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From consociational consciousness to majoritarian myth: Consociational democracy, multi-level politics and the Belgian case of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde

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The Belgian federal system is consociational par excellence, most notably concerning the regional-linguistic cleavage where non-majoritarian conflict resolution through elite accommodation is institutionalised. Although they hold a majority in parliament, Dutch-speaking political parties have to compromise with French-speaking parties on issues of state structure and reform. However, in the case of the split of the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, Dutch-speaking parties – after years of dealing with the issue in a typical consociational way – started to follow a majoritarian logic, first in their discourse, later also in their actions. While this threatened political stability, it did not bring a solution, because of the constitutionalised consociational logic. This raises the question of what brought these parties to act according to a logic of majoritarianism while they function in an institutional context of consociationalism. After outlining the core non-majoritarian features of consociationalism and their institutionalisation in the Belgian federal system, the article analyses the case of BHV in this light and attempts to explain the paradoxical behaviour of Dutch-speaking political parties. It notably concentrates on two core explanations: the perverse effects of the consociational logic itself and the disconnection of regional and federal election dates in Belgium. The article concludes that Belgium's specific combination of consociationalism and multi-level politics hinders the federal system's functioning.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), Department of Political Science, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, University of Antwerp, Sint Jacobstraat 2, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium., Email:

Publication date: 2010-09-01

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