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Chambre des Représentants (House of Representatives)

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Parliament name (generic / translated) Parlement fédéral - Federaal Parlement - Föderales Parlament / Federal Parliament
Structure of parliament Bicameral
Chamber name Chambre des Représentants
Related chamber (for bicameral parliaments) Sénat - Senaat - Senat / Senate
Type of political regime parliamentary / constitutional monarchy
Notes Control of government action is assigned principally to the Chamber of Deputies (Article 101 of the Constitution). Only the latter is able to bring the political responsibility of the Government into play and to motion a vote of confidence or no confidence. The Senate has retained, with and the Chamber of Deputies, certain instruments of control of the executive as incidentals of its legislative role: questions, interpellations (requests for explanations) and resolutions.
Head of the executive Prime Minister
Notes The federal executive power belongs to the monarch (Article 37 of the Constitution). However, from its very beginning the Belgian Constitution has preserved the abandon of monarchist rule. It has not only limited the monarch's attributions but it has also stripped him or her of all personal power: the sovereign cannot act without the preliminary consent of a minister. Thereby, executive power is in practise exercised by the Government and is more specifically managed by the Prime Minister.
Method for appointing the executive The constitutional powers of the monarch are hereditary (Article 85 of the Constitution). Upon the monarch's death the chambers meet without convocation, ten days after the decease at the latest. The monarch's successor may accede to the throne only after taking a solemn oath before the assembled chambers. So it is only in exceptional circumstances that the two Chambers are convened to provide cover for the regency: in the absence of an heir or if the throne is vacant (Articles 86 et 95 of the Constitution).

The ministers and secretaries of the State are appointed by the monarch (Articles 96 et 104 of the Constitution). However, no action of the monarch may take effect without the countersignature of a minister. In practice, therefore, the outgoing Prime Minister signs a decree in conjunction with them appointing the new Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister is sworn in by the monarch. Then, in conjunction with the monarch the new Prime Minister signs a decree appointing the other members of the Government, who are likewise sworn in by the monarch.
Term of office of the executive and coincidence with the term of the legislature The monarch is in power until his or her death or, if the need arises, his or her abduction. The Chambers are elected for a term of four years, which as a rule coincides with the mandate of the Prime Minister.
Incompatibility of the functions of member of the executive and member of Parliament Yes Article 51 of the Constitution states that members of the Government cannot be parliamentarians.
Dissolution of Parliament Yes
  • Circumstances
The Constitution foresees two cases of early dissolution: automatic dissolution (Article 195) and dissolution at the monarch's initiative (Article 46). The two Chambers are automatically dissolved when the legislative authority adopts a declaration of revision of the Constitution. The monarch does not have the right to dissolve the Chambers in two cases. Firstly, when the federal Government resigns voluntarily, he or she may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies after receiving the consent of the majority of its members. And secondly, the monarch may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies when it rejects a motion of confidence or adopts a motion of no confidence without proposing a nomination for the successor to the Prime Minister.
  • Modalities
The dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies entails the dissolution of the Senate. The act of dissolving requires the countersigning of the Prime Minister. In practice, the method of dissolution by adopting a declaration of revision of the Constitution has become the rule (as in 1991, 1995, 1999).
Accountability of Government to Parliament Yes The Government is collectively accountable before the single Chamber of Deputies.
Modalities of oversight
  • Oral and written questions of parliamentarians
Parliamentarians may put oral or written questions to ministers. In contrast to oral questions, motions can be moved following an interpellation. The main point of the questions session is not to provoke actual debate; rather it is a succession of short questions and precise answers. During the session parliamentarians can expect to engage a deeper discussion on a given question. As such, the rules of the Chamber of Deputies permit debate on current events to take place after the questions session when the same issue is the subject of several questions. The rules of the Senate do not predict the method of the debates on current events. In practice, however, such debates sometimes occur in regrouping several requests for explication (interpellations) on the same subject. The senate also regularly organizes large public debates as well as study days.
  • Government reports to Parliament
The parliament receives a large number of thematic reports or descriptions and accounts of the activities of public services or semi-public bodies. These documents are submitted to it on a voluntary basis or in carrying out a legal obligation.
  • Vote of confidence on Government programs and/or legislative proposals
On the occasion of the forming of the Government, the Prime Minister delivers a governmental declaration to the parliament setting out the government's legislative proposals. This declaration is the subject of an open debate, which concludes with a vote of confidence from the Chamber of Deputies. In practice, the distinction between a legislative mission and a chamber's auditing mission is often inconsequential. Hearings organized by committees during the examination of a bill make it possible for members to be informed while auditing the Government. Conversely, instruments of control, such as a parliamentary enquiry, may emerge from a legislative initiative.
Motions of censure and votes of no confidence (sub-report)
  • Circumstances
The Constitution does not foresee any special grounds for censure. Motions may be passed following an inquiry, a declaration or a debate. There are reasoned motions that contain recommendations to the Government without giving an expression of confidence in respect of it; pure and simples motions, which the Assembly moves on from to the following item on its agenda, and constructive motions of no confidence whose adoption obligates the Government to resign.
  • Modalites
Article 96 of the Constitution sets out the system for a constructive vote of no confidence: the Government offers its resignation to the monarch if the Chamber of Deputies adopts a motion of no confidence by an absolute majority of its members, providing the monarch with a nomination for the successor to the Prime Minister.
  • Consequences
When a motion of no confidence adopted by the Chamber of Deputies contains the proposed successor to the Prime Minister, the federal Government must resign and the monarch must name the proposed successor as the Prime Minister. If the Chamber of Deputies adopts a motion of no confidence without proposing a successor, the monarch may dissolve the Chamber of Deputies at the same time as the motion of no confidence (Article 46 of the Constitution). By default the Prime Minister in office remains in place. It is likewise customary for the Chamber to adopt a non-constructive motion of no confidence, obligating a particular minister to resign.
Dismissal and/or impeachment of Government and other public officials (sub-report)
  • Circumstances and persons concerned
The monarch is inviolable (Article 88 of the Constitution), but ministers may be judged by the Court of Appeal. The ministers are judged exclusively by the Court of Appeal for violations that they have committed outside or within the exercise of their office.
  • Modalites and procedure
The judgements of the Court of Appeal are liable to appeal before the Court of Cassation, united chambers that are unacquainted with the details of the case. All summons relating to the ruling of the procedure, all direct citation before the Court of Appeal and (except for cases requiring no further evidence) every arrest all require the authorization of the Chamber of Deputies. Without commenting on the details of the case, the Chamber determines whether the claim is serious. It can deny authorization if it proves that the public action is manifestly founded on political motives or that the information provided is arbitrary or insignificant (Article 103 of the Constitution).
  • Consequences
There have been two cases of indictment over the past eleven years (1990-2000): the 'Agusta' and 'Inusop' trials.
  • Have these procedures been applied?
Oversight over the actions of the Government administration Yes Following their own procedures, legislative chambers are forced to oversee ministerial action as much in its political dimensions as in its administrative extensions. Oversight of administrative action through parliamentary institutions is given media coverage via the relevant minister. Parliamentarians do not have a specific right to consult administrative documents or a right to visit administrative services. If they wish to obtain information about an administrative file, the parliament must resort to its right of interpolation.
Means and modalities of oversight
  • Hearings in Committees
Parliamentary committees frequently organize hearings where ministers can be heard directly. A minister must always give his or her consent for a public official to be heard.
  • Committees of inquiry and missions to Government departments
Furthermore, the two chambers have the right to hold an enquiry (Article 56 of the Constitution). When hearings are organized in the framework of a parliamentary enquiry the authority of the committee is enforced. The ministers invited as witnesses take oath and are under the same obligations as before an examining magistrate. Sometimes, with their consent, committees also visit government departments themselves. Moreover, different rules grant parliamentarians permission on certain terms to visit certain places: military bases, prisons and welcome centres for refugees.
  • Oral and written questions of parliamentarians
Parliamentarians may put oral and written questions to ministers. In both cases they communicate the text of their question to the Chairman of the Assembly who judges its admissibility. Written questions are transmitted to the appropriate minister who must reply within 20 days. Questions and replies to ministers are inserted into the weekly bulletin of questions and answers. Oral questions are asked and answered in council. Written questions left unanswered are subject to mention in the bulletin. For oral questions, after the response from the minister and a possible retort, no further follow-up is given. Contrarily, motions may nevertheless be motioned in conclusion to an inquiry.

The practice of question time exists in both Chambers and is normally scheduled to take place at the beginning of the Thursday afternoon sitting. Questions are split proportionally among different political groups and the speaking time for each parliamentarian and minister is limited. Question time is not intended to arouse prolonged debate; rather it is a succession of short questions and precise answers. Parliamentarians may hope to engage in a deeper discussion on a given question after the session. Thus, the rules of the Chamber of Deputies allow for a debate on current affairs to take place after the question time when the same issue is the object of several questions. The rules of the Senate do not predict the method of the debates on current events. In practice, such debates sometimes occur, regrouping several requests for explication (interpellations) on the same subject. The senate also regularly organizes large public debates as well as study programmes.
  • Role of Parliament in the appointment of senior Government officials
The parliament does not intervene in the appointment of high-ranking officials, a competency ascribed to the monarch (Article 107 of the Constitution).
  • Activity reports of the Government administration and of public services or establishments
The parliament receives a large number of thematic descriptions or reports and accounts of the activities of government departments or semi-public bodies. These documents are submitted to it on a voluntary basis or in carrying out a legal obligation. There is cause to mention the reports of the Court of Auditors, the federal ombudsmen and the State Council as well as reports emanating from the judicial authorities.
  • Representation of Parliament in governing bodies of the Government administration
Not applicable
Existence of an ombudsman Yes
  • Method for appointing the executive
The Chamber of Deputies appoints ombudsmen for a renewable period of six years.
  • Relationship to Parliament
Ombudsmen investigate complaints about the functioning of governmental departments and at the request of the Chamber of Deputies carry out all investigations relating to the functioning of governmental departments. They address the Chamber of Deputies with an annual report on their activities, and if they deem it useful they may also present intermediate termly reports. These reports contain recommendations but it is for the Chamber of Deputies to draw conclusions, notably at the Committee on Petitions.
Consultation of Parliament in the preparation of the national budget No Budgetary oversight is carried out by the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate being limited to adopting its own operating budget. The Chamber of Deputies is no longer consulted about the preparation time of the national budget. However, at the beginning of the session in October, the Prime Minister briefs it on the government's policy outline for the year ahead.
Modalities of oversight
  • Examination of the budget / finance act by Parliament
Following the examination of the finance bill and the votes in the Committee, the report is distributed and the reporter presents is in plenary session, where a discussion on the general budget follows and a discussion about the articles subject to amendment.
  • Reports on the budget / finance act by Committees
The Finance and Budget Commission examines the outlines concerning the general spending budget and the ways and means budget, and names a rapporteur. He or she listens to the papers of the finance and budget ministers: a debate is also given over to general government policy.
Fields overseen
  • Defence budget
The parliament exercises control over all public funds.
  • Budget of special departments
The parliament exercises control over all public funds.
  • Role of Parliament in national development plans
Not applicable
Parliament's deadline for the examination and adoption of the budget / finance act The general spending budget and the budget of ways and means are distributed at the Chamber of Deputies for the 31 October at the latest. They must be voted on by 31 December at the latest so that they may enter into force on 1 January of the budget year in question.
Consequences of failure by Parliament to adopt the budget / finance act If the budgets are not approved before the beginning of the fiscal year, a finance bill is brought in to allow the Government to make tax estimates and to work on the basis of provisional credit.
Budgetary autonomy of Parliament Yes The two chambers enjoy financial autonomy and as such are in charge of their own budget (Article 174.1 of the Constitution). The sum of the contribution adopted by each of the Chambers cannot be modified a posteriori, neither by the Government nor by the other Chamber.
Evaluation of Government spending
Parliament approves Government expenditures annually Yes During the month of May, which follows the end of the fiscal year, the Court of Auditors
conveys to the Chamber a foreshadowing of the results of the budget execution. The Chamber votes on the finance bill (a parliamentary bill carrying the definitive ruling of the budget). In practice, this vote is brought into play several years into arrears.
Parliamentary oversight of public companies Yes Independent public enterprises submit annual business reports to the Chambers.
Modalities of oversight
  • Body for auditing the Government's books and method for appointing
The body that verifies public accounts is the Court of Auditors, whose members are appointed by the Chamber of Deputies.
  • Reports of the public auditor's office
The transmission to the parliament of observations made by the Court of Auditors in carrying out its control missions takes place traditionally by means of annual "Cahiers d'observations" published in the form of parliamentary documents. In addition to a brief recall of the various reports transmitted to the parliament during the course of the year (budgetary analysis, forecasting of the accounts from the previous year, reports with stamped approval, etc.), these Cahiers d'observations present the results of the main oversights carried out on various governmental departments and agencies submitted under the supervision of the Court of Auditors. Since 1989, special Cahiers d'observations were sent to the relevant federal, commune and regional councils.
  • Specialised committee
The Government carries out an assessment of the budget in April of the fiscal year. If the budget requires adjusting, the Government delivers a parliamentary bill to that effect to the Chamber of Deputies. Moreover, the Finance and Budget Committee of the House of Deputies exercises oversight over the execution of the budget.
Foreign Relations Committee (sub-report)
  • Functions of the Committee
The parliament does not have the power of initiative in this domain; rather its role is restricted principally to exercising oversight over the executive, notably via the Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • Powers of the Committee
The instruments of political control are oral and written questions, interpellations, and parliamentary enquiries, hearings and large public debates.
  • Composition of the Committee
The composition of the committees reflects the numbers of seats represented by each party in the parliament, which include 15 members in the Senate and 17 in the Chamber of Deputies.
  • Bilateral visits of Parliament, inter-parliamentary conferences and information missions abroad
The Belgian parliament maintains numerous links with other parliaments in a bilateral or multilateral framework, and on such a basis exercises a form of parallel diplomacy.
  • Plenary debates on foreign policy issues
As with all other committees, foreign affairs committee members from both chambers perform regular information missions abroad.
Involvement of Parliament
  • Participation of Parliament in inter-governmental meetings
The parliament does not participate as such in intergovernmental meetings. However, ministers participating in them report on them to the parliament, either before or after the meetings. These discussions take place at the Foreign Affairs Committee of both chambers, who may hold joint meetings for this purpose, or at the Federal Advisory Committee on European Questions.
  • Modalities and procedures for ratifying international treaties and agreements (sub-report)
On the subject of treaties, parliamentarians do not have the power of initiative, but they are authorized to bring in a legislative bill for the approval of a treaty. These bills must be brought in the first instance before the Senate. Parliamentarians cannot always remedy potential government neglect except by resorting to ordinary means of political control. The Government must inform the legislative chambers about the initiation of all negotiations on the revision of treaties relating to the European Union (Article 168 of the Constitution).
In addition the text of modifying treaties must be communicated to the assemblies before they are signed. The obligation to communicate information holds until the negotiations are out. This allows the assemblies to organize preliminary debate and to potentially influence the position of the Belgian delegation.

All treaties come into effect only after receiving approval from the Chambers (Article 167 of the Constitution). Treaty approvals are submitted without delay and are required for treaties to be accepted according to national law.
  • Other mechanisms for participation in foreign policy by Parliament
In the domain of foreign policy, parliamentary control is exercised according to the same procedures as in other domains of government action. The only difference lies in the fact that the domain of international relations comes under the authority of the Government (Article 167 of the Constitution). The Parliament therefore does not have power of initiative in this field, but its role is limited to exercising control over the executive.
National Defence Committee (sub-report)
  • Functions of the Committee
Since national defence comes under the control of the of the executive, the Chambers only intervene a posteriori. Parliamentary control is carried out according to the same procedures as in other fields of government action, notably through the foreign affairs and defence committees.
  • Powers of the Committee
The instruments of political control are oral and written questions, interpellations, parliamentary enquiries, hearings and large public debates.
  • Composition of the Committee
The composition of the committees reflects the numbers of each party in the parliament. They account for 15 members in the Senate and 17 in the Chamber of Deputies.
Parliamentary oversight of public arms manufacturing companies The Government provides the parliament with an annual report on Belgian arms exports for military usage. In it are the number of licences permitted by the country of destination, sub-divided according to their nature, private or public, and the types of equipment exported. The report also gives the global sums of exportations by country of destination. At the Chamber of Deputies, an ad hoc 'Military Acquisitions' Committee has been formed. The Committee has a certain right of control over the procedures for buying military material by the Ministry of Defence. The minister must notify the Committee of all purchases over 1 487 000 euros (60 million Belgian francs).
Circumstances and involvement
  • Modalities and procedures in case of war, an armed attack or a state of emergency
The Constitution states that the monarch determines a state of war as well as a cessation of hostilities. He notifies the Chambers as soon as state interests and security permit (Article 167.1 of the Constitution).
  • Role of Parliament in sending troops abroad
The parliament must not authorize the dispatch of Belgian troops abroad. The Senate has instituted a Special 'Participation in Overseas Missions' Committee for Belgian overseas missions. The members of the committee and their associates are party to a strict code of secrecy.
  • Other mechanisms for participation in national defence policy by Parliament
According to Article 167.1 of the Constitution the monarch commands the armed forces. The position and use of the army, as well as the leading of armed operations, as with other matters, belong to the active monarch under the cover of ministerial countersignature. In addition to the points mentioned above, Articles 182 and 183 of the Constitution stipulate that the method of army recruitment is determined by law and that that military quotas are voted annually by the Chamber of Deputies.
Circumstances There is no legal basis for declaring a state of emergency in Belgium. During the Second World War, legislative power was exercised by the Government alone by means of legislative orders.
Can parliament take the initiative to declare a state of emergency No
Consequences of a state of emergency for Parliament Not applicable
Modalities of oversight
  • Body ruling on the constitutionality of laws
Several bodies Oversight of the constitutionality of laws is exercised on one hand by the Court of Arbitration with regard to legislative acts emanating from the federal parliament (laws) or regional or commune parliamentary meetings (decrees and orders); on the other hand, in all cases where the Court of Arbitration is not competent, the question of determining whether a law is in keeping with the Constitution is left to the sovereign opinion of the legislator. The latter remains in the final analysis the soul judge of the constitutionality of the laws that it adopts. The constitutional norms (and powers) that the Court ensures compliance with are set out in limited fashion by various legislators, making the Court of Arbitration a Constitutional Court of limited competence. However, by the bias of the constitutional principle of equality, the Court has succeeded in incorporating respect for the fundamental rights of others into the field of its control.
  • Means and procedures
The Court of Arbitration has the authority to preside over a motion for annulment of a law or decree (of an order of the institutions of Brussels) in case of the violation of two categories of norms. Firstly, the rules that are established by the Constitution or in virtue thereof for determining the respective competencies of the State, communes and regions. Secondly, Articles 10, 11 and 24 of the Constitution guarantee, in substance, the principle that Belgians are equal before the law and that education is free.

The parties that may introduce a motion for annulment before the Court of Arbitration are firstly the Council of Ministers and the governments of the communes and regions. The chairmen of the national, commune or regional legislation assemblies enjoy the same right when two-thirds of the members of their assembly so demand. The right of motion is also granted to all physical or moral persons justifying such interest. Motions for annulment are only acceptable when they are introduced within six months of the publication of a legal act, excluding the date of its entry into force. The section of legislation of the Council of State is competent among others to give reasoned opinion on the text of parliamentary bills and proposals or decrees. In the exercise of this consultative competence, the Council of State may be brought in to explore whether the bills and proposals in question are compatible or not with the Constitution.
Evaluation of laws Yes The Senate has created at its heart a service for the evaluation of laws. In addition, it has instituted a 'Reading Committee', which processes parliamentary bills and proposals passed on or to be passed on by the Chamber of Deputies. In the case of non-implementation of a law, the Chamber of Deputies may, as an ultimate means of constraint, engage the Government's responsibility.

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