Conclusion of treaties

Treaties are international legal agreements which are usually concluded in writing between States or other subjects of international law with a view to regulating their mutual relationships, irrespective of the name given to it (treaty, agreement, convention, protocol).

The intensive development of international relations in the last decades has let to an explosion of treaties, both in the bilateral and in the multilateral sector.

Therefore, treaties have become the most important source of international law and they occupy an important place in the international community as regards the relations between States.

The structure of the Kingdom of Belgium as a federal state and the fact that the Communities and Regions have been granted authority in international affairs, including the "ius tractati" (the right to conclude treaties) have important consequences for the conclusion of treaties. Depending on the distribution of authority between the federal authorities and the federated entities, a distinction is made between exclusively federal treaties, treaties which exclusively concern the Communities and Regions, and mixed treaties.

The conclusion of treaties comprises a number of steps:

  1. The negotiations

    For multilateral treaties the authorisation to negotiate, also called credentials, is required. With such authority granted to it, the Belgian delegation may take part in the activities of a diplomatic conference, cast its vote and accept any texts agreed upon at the conference.
  2. The signing

    The signing implies that the treaty text is recognised as authentic and definitive and that no more changes are possible. Most treaties are authenticated by signing. A treaty may not be signed until the necessary authority has been granted to the signatory or signatories by the holder(s) of the "ius tractati". For exclusively federal treaties it is the King who grants authority in the form of a Royal Decree. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have general power of attorney. For Community or Region treaties the head of the government of the Community or Region is the holder of the "ius tractati". He himself may sign the treaty or grant authority to another person.
  3. Parliamentary approval

    All treaties concluded by the King must be approved by the House of Representatives (Chambre/Kamer) and by the Senate in the form of an Act of approval.

    All treaties concluded by the Region and Community governments must be approved by the respective Councils.

    The mixed treaties must be approved by all legislative authorities concerned.
  4. The ratification

    To be internationally binding the treaty must be ratified by the King. The instrument of ratification is deposited with the other party or with the depositary. It should be noted that the King cannot ratify mixed treaties until the federal authorities and all competent federated entities have given their approval.
  5. Publication and registration

    The Act of approval and the text of the treaty are published in the Belgian Official Journal (Moniteur belge/Belgisch Staatsblad).

    In accordance with the prevailing international obligations the text of the treaty must also be registered with the Secretary General of the United Nations.