> Wallonia : birth of a Region


 Wallonia in the unitary Belgian State:  birth of an identity

The Constitution of 1831 organised the kingdom of Belgium into a unitary State divided into nine provinces. French was the language of the elite, and the only official language. It was the linguistic question that was eventually to challenge the unitary Belgian State. The Flemish Movement, which defended Flemish culture and campaigned for the recognition of Dutch as a language to be used in schools and as a language in legal and administrative matters, began around 1840. On the Walloon side, there was no movement aimed at defending or promoting the use of Walloon languages. However, the initial timid developments towards a bilingual State - with the first linguistic laws of the years 1870 - provoked unrest amongst the French-speakers, thus also the Walloons. At the time, there was no clear distinction between the two identities. Groups supporting the Walloon cause began to appear at the end of the 19th century. The majority of them were located in Brussels and Flanders, where the French-speaking bourgeoisie felt threatened. The first Walloon Congress was held in Brussels in 1890. Walloon leagues appeared in the years that followed and in 1912, a new Walloon Congress brought together key figures from both the Belgian Worker’s Party and the Liberal Party. This congress resulted in the first Walloon Assembly, with the socialist Jules Destrée as the first chairman. His famous “Letter to the King on the Separation of Wallonia and Flanders” (1912) had a lasting effect.

The period between the two wars: the second round of linguistic legislation

In 1918 was decided the establishment of universal suffrage for men. Together with the system of proportional representation, it established the system of governmental coalitions and encouraged the development of a culture of compromise between the parties. Linguistic issues were a serious cause of instability during the period between the two wars. In the 1930’s, a series of linguistic laws gradually established the monolingualism of Flanders and Wallonia.  During these years, there were also reform projects concerning the unitary State, especially on the Flemish side, and the first arguments in favour of the federalist idea. The Walloon Movement was divided into several branches: the Walloon Assembly, which mainly aimed to defend Wallonia and the Walloons within the framework of the unitary State, and the more radical Concentration wallonne, which was created by dissidents of the Assembly and which demanded “the right for the Walloons to self-determination”.

The post-war period: the revival of the Walloon Movement

After the Liberation, the reconstruction of the country, finding a solution to the Royal Question (which also revealed a split between Flemish and Walloon public opinions) and the revival of the fight between Catholic and public schooling mobilised energies for a while. In order to study solutions to the linguistic problem, a research centre - the “Centre Harmel” - was created in 1948. Walloon movements with different sympathies were set up under the Occupation: Wallonie Libre (which included Socialists and Liberals), Wallonie Indépendante (communist tendency), and Wallonie Catholique. After a first national Walloon Congress held in Liège in 1945, the second Walloon Congress, held in Charleroi the following year, adopted a proposal for a federal state made up of two regions and one federal city, Brussels (proposal Grégoire - Rey submitted to the House of Representatives in 1947). From this moment on, there were Walloon congresses every two years. Other Walloon organisations were created, such as the Walloon Economic Council. At the 1954 elections, the Christelijke Volksunie  (Volksunie starting 1958) entered Parliament.

The 1960s: establishing the linguistic border

With the Royal Question resolved and the School Pact signed, linguistic issues returned to the fore at the beginning of the 1960s. The popularity of the Walloon Movement increased : it was given the support of powerful trade unions. The Mouvement populaire wallon (MPW) was created under the chairmanship of André Renard. Other movements, such as Wallonie Libre, Rénovation wallonne, or the Walloon Liberal Movement, were revived or created. From 1962 onwards, the different elements of the Walloon Movement were united in a Central Committee for Wallonia, within which the Executive College of Wallonia was formed. In 1963, this college launched a vast operation to collect signatures: this petitioning was largely successful, but it had no concrete effects. While the Walloon Movement, in the context of a coal crisis, was in favour of autonomy which would allow structural reforms, the Flemish Movement remained more focused on cultural autonomy. As for the inhabitants of Brussels, generally not in favour of a decentralisation of decision-making, they remained mobilised to defend their language and their rights, as proven by the creation in 1964 of the Democratic Front of French-speakers in Brussels (FDF), which became the main party in Brussels in the following decade. The fate of Brussels in a regionalised Belgian State was an obstacle to the reform of institutions for a long time. The creation of the FDF was mainly a reaction to the adoption in 1962 of a new law which established the actual line of the linguistic border, thereby determining four linguistic regions: the French linguistic region, the Dutch linguistic region, the German linguistic region and the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital (French-Dutch), made up of the nineteen communes. Other linguistic laws were related to the use of languages in legal and administrative matters, in education and in diplomatic matters. The end of the 1960’s sees major political crisis, with the transfer of the French section of the Catholic University of Louvain and the scission of the Christian Socialist Party into two different sections. It was within this context that the Rassemblement wallon (RW) was created. Just like the FDF, it presented itself as a pluralist party and included militants and candidates from various political formations.

The constitutional reform of 1970: the Communities and the Regions

In 1970, the first stage of the institutional reform process took place. New structures were introduced between the Central State and the provinces. The Constitution was modified to recognise the existence of 3 cultural communities and 3 regions.  A cultural Council for the French cultural community and a Cultural Council for the Flemish community were established. Each was composed of members from the relevant linguistic group in the House and the Senate. They could determine cultural matters, the use of languages and certain aspects of education by decree. The Council of the German cultural community, made up of 25 elected members as well as members and senators based in the constituency of Verviers, was created by law in 1973. This Council had a consultative and regulatory role.  The principle of the existence of three regions wasn’t immediately applied. First of all, there was a phase of so-called preparatory regionalisation in 1974, with the creation of regional ministerial committees and regional Councils, made up of senators (and moreover, in Brussels, of members of the urban area Council) and empowered with a consultative competence. Still in 1970, a first economical de-centralization took place, with the law creating three regional economic councils (Flanders, Wallonia, Brabant), consultative assemblies reporting on matters of economic development and on regional development companies.

1980-1983: the political institutions of the Communities and Regions

At the end of the 1970s, institutional reforms were a major cause of governmental instability. A first agreement on regionalisation, known under the double name of Egmont Pact - Stuyvenberg Agreements, was not implemented. Instead, the law of 5 July 1979 created provisional community and regional institutions, whose executives were once again made up of members of the national government. Following a new political crisis, the French-speakers resigned themselves in 1980 to delaying the creation of institutions particular to Brussels in order to allow the conclusion of an agreement on the reform of the institutions. The revision of the Constitution and the special institutional reform law of 8 August 1980 extended the competencies of the Communities to social affairs, granted competencies to the Regions and established the institutions of the Communities and the Walloon Region. The competencies of the Flemish Region were exercised by the Flemish Community. The institutions of the German-speaking Community were not established until the law of 31 December 1983, defining its competencies for the same matters as those for which the other two Communities were competent - with the exception of the use of languages - and providing for the possibility of the Walloon Region to transfer the exercising of certain competencies to the German-speaking Community.

1988-89: extending the competencies of the Communities and Regions and the creation of institutions particular to Brussels

In 1988-89, a new revision of the Constitution and new institutional reform laws, including the special law of 12 January 1989 relating to the institutions of the Brussels-Capital Region, were adopted. The competencies of the Communities and Regions were extended and the institutions of the Brussels-Capital region were established. The definitive establishment of Walloon Region institutions in Namur, the actual creation of institutions in the Brussels-Capital region and the financial problems of the French Community re-opened the debate on the appropriateness of maintaining this Community.

Wallonia in the Federal State  

The Central Government set up in March 1992 established a community-to-community dialogue which led to a new round of institutional reform. In 1993, a new revision of the Constitution and the new institutional reform laws finally transformed the Belgian State into a Federal State. The competencies of the federated entities (Regions and Communities) were extended while the central State institutions were also reformed (composition and role of the senate, in particular). The Flemish and Walloon Councils, as well as the Council of the French Community, were granted constitutive autonomy, i.e. they were now able to determine major aspects of their composition and functioning, as well as those of their executives. On 1 January 1994, following an agreement between French-speakers, the French Community transferred certain competencies to the Walloon Region, for the French language region, and to the COCOF for the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital. The transfer mostly concerned social affairs and some cultural affairs. On 1 January 1995, the province of Brabant gave way to two new provinces,  the province of Flemish Brabant and the province of Walloon Brabant. In 2001, a new institutional reform extended the Regions’ competencies concerning agriculture, local authorities and foreign trade.