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Belgium has an outstanding reputation on the world scene. A major factor in establishing this reputation is the successful implementation of a comprehensive Host nation policy (HNP) towards headquarters and liaison offices of more than 40 international organisations (IO) with more than 40.000 international staff and their families, in addition to the diplomatic missions to Belgium, EU and NATO, the international press, the liaison offices of European cities and regions, as well as of the private sector and Non-governmental Organizations (NGO).
The position of Belgium as a whole, and Brussels in particular, as a prime location for headquarters of IO’s is based on its unique assets, such as excellent and easy road, trail and air connexions with the whole world, the relatively low real estate prices, high quality standards, the fact that an important part of the population is multilingual or multicultural, the variety of social and cultural events and the long experience of the different Belgian authorities in dealing with IO’s and their staff.
This major international presence in Belgium, and particularly in Brussels, is an additional incentive for the Belgian authorities to be very active in areas like as town planning, mobility and security, thereby positively influencing the development of Brussels as a whole.
As will be explained hereafter, many public entities at different levels have a responsibility in implementing the Belgian NHP. This is certainly the case for the Region of Brussels Capital and its districts, called “communes”, which have directly to deal with the presence of IO’s and their staff.
The preservation of Belgium’s reputation as privileged host country for IO’s requires a continued effort by the different authorities in Belgium to further improve the implementation of the HNP.
This note will detail the objectives and components of the HNP as well as the general principles and procedures that apply to its implementation. Special attention is given to the instruments that have been put in place in order to achieve reinforced cooperation between all authorities concerned.
II. DEFINITION AND MAIN ASPECTS OF THE HOST NATION POLICY
A. Host nation policy: definition and object
HNP can be defined as the policy and procedures applying to IO’s having HQ’s or a representation (mission, liaison office …) in Belgium.
HNP includes several elements which are of the competence of different authorities at various levels, coordinated by the Interministerial Committee on Host nation Policy (CIPS in French, acronym used further on) that is part of the Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, under the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Regarding the elements of HNP that are of the competence of the 3 language-based Communities (French, Flemish, German) and the 3 geography-based Regions (Flemish, Brussels, Walloon), consultations between the federal level and the federated entities take place in the framework of the consultation procedures for foreign relations established in execution of the revision of the Belgian Constitution in 1993. (IV.B.3a infra) With the local authorities, which have also important responsibilities in relation with host nation policy, a permanent and structured dialogue is also in place. (IV.B.3b infra)
The Belgian HNP includes two important parts:
- first, the respect by Belgium, as a host nation, of its obligations towards international organisations on its territory under international law, i.e. the granting of privileges and immunities.
- second, the hosting “as such”, that includes all actions which, apart from privileges and immunities, contribute to make Belgium more attractive for IO’s.
Obviously, the Belgian HNP is part of a global policy to make Belgium and Brussels more attractive for others actors such as multinational companies, lobby groups, NGOs and the international press which have established themselves in Belgium due also to the presence of many international organisations.
2. IO’s covered by this HNP
The criteria which are generally used to define IO’s are the following:
- organization established by international Treaty among States, or between States and IO’s or else among IO’s, in which the objectives, the structure and the functioning of the organisation are set out;
- from this Treaty or from other documents establishing the organisation, the intention of the contracting parties to give to the IO an international legal personality should appear,
- its structure and bodies must be distinct from those of the member countries
- it has the right to issue binding legal norms vis-à-vis its member states
Only IO’s which fulfil these conditions can claim the privileges and immunities which are usually given to international entities with legal personality, based on international public and customary law. Every decision concerning the granting of privileges and immunities to an international organisation must therefore be preceded by an examination of its international legal status. It should be mentioned that Belgium also recognises the international legal personality of organisations of which it is not a member in so far as the above mentioned criteria are met.
This means that the Belgian HNP does not apply to international NGOs which are considered as private institutions, with the exception of at least two NGOs, i.e. the International Red Cross Committee and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, which both received an explicit mandate from the international community, on basis of international Treaty provisions.
Furthermore, recent new developments should be taken into account which lead to the creation, for example in the EU-context, of forms of international cooperation which certainly have an intergovernmental character but whose international legal status is not always very clear, like the “agencies” and the “joint undertakings”. The fact that it is mainly in the EU framework that these new cooperation forms are created does not mean that the recognition of their international legal personality should not comply with the existing rules of international and customary law (including the EU regulations) and the relevant texts should therefore explicitly state that the founding states or international organisations have the intention to grant the international legal personality to the new Institution.
The guiding principle of Belgium regarding IO’s is that it conducts an active HNP as a matter of national strategy.
1. An active HNP
Belgium develops an active HNP along 3 axis:
- Strengthening its image and that of its capital as a prime location for the establishment of IO’s by further improving support to those of them already established in Belgium;
- New requests from IO’s to establish their head offices or representations in Belgium and to conclude a seat agreement with Belgium are considered with high interest, and carefully examined in the light of costs and benefits;
- If and when IO’s established in another country expresses the intention to relocate, the necessary diplomatic efforts will be done, after thorough examination of the costs and benefits, to convince them and their member states to choose Belgium as a new location.
2. Implementation of an active HNP
When implementing this policy, it is in Belgium’s interest, taking into account the important number of international organisations already established on its territory, to
- Fully respect its international obligations in a strict and uniform way, in particular in the field of privileges and immunities;
- In some cases, grant additional facilities in the framework of the hosting policy, if needed and conform to the interests of Belgium.
These are of course general principles and not rigid guidelines that need to be “tailor-made” to each individual case. As a general rule, it is the prerogative of the Belgian government to evaluate the political and socio-economic consequences of the establishment of an IO in Belgium before taking a decision. The necessity of coherence in the HNP furthermore requires a permanent dialogue and coordination on the federal level as well as between the federal level and the other authorities concerned.
This evaluation has to take into account the following elements:
- the political (and diplomatic) opportunity of a Belgian candidature as host country for the organisation;
- the (international) political importance of the organisation and the significance in the short as well as in the long run of its presence in our country;
- the importance of the office or the representation and its possible extension: is it a head office or a limited or an extensive representation? what is the number of staff employed?
- the probable costs and benefits for the federal and other authorities, and for the population, of the establishment of the IO in Belgium, in particular regarding employment.
3. A pro-active approach
To support this policy, when negotiating the establishment of an IO, the Belgian authorities have to see to it that in the official documents establishing the organisation, the conditions, based on international public and customary law, are met in order to grant it international legal personality.
Belgium seeks to ensure as much uniformity as possible in the criteria for the recognition of IO’s and in the scope of privileges and immunities granted to them (see chap. III.A.2 infra). This has positive effects on the international legal security, it facilitates negotiations on privileges and immunities, it reduces the occurrence of litigations before international courts and it avoids situations in which the granting of privileges and immunities is requested for organizations whose international status is unclear.
Moreover, it diminishes the possibility of higher biddings between candidate host nations as far as the granting of (mainly fiscal) advantages is concerned and it thus limits unfair competition among candidate-countries in attracting IO’s.
III. ELEMENTS OF THE HNP
A. Privileges and immunities
1. International treaties- the seat agreements
In order to ensure independence of the IO’s, they are granted, as well as their staff, a number of privileges and immunities based on:
- either a multilateral agreement or another instrument of international law between the organisation and its member countries (sometimes integrated in the treaty establishing the organisation) stipulating the privileges and immunities that member countries have to grant to the IO’s and their staff they host;
- a seat agreement between the organisation and the host country concerned: this happens 1. when the country where the organisation wishes to establish its HQ’s or an office is not a party in the multilateral agreement, 2. when a multilateral agreement does not exist, 3. when the host nation is not a member of the organisation, 4. when the host nation wishes to confirm the privileges and immunities existing under international or customary law in domestic legislation;
- in some instances, the host nation, even when it is a party in the international agreement about privileges and immunities of the organisation concerned, can conclude a complementary bilateral agreement to grant some additional privileges and/or facilities to the organisation.
The granting of privileges and immunities to recognised IO’s is an international obligation that Belgium strictly abides by. With this policy of strict and uniform respect of its international obligation, Belgium also hopes, as mentioned above (II.B.3), to achieve a certain degree of uniformity in the granting of privileges and immunities at the international level where uniformity, mainly in the granting of fiscal privileges to IO’s staff, is still very limited..
For Belgium, the general principle that the privileges and immunities for international organisations and their staff have to be granted “according to real needs” is of utmost importance: only those privileges and immunities are granted which are necessary to ensure the independence and good functioning of the organisation. Privileges and immunities which do not comply to this principle, such as granting diplomatic status to all international civil servants working in an IO or the non taxation of retirement benefits of former international civil servants residing in Belgium, are in principle not granted.
As privileges and immunities are in essence exceptions to the Constitution and the existing legislation, they are always granted in a restrictive manner. This restrictive approach, which also applies to privileges and immunities granted to diplomatic missions, has to be seen in a general context, observed mainly in European countries, of questioning the absolute character of the legal and other immunities.
Finally, IO’s and their staff have the obligation, notwithstanding the explicitly granted privileges and immunities, to respect the laws and regulations of the host country. In addition, they have to cooperate in all circumstances with the authorities of the host country to avoid any misuse of the granted privileges and immunities and, if necessary, waiver the immunity of their staff members, an immunity which was granted in the interest of the organisation and not for their personal interest.
In annex 2 a short overview is given of the different privileges and immunities as they are granted in the seat agreements. Where required, the general rules which are applied by Belgium, and in the framework of which the seat agreements have to be negotiated, are also indicated. With respect to fiscal privileges for international civil servants and the social security system to which they belong, the present rules differ from the privileges granted in the past in bilateral seat agreements or in multilateral treaties. Obviously, Belgium remains bound by the existing agreements, but in the future, however, the general rules hereafter described will be strictly applied when negotiating new seat agreements.
Annex 3 contains the standard text of a bilateral agreement which is proposed as a basis for negotiations to IO’s wishing to establish a seat or a representation in Belgium.
B. The hosting “as such” of IO’s and their staff
As already stressed, the granting of privileges and immunities is based on rules and criteria derived from international public and customary law, and Belgium, as host nation for many IO’s, aims to achieve as much uniformity as possible in this regard.
In addition to that, Belgium, as an attractive host country, also takes action in order to facilitate the hosting “as such” of IO’s and their staff, in the fields of premises, welcoming of staff, security, and mobility.
1. Premises of the IO’s
A decisive factor for IO’s when choosing a location for their HQ’s or offices is the availability of premises at favourable conditions. Candidate host nations therefore often include in their global offer to IO’s an attractive proposal for office space. An active seat policy therefore has to include a “real estate”-element.
a) Financial contributions of the federal government
n the past, Belgium provided housing to some IO’s. As of now, taking into account the large number of IO’s established in Belgium, such initiatives cannot be generalised. A case by case approach is therefore necessary, based on the criteria mentioned under II.B.2., in the interest of HNP’s continuity and coherence.
b) Technical and administrative assistance provided to IO’s
Belgium offers, through CIPS, to provide technical assistance in relation with the construction, the acquisition or the use of office space, if so requested by IO’s.
Belgium is also ready to provide assistance to the IO’s in going through the administrative procedures to obtain building and environmental authorisations, in order to ensure a smooth process and to minimise the risk of rejection of a request.
c) The role of regional and local authorities
As the Brussels, Walloon and Flemish regions, as well as district authorities (“communes” in French) are competent for urbanism policy, and town and land management, they are therefore part in decisions about the housing of IO’s. In the interest of a coherent seat policy, the strategic policy options of the federal government regarding IO’s, and the policy for the management of public space are coordinated permanently, through CIPS.
2. Welcoming of foreign staff
The reputation of a host country also depends on the courtesy shown towards IO’s staff.
Major IO’s, like the EU and NATO, take themselves good care of their staff upon arrival and the international community residing in Belgium has developed an important number of private initiatives in Brussels, in areas like sport, culture and socializing. Nevertheless there is also an important role for the Belgian authorities, particularly at regional and local levels.
Efficient welcoming includes different aspects:
- good information about the host country on fiscal policy, housing, education, mobility and other public services;
- assistance to IO’s and staff in fulfilling administrative procedures with local authorities or with the protocol directorate of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs);
- initiatives to promote the integration of newcomers and their families in the local and international communities;
- information and communication on security aspects, in particular for newly arrived foreign staff, as well as prevention and assistance in case of judicial procedures.
3. Security of the IO’s
As a host country, Belgium has the duty to take all necessary measures to ensure the independence and the smooth functioning of the IO’s and diplomatic missions on its territory. Security is part of this. It is a responsibility of the federal government (Ministry for Home Affairs) on basis of information from the security- and intelligence services, a responsibility which is implemented by the local police. The internal coordination in Belgium and the contacts with the security services of the IO’s are organised by the Crisis Centre of the federal government.
The security of the IO’s includes in the first place the protection of their official premises. Taking into account a permanent threat analysis by the Belgian intelligence services, and in close cooperation with the authorities of the organisations, security and protection is foreseen if the organisations concerned (like NATO) do not take responsibility themselves for their security. With the EU, a security agreement was concluded on December 31st 2004 which formalises the respective responsibilities of the Belgian authorities and of the EU-institutions.
Major events organized by IO’s, in particular meetings of Heads of State and Government or ministerial meetings, require additional security measures by the host nation, including VIP protection. Before each of these events, the Crisis Centre coordinates adapted security measures with the Belgian security- an intelligence services and with the security service of the IO concerned with a view to protect the visiting VIP’s and to inform the local population about the measures taken and the possible discomfort they will generate. When preparing the decisions about the necessary means for protection, technical considerations (threat analysis, existing capacities) are taken into account, as well as political and diplomatic ones based on the advice of the Ministry for Foreign affairs.
4. Town & country planning and mobilityiteit
Like the security policy, the town & country planning and mobility policies aim at serving the general interest of the population living in the country. Belgium, as a host country to so many IO’s and with a capital city that has developed into a European and international political and business hub, fully reckons that international presence when elaborating its policies, and has therefore established a permanent dialogue structure between all levels of government
Several initiatives have been taken in this context. The planned express railway network (RER) and the modernisation of the Leopold III avenue will greatly enhance the accessibility of the railway stations in the city centre and of the national airport; The main international organisations were not only informed in detail about these projects but, moreover, their needs and wishes have been taken into account.
IV. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HOST NATION POLICY
Taking into account the large number of government bodies and public services that are competent for different aspects of the implementation of the HNP, the federal government needs adapted tools to be able to conduct an efficient policy.
The HNP needs to fulfil the following conditions to achieve its objectives:
- Coherence: all public authorities involved in implementing the HNP have to act in a coordinated manner;
- One interlocutor: an institution (CIPS) is mandated to represent the Belgian authorities vis-à-vis the IO’s.
- Quick reaction time: Belgium must be in a position to fulfil its (i.a. treaty) obligations towards the organisations quickly and efficiently, and to react quickly to questions asked by and to problems encountered by IO’s.
- Continuity: seat policy is a long term policy; and frequent policy changes are being avoided in order to remain a trusted partner for international organisations.
B. The Interministerial Committee for Host Nation Policy (CIPS)
1. Mission; responsibilities; functioning
In order to fulfil these conditions, and in particular to ensure the necessary coherence of the HNP, the Belgian authorities have established a consultation- and coordination institution, called CIPS in French, which has the possibility, on a pragmatic and non bureaucratic basis,
- to ensure the exchange of information among Belgian entities about all aspects of the seat policy in order to ensure coherence in implementing this policy;
- to reach coordinated positions of all Belgian entities, i.e. federal and federated governments, as well as local authorities;
- to act, with the agreement and on basis of a mandate of all Belgian authorities concerned, as sole Belgian interlocutor (“guichet unique”) for host nation issues towards all international organisations;
- to act as helpdesk for potential security problems encountered by IO’s and their staff;
- to detect in due time and inform about problems which could arise between Belgium and IO’s, and to formulate solutions;
- to develop new initiatives and present them to the relevant Belgian authorities.
The chair of this Committee is appointed by Royal Decree after deliberation in the Council of Ministers:
- he/she is responsible for the welcoming of IO’s, and for the implementation of the seat policy;
- he/she organises the necessary coordination meetings between competent authorities in the field of the HNP;
- he/she acts as representative of the federal government in contacts and negotiations with IO’s in the areas covered by the HNP;
- he/she acts, after coordination and with the agreement of all authorities concerned, as representative of non-federal Belgian authorities concerned by HNP-aspects with a “mixed” character (IV.B.2, a and b above);
- negotiates seat agreements on behalf of the Prime Minister and Minster for Foreign Affairs;
- reports directly to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and, when necessary, to other ministers concerned with aspects of the HNP.
2. Consultations and cooperation between levels of governance
a) Language-based Communities and geography-based Regions
Taking into account the constitutional rules about competences in the field of foreign relations, this implies for the HNP that:
- the decisions about the general policy guidelines (II.B.1) are a federal competence;
- the federated entities can, in the field of their own competences, develop their own policy towards the IO’s on their territories; however, to ensure coherence of the HNP, they have to take into account the policy options described above (II.B.1) in their overall policy planning,
- in the context of cooperative federalism, the federal government consults or associates the concerned entities when it takes decisions in the field of HNP which can have an impact on their interests; the same principle applies to the federated entities;
- only decisions by consensus can be taken when governments of different entities act jointly in “mixed”.
The organisation of consultations between the federal government and the federated entities in the field of HNP takes place in the framework of the existing consultation structures for foreign relations:
- At the Interministerial Conference for Foreign Relations (ICBB), the federal Minister of Foreign Affairs informs his/her colleagues of the federated entities about the federal HNP and information is exchanged about planned policy initiatives which belong either directly to the HNP or which can influence indirectly the relations between Belgium and the IO’s established in Belgium;
- For the signing and ratification of seat agreements with “mixed” character, the procedure outlined in the cooperation agreement of march 8th 1994 is fully applicable;
- As already indicated under IV.B.1, the permanent dialogue between the federal level and the federated entities in the field of host nation policy is organised by the CIPS.
b) Districts (“Communes”)
The competence of the local authorities in the field of i.a. the city & country planning, mobility and public order and security (role of the local police) means that they are important partners. Like the federated entities, districts are associated to the decision-making process in their area of competence. In this context, reference can be made to a tripartite protocol of understanding of March 27th 2006 between the Federal State, the Region of Brussels-Capital and the communes of Etterbeek and Ixelles about the Schuman area, where EU HQ’s are located.