Last modified: 2008-06-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: belgium | municipality |
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Belgium is divided into municipalities called Gemeenten
(Dutch) or Communes (French).
The Constitution adopted in 1831 stated in Article 137 that the status of the municipalities should be decided by Law. This Law was adopted on 30 March 1836 and still forms the baseline of the status of the municipalities. The Law on the municipalities was derived from the French legislation, especially from the Decree of 14 December 1789. The Law stated that the Mayor should be appointed by the King. The territorial limits of the municipality were consolidated as they were in 1831 and it was specified in the Constitution that the borders of the municipalities could be changed only by Law.
Some municipalities are officially granted the title of town, (stad in Dutch, ville de in French. This privilege is still mostly based on medieval town rights and freedom charters.
The list of the towns is given on the website of the Union of the Belgian Towns and Municipalities (Vereniging van Belgische Steden en Gemeenten - Union des Villes et Communes belges), as follows (page no longer online):
Aalst, Aarschot, Antwerp, Beringen, Bilzen, Blankenberge, Borgloon, Bree, Bruges, Damme, Deinze, Dendermonde, Diest, Diksmuide, Dilsen-Stokkem, Eeklo, Geel, Genk, Ghent, Geraardsbergen, Gistel, Halen, Halle, Hamont-Achel, Harelbeke, Hasselt, Herentals, Herk-de-Stad, Hoogstraten, Ieper, Izegem, Kortrijk, Landen, Leuven, Lier, Lo-Reninge, Lokeren, Lommel, Maaseik, Mechelen, Menen, Mesen, Mortsel, Nieuwpoort, Ninove, Ostend, Oudenaarde, Oudenburg, Peer, Poperinge, Roeselare, Ronse, Scherpenheuvel-Zichem, Sint-Niklaas, Sint-Truiden, Tielt, Tienen, Tongeren, Torhout, Turnhout, Veurne, Vilvoorde, Wervik, Zottegem and Zoutleeuw.
Andenne, Antoing, Arlon, Ath, Bastogne, Beaumont, Beauraing, Binche, Bouillon, Braine-le-Comte, Charleroi, Châtelet, Chièvres, Chimay, Chiny, Ciney, Comines-Warneton, Couvin, Dinant, Durbuy, Enghien, Eupen, Fleurus, Florenville, Fontaine-l'Évêque, Fosses-la-Ville, Gembloux, Genappe, Hannut, Herve, Houffalize, Huy, Jodoigne, La Louvière, La Roche-en-Ardenne, Le Rœulx, Lessines, Leuze-en-HainautLiège, Limbourg, Malmedy, Marche-en-Famenne, Mons, Mouscron, Namur, Neufchâteau, Nivelles, Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve Péruwelz, Philippeville, Rochefort, Saint-Ghislain, Saint-Hubert, Sankt Vith, Seraing, Soignies, Stavelot, Thuin, Tournai, Verviers, Virton, Visé, Walcourt, Waremme and Wavre.
Gerard van der Vaart, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 19 April 2008
The oldest Belgian municipal flag used at sea is the horizontally
divided red-yellow flag of Ostende.
Several other big towns have used a flag based on their arms for
years, for instance Antwerp,
The number of Belgian municipalities was reduced from 2,359 to 596 in 1976, and finally to 589 in 1983. According to the new Belgian Constitution adopted in 1994, the Communities are in charge of the adoption of the municipal flags.
On 28 January 1977, the Flemish Cultural Council prescribed by
Decree the adoption rules for municipal flags and arms. Another Decree published in the Belgian official gazette on 7 April 1977 presecribes that the newly
formed municipalities should use the arms and flags which they have
been granted . By Decree published in the Belgian official gazette on 4 April 1995, the Provincial Councils transferred their competency on that matter to the
Flemish Government. The arms and flags granted before the
application of the Decree shall not be modified except if new facts
are presented by the Municipal Councils. The Flemish Government shall
approve the proposals made by the municipal councils, following the advice of the Flemish Heraldic Council, not later than three months after the proposal.
According to the Decree of 21 December 1994, each municipality shall have a coat of arms of its own. The municipal coats of arms are in the public domain. Nobody is allowed to use the coat of arms on a pure individual basis. The use of municipal arms for advertisment, trademarking and politic is not allowed. Only the municipality can use its arms. The Municipal Council has the property right of the municipal arms. Third parties wishing to use the arms must first ask for permission from the Municipal Council, otherwise they run the risk of prosecution.
The Belgian official gazette published on 2 July 2007 the Flemish Decree of 27 April 2007 concerning the arms and flag of the provinces, municipalities and districts, and of the Flemish Community Commission of the Region of Brussels-Capital.
A number of articles determine what generic design various arms should have (for example, provincial arms should consist of a crowned shield with two supporters), how arms and/or flags should be adopted and which procedure is be to followed in case a modification seems necessary. Here, of course, the Flemish Heraldic Council plays an important role.
Regarding districts, currently limited to the Antwerp municipal districts (not named, so districts might appear elsewhere):
Article 2, paragraph 2 states, among other things, that the district arms consist of a shield referring to the municipality it belongs to. The district flag is swallowtailed (Dutch: heeft twee slippen aan de vlucht; French translation: a deux fanons au large).
Article 2, paragraph 3 stipulates that arms, including the district arms, appear on the seal of the entity in question.
Article 3, paragraph 1 stipulates that within one year after the Decree's becoming effective [starting 1 January 2007, hence before 31 December 2007], the district council shall select arms and a flag and submit them to the Flemish Government for approval.
Article 3, paragraph 3 determines the advisory period: three months after submission or, again, after request for modification.
Article 4 mentions the possible imposition of arms and flags by the Flemish Government [as happened in the case of the Province of East Flanders and to the municipalities of Bever, Herstappe, Linkebeek, and Voeren] should there be no proposal or no new proposal.
Article 5, paragraph 1 abolishes the Decree of 21 December 1994 concerning the arms and flags of the provinces and municipalities.
Since 6 July 1985, the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community in Belgium has been in charge of the adoption rules for municipal flags, seals and arms (Belgian official gazette, 17 October 1985). Every municipality is allowed to adopt arms, a seal and a flag, but adoption is not mandatory as it is in Flanders. Article 4 of the regulation allows the use of the arms or the colours of the arms on the flag. The use of the same flag by different municipalities is forbidden. The procedure of approval of municipal flags was precised in a Decree on 8 August 1988 (Belgian official gazette, 1 November 1988). The municipalities that adopted their flag after the administrative reorganization reducing the number of municipalities are allowed to keep it. On 26 February 1991, the Government of the French Community appointed the Heraldry and Vexillology Council as consultative organism (Belgian official gazette, 7 September 1991).
The Heraldry and Nobility Council keeps competency only on the 19 municipalities of the Region of Brussel-Capital and the nine municipalities of the German-speaking Community.
Ivan Sache & Jan Mertens, 2 July 2007