A stronger role for Flanders in foreign policy

14 March 2023
Karl Vanlouwe

Flanders wants to adapt the cooperation agreements it concluded on Flemish foreign policy in the 1990s with the EU and international institutions, among others, to the current institutional reality, as Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon stated. Flemish MP Karl Vanlouwe welcomes this news: “This is an important step forward in strengthening the role of Flanders in foreign policy.”

In Belgian federalism, the government that has internal competence over a particular matter also carries that competence externally. This principle is called the “in foro interno, in foro externo” principle. For example, Flanders is also internationally competent for education, foreign trade, welfare, culture, and so on. The federal states can therefore define their own foreign policy for their own competences.

Outdated cooperation agreements

In practice, external representation is sometimes particularly complicated. That is why three cooperation agreements were concluded in the 1990s - on representation at the EU, at international organisations and on the status of Flemish diplomats. In the meantime, these agreements have not been adapted to the present situation: both the international and European arenas and the internal distribution of competences have changed. This means that the current agreements urgently need an update.

Times long past

Karl Vanlouwe explains: “Those cooperation agreements date back to times long past and do not respect the constitutional distribution of competences. It cannot be that Flanders does not take its seat at the international table for its own competences.”

Three working groups

The Flemish coalition agreement also explicitly calls for the modernisation of the cooperation agreements. Minister-President Jan Jambon has raised the issue with his federal and regional colleagues several times, but so far, without success. After the last Interministerial Conference on Foreign Policy on 7 March 2023, however, there is finally movement: two inter-federal working groups will examine the cooperation agreements, and a group of academic experts will be commissioned to bring objectivity to the external distribution of competences.

Fully valid Flemish voice abroad

Karl Vanlouwe is pleased with this breakthrough: “Finally! I hope that these three working groups can start work soon so that the agreements can be revised. That is an absolute necessity so that Flanders has a fully valid European and international voice.” Finally, Karl Vanlouwe hopes that the Flemish governing parties that are also in the federal majority will put this file on the table there too: “I hope that the CD&V party does not let itself be crushed federally on this issue.”

How valuable did you find this article?

Enter your personal score here
The average score is