Democracy and rights
Democracy is firmly established in Belgium where the change of power has been peaceful for a long time. Political and civil rights are guaranteed and largely respected in reality. However, terrorism is a threat and several corruption scandals have shaken the country at a high political level.
In Belgium, political parties seem free, elections are conducted in a fair and democratic way and the right of association and assembly is well respected. However, there are shortcomings in the anti-corruption regulations, partly linked to the country’s fragmentary governance (see Political system). Belgium ranks 17th out of 180 countries in the world on Transparency International’s list of corruption in the world (the ranking list is here).
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Several revelations have been made about politicians who sat on many chairs at the same time both public and private. In 2017, both elected politicians and officials were forced to resign in Wallonia after reports that they had received money from the public utility company Publifin, without performing any work. The mayor of Brussels also had to step down after it was revealed that he had been paid as a board member from various quarters, including from a non-profit organization working for the homeless.
Abbreviated as BEL by Abbreviationfinder, Belgium is in the category of “defective democracies”, or in place 33 of the countries of the world, in the list of Economist Intelligence Units 2019 (although the need for “full democracy” is relatively narrow). In the Western Europe region, Belgium is ranked 17 out of 21. What particularly slows down Belgium’s results is “political participation” – involvement in politics is considered low even if turnout is high, as it is mandatory.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of expression and press are traditionally well respected in Belgium. This also applies comparatively: out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Belgium ranks 12th (the entire list is here).
Censorship is prohibited by the constitution, but despite this, the government has, in a new directive, given the judiciary the right to review journalistic work before publication, in order to decide what may be published.
In one case that was particularly upset, 2018 reporters from the state-owned French-language radio and TV company RTBF were arrested since reporting from a migrant camp. Several journalists have also been arrested temporarily in connection with protests by the “Yellow West”, an informal French protest movement that spilled over to Belgium from the end of 2018.
Some pressure has also been put in recent years to get journalists to reveal their sources.
There are no restrictions on access to the Internet.
Judicial system and legal security
The Belgian judicial system ended up in a difficult crisis of confidence in the 1990s after a series of revelations about the root cause and corruption (see Modern History). As a result, a new federal police force was established in 2001 at the same time as the previously parallel and largely autonomous police agencies were demolished.
Conditions in prisons are often inadequate and overcrowding is a problem. It has been possible for prisoners to serve their sentences in prisons in the Netherlands. Many interns with mental health problems or psychiatric illnesses sit at regular establishments, without access to adequate care.
A new law on combating terrorism came in 2003 and led to convictions for the first time in 2006, when eleven people were convicted of belonging to a Moroccan Islamist group that supported the terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and Madrid in 2004.
Belgium introduced a law against genocide that had universal jurisdiction in 1993 , which meant that Belgian courts could apply the law regardless of the nationality of the accused and where the crimes were committed in the world. The law caused diplomatic conflicts with a number of countries (see Foreign Policy and Defense) and in 2003 Parliament decided to replace it with a new law that only applies when criminals or victims are Belgian citizens or foreign nationals residing in Belgium. This system is now being applied in several other countries.
Leterme again prime minister
When Herman Van Rompuy is appointed the first permanent President of the European Council (sometimes called the EU President), he leaves the post of Head of Government and Yves Leterme returns as Prime Minister.