Luc Van den Brande

Former Minister-President of Flanders-Belgium; Former President, European Committee of the Regions

read - An Interview with Mr. van den Brande »
Prior to assuming the presidency of the Committee of the Regions of the EU in 2008, Luc Van den Brande served in many governmental and parliamentary positions in his native Belgium. He has been active as a Belgian senator and member of the Flanders Parliament and served as Minister-President of Flanders between 1992 and 1999. Mr. Van den Brande is a strong advocate for European political participation and for the role that regions play in strengthening the economy and protecting the environment. He has been involved in a number of pan-European committees and assemblies, including the Assembly of European Regions (vice-president, 1994-1996; president, 1996-2000), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, ("PACE", 2001- ; vice-president, 2003-2004), and the Assembly of the Union of Western Europe (2001- ). As current president of the Committee of the Regions, he promotes its mission, "to involve regional and local authorities in the European decision-making process and…encourage greater participation from our fellow citizens." His work on the PACE Sub-Committee on Rights of Minorities and the Political Affairs Committee also reflects his commitment to these issues.

Mr. Van den Brande is known as a promoter of regional identity and rights on both local and European levels. He earned a Doctorate of Law and License of Notary in Flanders in 1969, and has called for greater autonomy for that region. An outspoken critic of a "centralized" Belgian state, he has been a proponent of Flemish federalism. Mr. Van den Brande has also been a vocal advocate for multilevel governance in Europe. He believes that Europe is "a political project that is mindful of national, regional and local identities… [and] takes due account of local and regional realities" in a globalized world.

According to Mr. Van den Brande, the principle of (subsidiarity) should guide European law-making. This means that political decisions should be relegated to the local, regional, or national levels of government, "unless a pan-European approach is going to be more effective." Furthermore, all tiers of government should be treated as partners with "equal footing" in European decision-making. Under his leadership, the Committee of the Regions aims to foster structural dialogue between political actors on all levels.

For years, Mr. Van den Brande has worked actively in economic, scientific, and technological policymaking. He served as Minister for Economic Affairs, Small and Medium-Sized Business, Science Policy, Energy, and Foreign Relations in the Government of Flanders in the 1990s. Today, he lists energy and climate change among his top priorities for the Committee of the Regions. He says that cooperation and multilevel dialogue are key to success in these areas. The debate about energy and climate change must "include the level of local authorities, towns and regions" if it is to be productive. Mr. Van den Brande has been a leading supporter of the Covenant of Mayors, an EU initiative committing more than 100 cities to improving their energy efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions. "Cities and regions…are prepared to adapt," he says, "and only if they are truly involved as partners" in the Climate Action Strategy can the EU "reach its overall objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions." The success or failure of such efforts hangs on multilevel cooperation. Likewise, Mr. Van den Brande believes that the "decentralised tiers of government" are best equipped to handle unemployment and stimulate economic growth. He believes that cities and regions best understand these problems and have the practical resources at hand to create innovative and efficient solutions.

Is it possible to be both a committed Europeanist and an advocate for grassroots perspectives? Mr. Van den Brande insists that he is. "We are committed representatives of local and regional authorities, but we are committed Europeans, too," he says. "We are not looking to undermine the EU decision-making process, but to improve it" by fostering dialogue and cooperation between different levels of government. In his view, a "culture of subsidiarity means better law-making." Mr. Van de Brande acknowledges that subsidiarity poses a challenge to the status quo. In fact, this is the goal: "We have to dismantle the EU pyramid where everything is being decided within two square kilometres in Brussels." By involving local and regional actors from the start, the Council of the Regions hopes to give them a voice and ensure their cooperation with the EU.

Mr. Van den Brande has long been a promoter of cultural diplomacy and intercultural understanding. It was under his leadership that the Flemish government first honored local artists and musicians with the title of "cultural ambassador." Mr. Van den Brande was also a strong supporter of Bruges' bid to be named the European cultural capital in 2002. He believes that cultural diplomacy is key to healthy relations between regions. "Cultural diversity, firmly embedded in a framework of democracy, tolerance, social justice and mutual respect between peoples and cultures, is a vital element of peace and security," he says. Mr. Van den Brande is a champion for human rights and has served as PACE rapporteur on various occasions, including during recent conflict in South Ossetia. He is fluent in four languages (Dutch, English, French, and German) and says he aspires to be a "cosmopolitan regionalist."