The Belgian Linguistic Compromise: Between Old Battles and New Challenges : Number 55

Belgian society is characterized by three main divides: socioeconomic, philosophical-ideological and linguistic. This combination of coinciding fault lines has made for a divided state, but it is essentially the latter that has shaped Belgian federalism. The linguistic divide is strongly reflected in the institutional arrangements and various public policies of the country.

We analyse the main rules and principles governing “the Belgian compromise” concerning language recognition and distribution of powers for linguistic policy in the first section. The second section examines current challenges to this compromise: the tension between some linguistic arrangements and the protection of human rights and national minorities; European integration, and globalization, including migratory movements and the internationalization of economic exchanges. The third section discusses some potential reforms to modernize the “Belgian compromise” in the face of these challenges.