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Belgium: A comparative study on the municipal flags

Last modified: 2005-01-22 by ivan sache
Keywords: comparative study |
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Presentation of the study

The study on Belgian municipal flags summarized on this page was initially published in English by Gunnar Staack as Belgian municipal flags in Flag Data Bank [fdb] #12, July 2000. The study was later published in French as Les drapeaux communaux belges in Vexillacta [vxl] #10, December 2000.

Ivan Sache, 4 May 2002

Adoption of the flags

The oldest Belgian municipal flag used at sea is the horizontally divided red-yellow flag of Ostende. Several other big cities have used a flag based on their arms for years, e.g. Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Arlon, Namur, Hasselt, Mons and Liège.

The number of Belgian municipalities was reduced from 2,359 to 596 in 1977, and finally to 589 in 1983. According to the new Belgian Constitution adopted in 1994, the Communities are in charge of the adoption of the municipal flags.

On 28 January 1977, the Flemish Cultural Council prescribed by Decree the adoption rules for municipal flags and arms. The newly formed municipalities must use the arms and flags which they have been granted (Belgian Monitor, 7 April 1977). The Provincial Councils transfered their competency on that matter to the Flemish Government (Belgian Monitor, 4 April 1995). The arms and flags granted before the application of the Decree shall not be modified except if new facts are presented by the Municipal Councils. The Flemish Government shall approve the Municipal proposal, following the advice of the Flemish Heraldic Council, not later than three months after the proposal.

Since 6 July 1985, the Heraldry and Vexillology Council of the French Community in Belgium is in charge of the adoption rules for municipal flags, seals and arms (Belgian Monitor, 17 October 1985). Every municipality is allowed to adopt arms, a seal and a flag, but adoption is not mandatory as it is in Flanders. Article 4 of the regulation allows the use of the arms or the colours of the arms on the flag. The use of the same flag by different municipalities is forbidden. The procedure of approval of municipal flags was precised in a Decree of 8 August 1988 (Belgian Monitor, 1 November 1988). The municipalities which adopted their flag after the administrative reorganization reducing the number of municipalities are allowed to keep it. On 26 February 1991, the Government of the French Community appointed the Heraldry and Vexillology Council as consultative organism (Belgian Monitor, 7 September 1991). The Heraldry and Nobility Council kept competency only on the 19 municipalities of the Region of Brussel-Capital and the 9 municipalities of the German-speaking Community.

[Chart of adoption dates for flags]by Ivan Sache, after Gunnar Staack's data

The process of adoption of flag by the Flemish municipalities started in 1976 and was completed on 25 June 1996. The process was not linear but most of the flags were adopted before 1990.

The adoption process started later in the French Commnity and is not completed yet. No flag has been approved yet either in the Region of Brussel-Capital or in the German-speaking Community.

Ivan Sache, 4 May 2002

Colours used on the flags

[Colours used on the flags]by Ivan Sache, after Gunnar Staack's data

The analysis of 361 flags officially adopted shows that the most popular colours are red, yellow and white.

[Combinations of colours]by Ivan Sache, after Gunnar Staack's data

More than two-thirds (264) of these flags are bicolor. All possible combinations of the six main colours are used, except blue-green.

[Distribution of tricolor flags]by Ivan Sache, after Gunnar Staack's data

Seventy-seven flags are tricolor.

Eighteen flags are quadricolor:

  • Red-Blue-Yellow-White & Red-Yellow-White-Black: 5
  • Yellow-Green-White-Black: 2
  • Red-Blue-White-Black, Blue-Yellow-White-Black, Red-Blue-Green-White,
  • Blue-Yellow-Green-White, Red-Yellow-Green-White, and
  • Blue-Yellow-White-Brown: 1

There are only three pentacolor flags:

  • Red-Blue-Yellow-Green-White
  • Blue-Yellow-White-Black-Brown
  • Red-Blue-Yellow-White-Black.

Ivan Sache, 4 May 2002

Geometrical patterns of the flags

The geometrical pattern of the flag was analyzed following the system designed by Maria-José Sastre y Arribas (Flag Data Bank [fdb] #7, p. 8). The patterns of the field were divided in eight classes:

  • A: plain field
  • B: vertically divided
  • C: horizontally divided
  • D: diagonally divided
  • E: quartered
  • F: divided in triangles
  • G: divided per cross or saltire
  • H: other patterns

This classification seems to be adequate since only 7% of the flags are placed in the H class.

[Patterns of the flag]by Ivan Sache, after a figure by Gunnar Staack

The most common pattern is horizontally divided without any charge, There is a great variety of charges placed on the flags. The four dominating ones are the lion, the fleur-de-lys, the star and the rose, which represent more than one third of the charges. Unsurprisingly, the lion appears on 34 municipal flags, and 20 of these lions being the lion of Brabant.

Ivan Sache, 4 May 2002