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The regional budget under the microscope

Every year the regional government draws up a budget: it plans its expected income and expenditure and submits a summary of it to the Brussels Parliament for approval. With this budget, the Brussels Region has a financial plan to guide the management of its finances during the financial year.

How is the budget prepared?

In each case, the budget cycle goes through three phases that together cover three years - from preparation to closure.

Phase 1: preparing and approving the budget

Preparing the budget 
Every year around March, the Minister of Finance and Budget sends a circular to ministers and administrations. This contains the guidelines for preparing the budget proposals for the next fiscal year. Those guidelines, which the government approved together, serve as a guide for preparing the preliminary partial budgets.

Bilateral discussions 
Have line ministers and their administrations finalised their partial budget proposal? Then they discuss them with the Budget Minister.

Drawing up the budget 
In September, the minister presents the budget report to the Regional Government: an overview of the overall estimate of revenues and expenditures. This also gives the government an immediate insight into what efforts are needed to pay off the net debt and comply with the recommendations of the High Council of Finance in the context of the Maastricht objectives and the consolidation of public finances.

Approve budget  
The government discusses the budget and lays it down in a draft decree, which it presents to the Brussels Parliament together with the General Report. The Budget and Finance Minister defends the budget in the parliamentary committee and then in the plenary session. The Parliament approves or rejects the budget by vote.

Phase 2: implementing the budget

Revenue and expenditure 
During the financial year, the government implements the budget: it collects taxes as set out in the revenue budget and makes expenditures approved by parliament.  

Budget control 
Changes may be made throughout the financial year. Therefore, the budget is fully analysed in February and adjusted where necessary.  

Approval of adjustments 
After this check, the adjusted budget is approved by parliament. Are adjustments still needed during the budget year? Then these must also be submitted to parliament for approval.

Phase 3: Closing the budget

After the end of the financial year, the government submits a document to Parliament showing the results of budget execution (revenue and expenditure). Where necessary, errors are corrected and deficits offset. This allows Parliament to assess whether the government has achieved its objectives and whether estimates have been proved correct.

Characteristics of the budget?

A budget is more than just a budget estimate. It also has an enabling, legal and informative character.      

Budget as an act of estimation 
The budget makes an estimate of revenue and expenditure for the coming financial year, which runs from 1 January to 31 December. The Brussels Parliament approves these estimates for both the Brussels Region and the Brussels Agglomeration.  

Budget as enabling act  
This approved budget authorises the Brussels Regional Government to incur the stated expenditure and collect the established revenue.

Budget as a legislative act 
The budget is a legislative act. Why? The Brussels Government estimates expenditure and revenue and pours them into draft ordinances, or budget bills. It submits them to the Brussels Parliament. After approval, these drafts are published as ordinances in the Moniteur Belge. From then on, revenue and expenditure are fixed for one year and the budget is the rule to be followed by the executive and administrations. Yet the budget is no ordinary law: it is not a source of law and only applies for one calendar year.

Budget as an act of policy  
The budget reflects the government's action programme: it shows in figures how the government will translate its policies into concrete initiatives, with the approval of the Brussels Capital Council.  

The budget is therefore a valuable source of information: it shows how the Brussels-Capital Region organises its finances and what its priorities are. And this transparency helps ensure that the available resources are spent effectively and efficiently.

The five principles of the Regional Budget

The budget of the Brussels Capital Region must comply with five key principles of budget law.  

The principle of annuality 
The approved regional budget is valid for one financial year only: only during this period are the stated expenditures and revenues authorised. In Belgium, this financial year coincides with the calendar year: from 1 January to 31 December.

The principle of unity 
To approve a budget proposal, the Brussels Parliament must be able to rely on clear and complete information. Two rules therefore apply:  

  1. The budget must be presented in a single document
  2. All expenditure and income of the Region must be presented together to the budgetary authority for approval 

This way, MPs get a clear overview and have real control over the Region's finances.

The principle of universality  
All income in the budget must cover all expenditure: both must be listed separately, clearly and in detail in the budget statement. Thus, it is not permissible to delete expenditure and revenue opposite each other, showing only the balance of these offset operations. This would conceal certain costs and thus detract from the clarity and sincerity of the budget. It is also further prohibited to allocate revenues to specific expenditures. All revenues are paid into a single treasury without the origin of the funds being determined. Thus, the Brussels Parliament, as the budgetary authority, retains its decision-making power.

The principle of specificity 
Budgeted expenditure must be clearly allocated to a specific purpose and used for that purpose. This principle also applies to revenue. Does the regional government want to spend a specific expenditure item on something else? If so, it needs Parliament's approval. However, transferring funds between different programmes remains an exception.

The principle of transparency  
Budget documents must be made public so that everyone can check the government's financial policy. Moreover, budget decrees are published in the Belgian Official Gazette and the parliamentary sessions in which budget decrees are discussed are public.

The principle of balance 
As in any balance sheet, expenditure and revenue must be in balance: overall, therefore, revenue must cover expenditure.

Budget form and structure

Want to delve deeper into the budget of the Brussels Capital Region? Then it helps to know its form and structure. There are three budget documents:

  1. The General Explanatory Memorandum provides detailed information on the government's policies for the financial year.
  2. It links the resources and expenditure budget and shows the balances resulting from budget operations.
  3. In the Resources Budget, you will discover what revenue all ministry boards collect in a financial year. In turn, the General Expenditure Budget tells you what expenditures were calculated for all ministry boards.

In addition, the budgets of autonomous administrative institutions of both the first and second categories are also part of the budget.