Between Scylla and Charybdis? Twenty-Five Years Administrating the Contested Region of Brussels

Karl O'Connor, Joost Vaesen

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Although Belgian politics has experienced numerous political conflicts in the post-war period, the Brussels political system has, since 1989, remained relatively stable. This has led some scholars to suggest that Brussels may be experiencing a depolarization of its traditional linguistic cleavages. In this article, we analyze the possible realignment of these divisions and the possible emergence of an identity based on the urban territory. We trace the development of the public administrations at sub-state level in Brussels post 1989 and add new data on the often neglected elite-level bureaucrats and their individual attachment perceptions. This topic is most relevant as the organization and functioning of the public administrations have proven to be one of the major politically and socially divisive issues of the power-sharing agreement. The article draws on published and unpublished documents and interviews with 20 elite-level bureaucrats from four distinct public administrations operating in Brussels. The findings suggest that a regional urban attachment is emerging among the bureaucratic elite; however, this attachment would not prove robust if either community were to feel threatened. The likelihood of unintended policy making, which would have unintended consequences, is quite high given that the bureaucratic elite do not have confidence in the administrative structures of the city. The findings should be of interest to those interested in identification perceptions and to those studying other more fragile environments in and around Europe’s borders that may one day consider adopting the Brussels approach to conflict management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-855
Number of pages21
JournalAdministration and Society
Issue number6
Early online date8 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jul 2018


  • Brussels
  • conflict management
  • bureaucracy
  • identity
  • power sharing


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