist minister Leo Peeters (see supra). These circular letters, various additional restrictions put on the use of French in those municipalities, and the claims made by more and more Flemish politicians for the abolition of the facilities have caused a radicalisation of part of the French speakers, many of whom now think their linguistic rights would be better protected if the "rim" municipalities joined the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region. At the same time, French speakers from the civil society like Professor Philippe Van Parijs and French speakers among the members of the Brussels Enterprises Commerce and Industry association (BECI) made proposals meant at addressing these issues (among others) while addressing at the same time Flemish concerns and demand for respect of the Flemish 'principle of territoriality':
- BECI, on the basis of a study conducted by the Swiss agency “Bak Basel Economics” comparing Brussels productivity with 15 metropolitan areas in Europe, advocates the establishment of Brussels Metropolitan across the existing regional borders throughout Brussels’ economic hinterland. It would enclose Brussels, a large part of the Flemish district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde and a large part of the Walloon district of Nivelles. While some see in this proposal the opportunity to expand the borders of bilingual Brussels Region, others state that existing regional borders would remain unpaired but sound socio-economical and urban development policies strongly coordinated throughout the area.
- In a proposal dated 23 August 2007, Professor Philippe Van Parijs explains that, while it would be foolish to think that Brussels could be coherently managed separately from his immediate hinterland (Flemish and Walloon Brabant), French speakers should be realistic and abandon such claims for the expansion of the Brussels Region to its entire economic hinterland since such expansion would put the Dutch language at risk. He suggests that the facilities would be maintained for the French speakers who presently live in the 2 largest municipalities among the 6 municipalities with facilities around Brussels, whereas they would no longer apply to their children and new comers. The four smaller municipalities (covering less than 40% of the combined territory of the six communes) would be included into the bilingual region of Brussels; and the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde district would be split along this new border. In 2010 in a publication titled "The linguistic territoriality principle: Right violation or parity of esteem" he reiterated his belief in “territorial linguistic federalism” as opposed to “non-territorial linguistic federalism”. Indeed, the latter implies that people living in the same place would access services that may be of greatly different quality depending on the linguistic community they depend upon whereas the first, while avoiding this drawback, also addresses irreducibly special nature of any coherent, comprehensive project for a political community.
Dutch-speaking municipalities with facilities for French speakers
In Flanders there are two kinds of municipalities with facilities. Rim municipalities are situated in the Flemish rim around the Brussels-Capital Region and form part of Flemish Brabant. The other municipalities are called language border municipalities because they lie close to the border with Wallonia.
- Kraainem (French, not common: Crainhem)
- Sint-Genesius-Rode (French: Rhode-Saint-Genèse)
Wezembeek-Oppem and Kraainem are sometimes referred to as the oostrand (eastern rim). A survey published in Le Soir on 14 February 2005, indicated that in all six rim municipalities, the majority of the population was French-speaking (the study was unofficial, since the public authorities refuse to undertake a census). More precisely, the survey claimed that the French-speaking population amounts to 55% of the population in Drogenbos, 78% in Kraainem, 79% in Linkebeek, 54% in Wemmel, 72% in Wezembeek-Oppem, and 58% in Sint-Genesius-Rode.
Language border municipalities:
- Bever (French: Biévène)
- Mesen (French: Messines)
- Ronse (French: Renaix)
- Spiere-Helkijn (French: Espierres-Helchin)
- Voeren (French: Fourons)
Although Sint-Genesius-Rode also borders Wallonia, it is considered a rim municipality rather than a border municipality.
French-speaking municipalities with facilities for Dutch speakers
- Comines-Warneton (Dutch: Komen-Waasten)
- Enghien (Dutch: Edingen)
- Flobecq (Dutch: Vloesberg)
- Mouscron (Dutch: Moeskroen)
French-speaking municipalities with facilities for German speakers
French-speaking municipalities with limited educational provisions for both German and Dutch speakers
- Plombières (Dutch: Blieberg, German: Bleiberg)
- Welkenraedt (Dutch: Welkenraat, German: Welkenrath)
German-speaking municipalities with facilities for French speakers
All municipalities in the German-language region have French-language facilities:
- Amel (French: Amblève)
- Büllingen (French: Bullange)
- Bütgenbach (French: Butgenbach)
- Eupen (old French: Néau)
- Kelmis (French: La Calamine)
- Sankt Vith (French: Saint-Vith)
- Municipalities in Belgium
- Frenchification of Brussels
- List of municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region
- List of municipalities of the Flemish Region
- List of municipalities in Wallonia
- De Gordel
- Language legislation in Belgium
- French Language Services Act - similar legislation regarding French-language services in Ontario, Canada
- Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
- "Belgium". protal.cor.europa.eu. Committee of the Regions. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
- (Dutch) Over faciliteiten, Taalwetgeving Faciliteitengemeenten
- "30 JULI 1963. - Wet houdende taalregeling in het onderwijs / Loi concernant le régime linguistique dans l'enseignement." (in Dutch and French). Justel. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- "Arrêté royal portant application de l'article 4 de la loi du 29 mai 1959." (PDF) (in French). gallilex.cfwb.be. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- "Basisscholen vestigingsplaatsen met franstalig onderwijs" (in Dutch). Vlaams Ministerie van Onderwijs en Vorming. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
- "La Wallonie aussi a ses écoles à facilités" (in French). La Libre Belgique. 26 December 2007. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
- "Décret portant organisation de l'enseignement maternel et primaire ordinaire et modifiant la réglementation de l'enseignement" (in French). Gallilex. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
- "L'Immersion Linguistique dans le Fondamental: Liste des Ecoles" (in French). Communaut’e Française de Belgique. 2010–2011. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
- "L'immersion Linguistique dans le Secondaire" (in French). 2011–2012. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
- "Le décret flamand sur l'inspection scolaire en périphérie est annulé" (in French). Enseignons.be. 28 October 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2011.
- Leading to the writing of various reports among which the Domeni Columberg report and Lili Nabholz-Haidegger's report, all inviting Belgium to recognise the fact that there is a French-speaking minority in Flanders. Their recommendations were seen by some Flemish experts as based on legally unstable grounds since there was no definition of national minorities (not from EU legislation or from any other competent international body). However in its Resolution 1301 (2002) on Protection of minorities in Belgium the European Council clarified this point in reiterating the definition it had already provided in its Recommendation 1201 (1993).
- Resolution 1301 (2002) on Protection of minorities in Belgium
- Huysentruyt, Stefaan (24 January 2005). "Faciliteiten zijn Fransiliteiten" (PDF) (in Dutch). De Tijd (financial & economical newspaper). Retrieved 11 June 2007.
In hun berichten aan de bevolking, moeten de faciliteitengemeenten tweetalig zijn. Maar in Edingen staat in het beste geval in een verloren hoekje van het bericht de mededeling: 'Wenst u een Nederlandstalige kopie van deze brief, gelieve het ons te melden.' In het slechtste geval worden de brieven verstuurd door privé-firma's of VZW's en zijn ze compleet in het Frans. Het delegeren van gemeentetaken aan VZW's, om zo de taalwet te omzeilen, is een techniek waaraan alle Waalse faciliteitengemeenten zich gretig bezondigen, net als de Brusselse gemeenten overigens. (In their messages to the population, the municipalities with facilities must be bilingual. But in Enghien, at best a statement in a small corner of the message mentions: 'In case you wish a Dutch-language copy of this letter, please inform us of such.' In the worst case, the letters are sent by private firms or NPOs and are entirely in French. The delegating of municipal tasks to NPOs, so as to circumvent the Law on language, is a technique by which all Walloon municipalities with facilities eagerly sin, just like the municipalities of Brussels, by the way.)(quote attributed to the interviewed Leo Camerlynck)
- "Réforme de l'Etat : En avant !" (PDF) (in French). Le Soir. 23 August 2007. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
- "The linguistic territoriality principle: Right violation or parity of esteem" (PDF). Re-Bel Initiative. December 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2011.