As powers relating to the environment are divided between the Federal Government and the Regions, it is necessary to ensure that Belgium has a single position in negotiations conducted within international organisations and the European Union. Four cooperation agreements govern relations between the different levels of authority. Three of these cover all political fields, while the fourth applies specifically to the environment.
Representation of Belgium in the Council of Ministers of the European Union
The European Union Treaty specifies that Member States are represented by a single Minister for the duration of the Council session. The Minister in question is designated “sitting minister”.
The cooperation agreement of 8 March 1994 defines how Belgium is represented in the Council of Ministers of the European Union. The sitting minister has the right to vote and is the sole authorised spokesperson. In the case of Councils of Ministers of the Environment, a principle of periodical rotation enables each regional minister of the environment to become sitting minister in turn. This minister is accompanied by an assisting minister, who is the Minister or Secretary of State responsible for the environment in the Federal Government. This latter may intervene in all matters relating to federal competencies and in international matters.
Preparations for all Councils of Ministers of the European Union are made by the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs.
Conclusion of shared treaties
It is not unusual for international treaties to cover themes which relate to competencies at different levels of power in Belgium.
With respect to the environment, most international treaties are the responsibility of the Regions and/or the Federal Government. Thus an agreement between the different levels of power will be required before shared treaties can be signed and ratified. In certain cases it is also necessary to have the approval of the Communities. The ratified treaties will then be implemented by each authority in accordance with its own competencies.
The cooperation agreement of 8 March 1994 on the conclusion of shared treaties establishes a permanent consultative body which governs the relations of all parties to the negotiations. During the negotiations, this consultative body determines which provisions concern which level of government.
Representation of Belgium at international organisations concerning shared competencies
The Framework agreement of 30 June 1994 on the representation of Belgium in dealings with international organisations engaging in activities which fall within the scope of shared competencies enables devolved agreements to be made on more specific issues, as was the case with environmental policy.
International environmental policy
The Federal Government and the three Regions entered into a separate cooperation agreement on international environmental policy on 5 April 1995. It is from this agreement that the Coordination Committee for International Environmental Policy or CCIEP originated.
The CCIEP is the most important political body responsible for the coordination of international environmental policy. Its creation had become imperative due to the obligations resulting from numerous European environmental dossiers and certain multilateral agreements, such as those on the protection of the ozone layer or on climate change.