Today’s world has become increasingly complex, and challenges can be political, military, social, environmental, economic or security related. In facing such a situation, governments are more and more obliged to develop means to make their foreign policies more efficient. Belgium is a complex institutional country in which political responsibilities are spread across the federal, regional and community levels. Furthermore, as elsewhere, the Belgian political system is one of coalition governments in which the governing parties very often have their own political agendas.
For decades, the Belgian government has been confronted with external conflicts and crises. Belgium’s ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence as well as the Development Cooperation Directorate of the former regularly cooperate as part of a so-called ‘3D’ (defence-development-diplomacy) approach. Since the Ministry of Justice (law) and the Ministry of the Interior (order) are sometimes also involved, a so-called ‘3DLO’ concept has been elaborated.
These federal bodies have traditionally worked together well despite sometimes have conflicting national agendas. However, there was an acknowledgement that there was a need for aligning policy options and instruments spread across the different levels of government. At present, Belgium is formulating a so-called ‘Comprehensive Approach’ that takes inspiration from a number of instruments embodying a whole-of-government approach (WGA) (as discussed in greater detail below). In 2017, Belgium’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated a Strategy Note on a Comprehensive Approach, which determines a framework agreed at the inter-ministerial (or inter-depart mental) level with the aim of “jointly identifying, where possible, overarching priorities and increasing the coherence and effectiveness of [Belgian] foreign policy” (Kingdom of Belgium 2017: 2). The note also stresses that the strategy is meant to be “a framework and methodology for foreign policy in the broadest sense” as well as “a working method and not an end in itself” (ibid.) It was approved by the Council of Minister on 20 July 2017.