chapter  11
14 Pages

Consociationalism, Corruption and Chocolate: Belgian Exceptionalism B. Guy Peters

By definition, every political system is unique but, to paraphrase George Orwell, some are more unique than others. Belgium would certainly fall into the category of the more unique, especially within the context of Western European countries. At first glance that uniqueness is not apparent. As a political system and a social system, it shares many features with its neighbours, both proximate and across the rest of the continent. The political system is a ‘normal’ multi-party democracy, albeit with a larger number of political parties competing in elections and winning seats in parliament than in most countries. The political system is also parliamentary, with the prime minister and cabinet drawn from the parliament, always in a coalition but coalitions are the common mode of forming governments all across Europe. Again, the coalitions in Belgium are large, but this is perhaps a difference of degree rather than type. The public bureaucracy is also generally professional, with the usual merit criteria for recruiting, retention and promotion. A more detailed examination, such as that provided by the contributions

to this volume, reveals a political system that is indeed unique, and highlights a number of crucial factors that set it apart from most other countries in Europe. The authors in this collection all spend a great deal of time emphasising the distinctive features of Belgian politics, and those peculiarities must be understood if governing in this system is to be

understood. In particular, the aggregation of these several factors that differentiate Belgium from other European countries lead one to question whether effective governance is possible. Many factors that one might expect to be important for a stable political system and good governance appear lacking, or at least to be strained, in this country, yet it continues to function and to produce reasonable levels of citizen satisfaction.1