II - Changes to the Budgetary Process

Budgetary process       
Describe the main characteristics of the budgetary process (cycle, actors, instruments, etc.) in Belgium.

The main legal source is the Law of May 22nd, 2003 governing the budget of the federal state.

The four principles governing the governmental budget are the requirement of legislative basis, annual approval, universality of revenue and expenses, and specificity of all revenue and expenses.

The budgetary cycle consists of three steps: preparation, execution and closure. The three phases correspond roughly to three years: n-1, n and n+1. The Minister of Finance and Budget prepares the federal budget. The budgets of the regions and communities have a similar to near identical process.

The process consists of the following steps:[1]

April: general instruction to the administration to compile a budget for their department

May: each federal department composes a draft budget

June-September: political negotiation

October: definitive agreement in the plenary session of the executive

November-December: draft budget is submitted to parliament.

After the approval of the budget by the Parliament, the Government, assisted by the Inspectorate of the Finance department, supervises the execution of the budget.

The Court of Auditors is constitutionally charged with the jurisdiction over the accounts and the responsible administrative functionary.[2] Next to this jurisdictional oversight, the Court of Auditors submits an annual report to the House on the administrative compliance with the budget as put forward.

General change   
How has the budgetary process changed since the beginning of the financial/Eurozone crisis?

The main changes applied to the budgetary process consist of the timing. November used to be the final month for political discussion within the executive, but following Regulation 473/2013, October 15th has been marked as the new deadline.

Independent fiscal councils, macro-economic forecasts and the possibility to consolidate (i.e. put together) the budgets of the several governments in the federation were already in place.[3]

Institutional change 
What institutional changes are brought about by the changes in the budgetary process, e.g. relating to competences of parliament, government, the judiciary and independent advisory bodies?

No real shifts in institutional balance occurred.

The thorny issue of deciding on the responsibility of each government in ascertaining an overall balanced budget is relegated by Cooperation Agreement to the High Council for Finance, which is a semi-independent body under executive authority. See infra, IX.4.

The second point relevant in this discussion is the loss of real power of the parliaments, since the budget is drafted based on the national reform programs and mid-term objectives.[4] However, the power of parliaments, defined in juxtaposition to the executive, was in the past not much greater in political terms.

Change of time-line     
How has the time-line of the budgetary cycle changed as a result of the implementation of Euro-crisis law?

See question II.2.

What other information is relevant with regard to Belgium and changes to the budgetary process?

No other relevant information.

[1] See H. Matthijs, F. Naert, W. Marneffe & L. Vereeck, Handboek Openbare Financiën (Intersentia 2013) 147 ff.

[2] “rekenplichtige” in Dutch, the persons in the administration charged with the implementation of an account.

[3] H. Matthijs, F. Naert, W. Marneffe & L. Vereeck, Handboek Openbare Financiën (Intersentia 2013) 94.

[4] See for instance the remark by MP Vienne in the House: Report, Economic governance and the european semester: implications for the Belgian budgetary process, Parl. Doc., House, 53-1343/1 (March 31, 2011).