Part II: The Belgian political framework
II.1. International environmental agreements ratified by Belgium
Belgium has signed up to a range of legally binding agreements that demonstrate its willingness to protect biodiversity and its commitment to doing this.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the first international instrument to target biodiversity in a global and comprehensive context. Its three objectives are (1) the conservation of biodiversity, (2) the sustainable use of its components and (3) the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources. The CBD is recognised as an overarching instrument to address biodiversity issues. It is a framework convention that provides overall goals and policies. Given its broad scope, the CBD acts as an umbrella for several more focused international and European conventions and agreements. For this reason, the present Strategy has been primarily centred on the CBD and related decisions taken by the Conference of the Parties (COP), while also taking into account other relevant biodiversity-related international agreements.
Appendix 2 gives more information on international agreements directly relevant for biodiversity.
II.2. Competent authorities in Belgium
Belgium has evolved into a Federal state. There are nowadays three complementary levels of government authorities: the Federal Government, the Regional Governments (the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region) and the Communities (the French, the Flemish and the German-speaking Communities), each with their own parliament and government. For more information, an overview of the main Belgian actors is given in Appendix 1.
Belgium’s Federal Government, Communities and Regions are equal from the legal viewpoint, but have powers and competences in different fields.
As the Regions have authority in territorial matters including the environment and nature conservation, implementation of nature and biodiversity conservation measures within Belgium is therefore essentially a Regional competence. The Federal level is involved in the external dimension of the Biodiversity agreements and ensures the coordination of the preparation of Belgian positions at the international level. The Federal level has specific environmental competences (CITES, trade of non-indigenous species, product standards) and other competences related to the environment and biodiversity (development cooperation, finance, economy etc.) at its disposal as well as action levers (public procurements, taxation, etc.). For North Sea matters including the environment, the competent authority is the Federal Government, while for fisheries the competence lies with the Flemish Region. The Communities are in charge of culture and education, but the Regions and the Federal level can also play an important role in raising public awareness in their own fields of competence.
Table 2. The distribution of competences in Belgium and its implication for biodiversity issues.
II.3. Place of the Strategy in the political context of Belgium
The Regions and the Federal Government have developed biodiversity strategies and/or plans and numerous actions have already been undertaken. The National Biodiversity Strategy should therefore be considered as a framework document that mainly builds on these existing plans. It gives strategic political orientation in order to improve implementation of biodiversity commitments as well as create more coherence, fill gaps where initiatives are not implemented to
their full potential or fail to achieve desired objectives and optimise integration of biodiversity concern at the national and international levels. Its overarching goal is to reach the target of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020.
The different plans and programmes developed by the Regional and Federal Governments are briefly described below.
The Flemish Region
The “Flemish Environmental Policy Plan 2011-2015”, abbreviated MINA-4, was adopted by the Flemish Government on 27 May 2011 and outlines the environmental policy that must be carried out by the Flemish Region, the provinces and the local authorities. An environmental policy plan is drawn up every 5 years as based on the General Environmental Policy Provisions Decree of the Flemish Government (GEPPD, 1995). The Environmental Policy Plan 2011-2015 succeeds the MINA plan 3(+), which ended in 2010. The most important principle of the successive MINA plans is consistency. The environmental policy plan is not an isolated effort: it is based on documents such as the environmental and nature reports. This plan is followed up and refined in the environmental programmes.
The plan contains eight challenges which guide the environmental and energy policy in the long term, one of which is “Conserving biodiversity and ecosystem integrity”. In every theme there is a description of the environmental problems, the recent trends and the objectives linked to the necessary measures and projects.
The objective of the Flemish nature policy is to conserve, restore and strengthen the biodiversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. The following short-term (within plan period) operational objectives are mentioned:
- By 2020, sufficient habitat will have been established, re-designated, improved or demarcated to achieve 70 % of the conservation objectives of the species and habitats to be protected in Europe.
- By 2015, the condition of endangered and protected groups of species will have improved.
- By 2015, more quality nature under conservation management will have been achieved.
- By 2020, the forested area will have been extended and its quality improved.
Besides the overall environment plan specific objectives, targets and actions for nature, forests and green spaces are described in the yearly Operational Plan of the Agency for Nature and Forests. In this plan focus is given to Natura 2000, green spaces in and around cities, management and public access of nature and forest areas.
The Flemish Government publishes every year an environmental year programme that describes specific actions for the implementation of the strategic choices of the plan.
The plan also includes the action for the 2-yearly Nature Report published by the Institute of Nature Conservation, describing the status and trends of biodiversity and an evaluation of the implementation of the set objectives; and the 2-yearly Environment Report that is either a Thematic (including biodiversity) or a Scenario-based evaluation. Both reports deliver information for review of policies. The evaluation of the status of biodiversity in Flanders and the follow-up of the implementation of the environmental policy plan are carried out by means of 21 biodiversity indicators, which are closely linked to the SEBI European biodiversity indicators. The indicators are published and regularly updated on the biodiversity indicators website (www.biodiversityindicators.be), on the website of the plan (http://www.milieubeleidsplan.be) and on the environment indicators website (www.milieurapport.be).
The second Flemish Sustainable Development Strategy 2010-2014 (VSDO)  was approved by the Flemish Government on 29 April 2011 as a successor to the first strategy of 2006. The strategy, constructed around a central vision for 2050, provides the framework for Flemish sustainable development policy.
The Brussels-Capital Region
Priority actions for the environment and green spaces in the Brussels-Capital Region are highlighted in the Second Regional Development Plan, abbreviated PRD-GewOP (2002). This general framework is complemented by a number of more specific plans and programmes (for instance the management plan for the Sonian Forest), which have as objectives the protection and development of biodiversity by a management that is more respectful of nature and its cycles.
The Green Network Programme intends to gradually build a network of green spaces (parks, woods, forests and gardens) linked together by green corridors (green avenues, road and railway embankments, etc). The programme emphasises the cohesion and continuity of green spaces and semi-natural areas in the urban environment. Its purpose is to integrate the scenic, aesthetic, social, recreational and ecological functions of green spaces and develop their interconnectivity. One of the prime objectives of the Green Network Programme is to increase biodiversity.
The Blue Network Programme aims to have an integrated, durable and ecologically justified management of open waterways in Brussels. The “blue network” is made up of small rivers, ponds and marshes. It is dedicated to the enhancement of natural values and biodiversity while maintaining the access of the public to the areas concerned.
A Brussels-Capital Region’s Sustainable Regional Development Plan (SRPD) is being elaborated. The pre-project was adopted on 26 September 2013 by the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region.
A new coordinated regional law about nature  was adopted in March 2012, consisting of 119 articles and 8 annexes, with the general aim of contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of components of biodiversity. Measures taken under this nature law are intended
- maintain or restore to a favourable conservation status natural habitats and species of fauna and flora of community and regional interest;
- contribute to the establishment of an ecological network in Brussels;
- contribute to the integration of biodiversity in an urban context.
This regional law requires the elaboration of a regional plan for nature, which should be adopted at the latest two years after the law comes into force (articles 6 and 8 to 11). The project of Regional Plan for Nature was adopted on 26 September 2013 by the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region.
The Walloon Region
The declaration of the Walloon Regional Policy 2009-2014: “A shared energy for sustainable society, and human solidarity” aims transition to sustainable development.
The Marshall Plan 2.Green mobilizes Wallonia and the Walloons to revitalize their economy in a sustainable development context. The Marshall Plan 2022 aims to develop a new regional development strategy that builds on the strengths of the Marshall Plan 2.Green and that innovates by also including education policies of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels and competences that will soon be transferred to Wallonia. It contains i.a. an objective of sustainable development, taking into account the rate of renewal of natural resources and the maintaining of biodiversity –as stated in the Decree concerning the Walloon Sustainable Development Strategy adopted by the Walloon parliament on 26 June 2013-, by continuing a transition process that mobilizes societal actors and ensures the optimal use of all types of immaterial, human, natural and financial resources and a continuous reduction in the use of non-renewable resources, while respecting the principles of efficiency, resilience, sufficiency, precaution and participation.
The “Environmental Plan for Sustainable Development” (PEDD) was adopted on 9 March 1995 by the Walloon Government. It contains a chapter devoted to the conservation of biodiversity.
The objectives for nature conservation defined in the plan are:
- The maintenance, restoration and development of potential hosts for wildlife over the whole region;
- The maintenance and restoration of natural elements of urban and rural landscapes;
- The generalisation of nature education
The administration in charge of agriculture, natural resources and the environment adopted its strategic plan for the period 2008-2013. The plan will be renewed in 2014. It contains four actions directly related to nature and biodiversity protection and foresees the elaboration of a Nature Action Plan.
Given the difficulty to realise a Nature Plan, Wallonia decided to create a progressive catalogue of concrete and realistic actions, whose implementation would bring tangible results. It was presented to the Walloon Government in July 2013, and will be submitted end 2013 for approval, after consultation with the advisory committees and administrations concerned.
The Walloon Environment Code includes provisions concerning biodiversity; according to its first principle, the environment includes spaces, landscapes, natural resources and environment, air, soil, water, biological diversity and balance and states that the environmental policy of the region is based on the principle of preventive action. Its second principle states that the Region and other public authorities, are managers of the environment and guarantee its preservation and, if necessary, restoration. In addition, any person shall ensure the protection and contribute to the environmental protection. These requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of other policies in the region.
The right of access to information on the environment is included in the Environment Code.
The Federal level
The first and second Federal Plans for Sustainable Development devote special attention to biodiversity. The first Federal Plan for Sustainable Development 2000-2004 mentions several strategies in the field of the conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity and in the field of biosecurity. It refers also to national and international integration and coordination measures, to sensibilisation and to the need for scientific knowledge. This plan was the first strategic document endorsed by the federal government that referred to a biodiversity strategy and a national action plan. The “Second Federal Plan for Sustainable Development 2004-2008” (FPSD2) was adopted by the Federal Council of Ministers on 24 September 2004. Action 18 is devoted to biodiversity and actions 19 and 20 deal with forests and marine waters.
Action 18 foresees the integration of biodiversity issues into four key sectors (transport, the economy, development cooperation and research). For each sector, the Federal administrations concerned have to develop sectoral action plans. The Federal Plan for the Sectoral Integration of Biodiversity in four key sectors 2009-2013 (adopted on 27/11/2009) was drawn up in response to Action 18. The plan is also one of the Government’s contributions to implementing Belgium’s NBS. For each action, the plan identifies the actor responsible for implementation, a calendar of implementation as well as an implementation budget.
Action 19 deals with sustainable forest management and illegal logging, with the aim, among others, of enhancing sustainable forest management in countries exporting timber to Belgium, in order to bring about a decrease in the importation of illegally logged timber by Belgium and to encourage the acquisition of certified wood in Belgium.
Action 20 foresees the integrated management of the North Sea to better manage sea areas of high value for biodiversity and protect them against human pressure.
The FPSD2 was extended until the adoption of the next plan. A new 5-year Federal Plan for Sustainable Development is being prepared (FPSD3), which will include the long-term vision for sustainable development the government adopted in 2013, and will be based on the outcomes of the federal reports on sustainable development.
Belgium has a law on nature conservation (law of 12 July 2012 – modifying the law of 12 July 1973 on the Conservation of Nature) . This law aims to safeguard the character, diversity and integrity of the natural environment by measures to protect the flora and the fauna, their communities and their habitats, as well as the soil, the subsoil, the water and the air, including through (regulatory) measures related to the import, export and transit of non-indigenous plant species and non-indigenous animal species and their remains.
The law of 27 December 2012 is an act with various provisions for animal welfare, CITES, animal health and the protection of consumers health. It highlights measures to be taken in order to implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) and the Appendices, decided on 3 March 1973 in Washington, as well as the Amendment to the Convention, adopted on 22 June 1979 in Bonn.
Belgium has a law on the protection of the marine environment in the areas under Belgian jurisdiction (law of 20 January 1999). The law’s main aim is to conserve the characteristics, biodiversity and integrity of the marine environment through measures for its protection and, if necessary, restoration. Specific actions are directed at combating pollution, protection of species and habitats (designation of protected zones for the conservation of species and habitats), etc. The sustainable management of human activities at sea falls under the umbrella of a “Master Plan” for the North Sea. In the setting up of the planning and management measures for human activities at sea, stakeholder involvement plays a central role. This political option has the advantage of closely involving the different users of the sea and ensuring a “buy in” of the overall process.
In Belgium, the Marine Environment Service of the Federal Public Service for Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment is responsible for supporting the national implementation of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD - 2008/56/EC). The Belgian transposition of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive took effect in the Royal Decree of 23/06/2010 concerning the marine strategy for the Belgian sea grounds. The definition of good ecological status and environmental objectives for the Belgian marine waters was defined in 2012, in response to Articles 9 and 10 of the MSFD. For each of the 11 descriptors defined by the Directive, among which descriptor 1 on biodiversity and descriptor 2 on exotic species, indicators and objectives are defined to achieve the good ecological status.
On 5 October 2012, the Council of Ministers approved the launch of the first phase (2012-2017) of the recurrent framework programme for research, BRAIN-be (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks). Via the funding of research projects based on scientific excellence and European and international anchorage, this framework programme caters for the federal departments’ need for scientific knowledge and supports the scientific potential of the Federal Scientific Institutions (FSIs 1).
The framework programme is structured around 6 thematic areas:
- Ecosystems, biodiversity, evolution
- Geosystems, universe and climate
- Cultural, historical and scientific heritage
- Federal public strategies
- Major societal challenges
- Management of collections
Figure 4. Political framework for biodiversity in Belgium: Interactions between existing adopted plans related to biodiversity at Regional and Federal levels.
 Belgium signed the Convention on 5 June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro and ratified it on 22 November 1996.
 Based on information provided on the Belgian Federal portal (http://www.belgium.be).
 See: http://www.lne.be/themas/beleid/mina4/leeswijzer/publicaties/Milieubeleidsplan2011-2015.pdf and http://www.lne.be/themas/beleid/mina4/leeswijzer/publicaties/boek_EN_-voor_website-%20def.pdf (in English).
 The complete Flemish Sustainable Development Strategy can be accessed in Dutch via the website http://do.vlaanderen.be/sites/default/files/VSDO2_0.pdf. For a brochure in English, see: http://do.vlaanderen.be/sites/default/files/Vision2050_Flemish%20sustainable%20development%20strategy%20brochure_1.pdf
 See: http://www.prdd-gpdo.be/
 For more information, see: http://www.wallonie.be/fr/actualites/plan-marshall-2022
 It will be submitted to the following consultative bodies: CSWCN - the Walloon Senior Nature Conservation Council, CSVCP – the Higher Council for Towns, Cities and Provinces of the Walloon Region, CWEDD –the Walloon Council of the Environment for Sustainable Development, and CGT-General Commission for Tourism.
The evolution on the implementation of the actions in the two federal plans can by consulted in the yearly reports of the members of the Interdepartmental Commission for Sustainable Development: (http://www.icdo.be/).