Territorial Rights in Belgium and Switzerland: Policies that Differ from Canada's


Kingdom of Belgium

Helvetic Confederation

Not very long ago, Canada was compared to both Belgium and Switzerland, because both of these European nations are federations, as is Canada. Yet, as federations, Belgium and Switzerland bear no actual resemblance to Canada, at least in the area of language rights or safeguards. Contrary to Canada, Belgium and Switzerland rely essentially on territorial unilingualism (Canada has institutionalized bilingualism based on the rights of the individual). That said, certain comparisons can be made.

Linguistic territoriality revolves around the principle that competing languages in a multilingual nation are kept separate on that nation's territory thanks to "closed" language borders. That means language rights are granted to citizens living in a given territory, but anyone moving out of the territory can lose those rights because, unlike the right to vote, for instance, language rights aren't transferable. In reality, then, the central government can be officially bilingual, but it operates in tandem with local unilingualism-especially when linguistic communities are highly concentrated geographically and benefit from both decentralization and a loose federation in which the central state is bilingual but the regional state is unilingual. A few examples: Belgium, Switzerland, Cameroon, Bosnia-Herzegovina and South Africa.

This section deals strictly with the Belgian and Swiss models; that said, a striking difference exists between the two: Switzerland adheres to integral linguistic territoriality right across the country, whereas Belgium has allowed for an exception in Brussels, making it the only bilingual territory in the country.

Belgium - Switzerland