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Belgian environmental impact assessment systems: Legal frameworks and beyond

Jan De Mulder

elni Review 2008, Issue 2,  pp. 60-69.

As a result of a number of constitutional reforms in recent decades Belgium is now a federal state. The societal evolution and the historical devolution of competencies have resulted in a multi-actor policy approach at different policy levels: municipal, provincial, regional and national (federal). Competencies regarding particular policy fields like the environment are often not attributed to one policy level. The application of policy instruments in such a framework leads to complex processes and regulatory frameworks for decision-making within Belgium.  The transposition of the consecutive EU Directives has resulted in a growing environmental impact assessment practice. (E)IA approaches and requirements are found in horizontal as well as in specific legislation. 
The application of the impact assessment frameworks has raised questions about the coherence of both proponents and authorities have to deal with these institutional features. Institutions provide not only for frameworks; they are also stakeholders in decision-making and have an interest in impact assessment. 
Most EIA legislation is, however, to be found at the regional level, except for the projects in the Belgian marine environment and nuclear installations which have remained a federal issue. Yet, for certain projects and even plans – e.g. on the North Sea coastline in Flanders, the only coastal region in Belgium – the decision-making process requires the application of both the federal and regional legislations. 
Later on the transposition of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of 2001 revealed a more profound “impact” on decision-making processes. The final adoption of federal and regional SEA legislation happened in the course of 2006-2008. 
This article briefly outlines EIA and SEA (and emerging IA) regulations at the Belgian federal and regional policy levels. Furthermore, some particular issues regarding the involvement of stakeholders and consultants as an element of impact assessment quality requirements are explored.

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