To federalize or to refederalize: exploring citizen preferences towards more or less self-rule autonomy in federal Belgium

Min Reuchamps, Hannelise Boerjan, Christoph Niessen, Francois Randour

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Belgium is often portrayed as a textbook example of peaceful federalization. Indeed, while the country was for over a century a unitary state, it went through a deep process of federalization in a few decades of time to form a federal state where substate entities enjoy substantial autonomy. Today however, a rather new debate among political elites has emerged: whether to refederalize some of the
powers that have been devolved to the substate entities, the Regions and Communities. Such an idea has long been a taboo in federal Belgium, especially among Flemish elites, but the debate seems now more open than ever. In this context, however, little is known about how citizens see this question. Of course,
there is a long tradition of surveys including questions on federalism and autonomy devolution. Yet, more qualitative data are needed to understand what motivates citizens’ preferences for more or less autonomy devolution in federal Belgium. The objective of this paper is to explore and compare citizens’ preferences on the Belgian federalization process. In particular, we analyse what motivates the opinion of Belgian citizens in favour of more or less autonomy devolution. To this end, three citizen forums focusing on
federalism and democracy were organized in 2017-2018: one in Liège in French, a second one in Antwerp in Dutch and a third one in Elsenborn in German. Their aim was to collect data on all three language communities with an original research design. These forums were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis. Our results suggest that their opinions are justified based on two major argumentative themes: identity and efficiency. While one would expect the former to be of traditional importance, our analysis revealed that considerations about efficiency have taken over the lead among the arguments that citizens use to justify their opinions towards most of the scenarios. This can above all be understood given the advanced stage of the Belgian federalization process, for which considerations of identity are still latently important but explicitly not sufficient enough anymore to justify further dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages42
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019
EventECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops 2019 - UCL Mons., Mons, Belgium
Duration: 8 Apr 201912 Apr 2019


WorkshopECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops 2019


  • (re)federalization
  • Belgium
  • citizen attitudes
  • thematic analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'To federalize or to refederalize: exploring citizen preferences towards more or less self-rule autonomy in federal Belgium'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this