Multilateral Policy

1. Why does Flanders pursue multilateral cooperation?

The Belgian Communities and Regions have exclusive competence for the international aspects of their areas of competence, including the conclusion of international treaties. In this context Flanders invests in multilateral cooperation because the great challenges of the 21st century transcend national or regional boundaries and increasingly require global answers. Moreover, the activities of multilateral organisations have an important impact on the policy and measures of the Government of Flanders.

Within the multilateral forums important standards are set which are to be transposed into (sub-) national legislation and which are subsequently subject to reporting obligations. Multilateral organisations are also laboratories for new ideas and the exchange of best practices between Member States. In addition, they are often called on to provide development assistance, given the large multiplier effect and their inherent legitimacy.

Finally, multilateral organisations are beacons for defending human rights and safeguarding the international legal order. 

2. What is Flanders' multilateral approach?

Flemish multilateral cooperation consists of two complementary tracks. Work is done both within the Belgian membership of multilateral organisations and via direct relations between Flanders and the organisation concerned.

Within the framework of the Belgian membership of multilateral organisations Flanders has an impact on the political and strategic orientations of these institutions. For instance, the Flemish contributions are taken into consideration in the Belgian positions and contributions for reports and questionnaires through the intra-federal consultation body for multilateral coordination (COORMULTI). These positions are put forward at board meetings and expert meetings of the multilateral organisations. These meetings are also attended by Flemish experts and/or Government of Flanders representatives, who are accredited to UN institutions in Geneva or to UNESCO, the OECD and the Council of Europe in Paris, as members of the Belgian delegation. The Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for defending the Flemish positions and looks for opportunities within the multilateral forums. When more than two Flemish policy areas are involved the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs ensures the Flemish coordination through the Strategic Consultation Body for International Affairs (Strategisch Overlegorgaan voor Internationale Aangelegenheden  or SOIA).

The Government of Flanders also maintains direct relations with several multilateral organisations. Cooperation agreements are an important instrument in this context. Their aim is to create a true partnership between both actors. Sometimes, this goes hand in hand with the establishment of trust funds and the contribution of expertise by non-governmental actors. Cooperation agreements have already been concluded with the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNESCO, UNAIDS, the International Trade Centre (ITC), UNWTO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The direct cooperation also reveals itself in a wide range of opportunities for funding to multilateral organisations. The Government of Flanders provides both direct budget support (core funding) and funds for the support of specific programmes and projects, whether or not through a trust fund, and for studies.

3. Which organisations does the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs cooperate with?

The Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs assumes a coordinating role when more than two policy areas are active within a multilateral organisation (as is the case with UNESCO, the OECD and the Council of Europe). Activities of multilateral organisations are also monitored by the department when they are relevant for the subject matters of the Foreign Affairs policy area, which are development cooperation, international enterprise and tourism (just think of ITC, UNAIDS or UNWTO) - or because they pertain to important cross-policy area topics, such as decent work, children's and human rights, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and reproductive health (such as ILO, UNICEF, the United Nations Human Rights Council, UNAIDS and WHO).

Other Flemish departments and agencies also have close relations with multilateral organisations, such as the Department of Environment, Nature and Energy within the framework of international environmental policy, or the Department of the Services for the General Government Policy in the context of international policy on sustainable development.

Finally, the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs also develops a number of complementary measures to increase the support for multilateral cooperation in Flanders and to enhance Flanders' visibility within multilateral organisations. Grants are allocated to so-called UN promoters, in this case the United Nations Association Flanders Belgium and the UNESCO Platform Flanders. Through the funding programme for internships with international organisations the department is working to create more opportunities for young people, to disseminate Flemish expertise and to establish a network of Flemish people within multilateral organisations.

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