Flanders international treaty competence

Flanders pursues a foreign policy regarding all of its competences, using applicable international treaties that are concluded with other (federated) states and organisations. This competence results from the principle “in foro interno, in foro externo”.

From the 2009-2014 coalition agreement:
“We cooperate intensely with our neighbouring countries. We actively use our right to conclude international treaties and invest in the quality and coherence of our international actions. Sustainable development constitutes the guiding principle of our policy."

What is a treaty?

Every written agreement, concluded between two or more entities or persons who have international legal personality, in order to bring about legal effects, and that is governed by international law or international public law.

Since when is Flanders allowed to conclude treaties?

Since the signing of the Special Act of 5 May 1993, the so-called St. Michael's Agreement.

Why/with respect to which topics is Flanders allowed to conclude treaties?

Every level of government in Belgium - including the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community - is allowed to pursue its own policy abroad with regard to its domestic competences, including the conclusion of treaties (ius tractandi). This principle is described as "in foro interno, in foro externo”.

With whom is Flanders allowed to conclude treaties?

With sovereign states, international organisations with international legal personality and federated states with competences that, in keeping with internal law, they may exercise at the international level.
Also, the parties must each have the intention to acquire mutual rights and/or to take on obligations - it must not merely be a declaration of intent.

Current situation and future evolutions

At present, Flanders is a partner in more than 600 treaties and other agreements. The treaties are very diverse in terms of theme and impact. They go from cooperation agreements between Flanders and organisations such as UNESCO or FAO, over treaties with the Netherlands with regard to the management of the Scheldt and the accreditation of higher education, to agreements with the French and German-speaking Communities with respect to the medically justified sports practice.

What types of treaties exist?

Exclusive treaties are concluded between Flanders and foreign partners, without the federal authorities. They exclusively pertain to Flemish competences. However, by means of a Special Act, the federal government can exercise supervision on the conclusion of exclusive treaties. It can only suspend the Flemish treaty procedure in exceptional cases (see article 81 of the Special Act of 8 August 1980 on institutional reform). However, the federal authorities have never used their competence to block exclusive treaties in one of the four exceptional cases.
Mixed treaties pertain both to federal and Flemish competences. They must be approved by the governments and parliaments of the federal authorities and of Flanders. The federal and Flemish authorities must inform each other about the consent of their governments and parliaments. The procedure is coordinated by the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs.

What is the procedure to follow?

As soon as a treaty has been approved and signed by the representatives of the (federated) states or organisations involved, it is submitted for acceptance to parliament in Flanders. Upon consent by the parliament, the government may proceed to the international endorsement or ratification. After the parliamentary consent, the Government of Flanders decides whether it will ratify the treaty or not, and if so, when. It communicates its decision to the treaty partner(s). This ratification implies the definitive and full commitment with regard to the treaty provisions, which means that it entails the coming into force of the treaty for Flanders or Belgium. With regard to exclusive treaties, the community and/or regional governments involved are themselves responsible for the ratification, whereas the federal authorities are responsible for the ratification of mixed treaties after the consent of all competent parliaments.

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