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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Belgium : Germans

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date May 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Belgium : Germans, May 2011, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Updated 2011


According to the Council of the German-Speaking Community, there were 71,000 German-speakers in 2003. The community's official area consists of nine districts in the east of the Province of Liège, which is part of the French-language Walloon region. The German-speaking community area is divided into two cantons, that of Eupen in the north adjacent to the Dutch and German borders (which includes the municipalities of Eupen, Kelmis, Lontzen and Raeren), and that of Sankt Vith in the south along the border with Luxembourg and Germany (which includes the municipalities of Sankt Vith, Amel, Bullingen, Burg-Reuland, and Butgenbach). These nine districts had a total population of 84,948 in January 2006 (Institut National de Statistique). About one-fifth of the population of the district of Malmedy (total population 11,829 in 2006) and a majority of the district of Arlon (26,367) and Martelange (1,567) speak German as their first language, but these districts are in the French-language community area. The Moselle Frankish German, or Luxembourgish, spoken in Arlon and Martelange has official recognition from the French-language community. There are other Belgian native German-speakers in central Belgium, but they are largely assimilated with the French- or Dutch-language districts in which they live.

There are two main dialects of German in eastern Belgium. Lower-Frankish Limbourgian is spoken in the northern canton of Eupen and Moselle Frankish (otherwise known as Luxembourgish) in the southern canton of St Vith. Both are quite distinct from standard German. Many members of the community are bilingual in French and German, although bilingualism has declined. German has an equal language status to Dutch and French in Belgium, and German translations of all federal legislation can be requested in German, as decreed by law in 1990.

The majority of German-speakers are Protestant Christians, whereas most other Belgians are Roman Catholic.

Historical context

The German-language area of Belgium was part of the Low Countries (which included present-day Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) from the late Middle Ages. The northern canton was part of the Duchy of Limburg and the southern canton was part of the Duchy of Luxembourg. When Belgium gained independence from the Dutch in 1830, the government decreed that citizens were free to use Dutch, French or German in dealings with the authorities, and this is enshrined in the 1831 Constitution. In 1839 the canton of Eupen was separated from Belgium and became part of the German Confederation. The canton of Sankt Vith and other territory were taken from Luxembourg and given to Belgium. After 1839 the language of administration and the courts was almost exclusively French. In 1842 primary education was required to cover the basics in all three languages as the need arose. In 1914 the law required teaching at all levels had to be given in the child's mother tongue, but this was not consistently applied. Secondary teaching continued to be in French.

German became the main language of the community when German forces occupied Belgium during the First World War, but French was restored in 1918. The canton of Eupen was also returned to Belgium in 1918. In May 1940 the invading German forces annexed Eupen-Malmedy and the other German-speaking Belgian municipalities to Germany, but all of Belgium came under German rule. In the eastern municipalities German became the only language for education, administration and the law until 1945. After Belgium regained its independence and these territories, the German language largely disappeared from public life, including schools. At secondary level, education was exclusively in French.

In 1962 a cultural and linguistic border was drawn for the first time between the Flemish and French-speaking areas. In 1963 language laws established Flemish (Dutch), French and German as the official languages for their geographical areas. When the constitution was amended in 1970 it set up cultural communities, including the German-language community. German became the official language of the German-speaking area.

Devolution from central government to federal structures began to take shape in 1980. In 1984 the 25-member Council (Parliament) and Government (Executive) of the German-speaking community were established with legislative powers over all language, cultural and educational matters.

Current issues

German-speakers elect the parliament of their community. They also elect representatives to the Walloon Regional Parliament and to the Belgian Federal Parliament. In principle they have equal cultural and linguistic rights, but many German-speakers are pressing for the creation of a German region, which would give them greater autonomy. Since 1994 the Walloon region has devolved regional powers to the German-speaking community, which now deals with decisions relating to employment, monuments and listed buildings and the protection of the natural landscape, as well as undertaking the supervision and financing of local authorities.

In June 2009 Monika Dethier-Neumann was the first member of the German-speaking community to be elected as President of the Walloon regional parliament. Nevertheless, the German-speaking community has no representation in the Belgium Federal government. A 2008 survey revealed that both German-speaking and non-German speaking Belgians would like more attention to be paid to the German-speaking community. German is the language of instruction in most schools, with French as the first foreign language. There are a small number of French-language schools in the German-speaking community. German textbooks are mostly from Germany, but there are some textbooks published locally.

The German-speaking community provides funding for the arts as well as education.

The Grenz Echo daily newspaper is published in German from Eupen. It has an online version and service to the community, Netecho. German-language newspapers, magazines, books, radio and TV are readily available from Germany.

Broadcaster Belgische Rundfunk was set up in 1977 and currently transmits around 6,000 hours of radio programmes a year from two radio stations. It operates a third radio station in cooperation with Deutschland Funk, which transmits German- language programmes in Brussels. Programmes in dialects are broadcast by the independent stations Radio Beho and Radio Arlon. In 1993 BRF launched a TV channel. More recently it is also present on the internet. There are several private radio stations which began operations in the 1990s.

Knowledge of German is usually a requirement for securing employment, although in the private sector it is implicit rather than being explicit. German is specifically required for public sector posts.

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