The Federal government is in charge of emergency planning. It has activated a federal stage emergency planning in which the Federal Minister of the Interior has exceptional authority and coordinates the emergency activities, as announced at a press conference on Thursday 12 March 2020, at about 10 pm. The ministerial decree activating this federal stage was published in the Belgian State Gazette in the afternoon of 13 March 2019.
Several measures apply. We refer to other sections of our Q&A.
The actual jurisdiction on preventive measures regarding health issues lies with the Communities: the Flemish, French-speaking and German Communities. In the Brussels Metropolitan Region, preventive health measures comes within the jurisdiction of the Joint Community Commission. As a result, Belgium has a minimum of six Health ministers: a Federal minister, a Flemish minister, a minister for the French-speaking Community, one for the German-speaking Community and two Brussels Health ministers.
Prior to the federal stage of emergency planning, several governors (and the President of the Brussels Government for the Brussels Metropolitan Region) had already issued decisions, in particular regarding indoor activities for more than 1,000 persons. In addition, several mayors had issued decisions. These decisions still apply but they are overruled by the measures discussed above.
These are the main reasons why it is difficult in Belgium to take effective measures in this situation: (1) there is no law on a state of emergency (“noodtoestand”/ “état d’urgence”) in Belgium; (2) the jurisdiction for urgent measures in cases of a pandemic is split between the federal level and the Communities, particularly since the sixth State Reform (2014); (3) the federal emergency plan mostly deals with coordination of several ministries and agencies, not with actual measures (See 2003 Royal Decree, issued under the previous Act on civil protection); (4) until 18 March 2019, the federal government had no complete authority because it was still the resigning previous government, not based on any parliamentary majority.
On Wednesday 18 March 2020, the new Belgian federal government was installed. For a discussion of its powers, see the other section of this Q&A.
Do not hesitate to contact William Timmermans for further information.
The above information is merely intended as comment on relevant issues of Belgian law and is not intended as legal advice. Before taking action or relying on the comments and the information given, please seek specific advice on the matters that are of concern to you.