With the transformation of the Belgium into a federal state, recognized by the Constitution in 1993, the reform process started in the 1980s was completed. The new institutional set-up, however, failed to reconcile the contrasts between the linguistic communities and between the regions of the country, otherwise affected by the economic recession of the early 1990s and the consequent increase in unemployment. The traditional parties (Christian-social, liberal, socialist) that implemented the federal reform suffered a progressive, albeit limited, loss of consensus to the advantage of far-right formations and ecological movements. At the same time, the severe austerity policy adopted by the federal government between 1993 and 1995 in order to adapt to the Maastricht parameters, in addition to social conflict, the detachment between civil society and the ruling class also increased, towards which, starting from the same years, the Belgian public opinion began to feel a feeling of growing mistrust, provoked from the involvement of numerous politicians in various kinds of scandals.
According to hetongdiy, the government led by the social Christian W. Martens was forced to resign in 1991, due to the abandonment of the coalition by the representatives of the nationalist Volksunie and the consequent lack of a qualified majority in Parliament, necessary to complete the revision program. constitutional.
In the early elections of November 1991 the Socialists, Christian Socialists and Liberals lost numerous seats, while the Ecologists became the fourth party in Parliament. The most significant statement, however, was that of the Vlaams Blok (Flemish bloc) which obtained 10 more seats thanks to an electoral campaign centered on radical separatism and on xenophobic claims, such as the request for immediate repatriation for all workers. immigrants.
The new government, led by the Christian-social JL Dehaene and composed of the Flemish and Walloon Christian-social parties and the two socialist parties, succeeded, after a period of uncertainty mainly due to disputes over the downsizing of public spending, to complete the constitutional reform that had begun. by the Martens government. In February 1993 the Parliament then voted on the constitutional amendments that transformed Belgium into a federal state, comprising the three autonomous regions of Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels, and the three Walloon, Dutch and German language communities. Also in 1993, in July, King Baldwin died, considered by the majority of Belgians to be a symbol and guarantor of the unity of the country, succeeded by his brother Albert of Liege.
The constitutional amendments entered into force on February 17, 1994: under the new system, an assembly representing Flanders and the Dutch community, two regional assemblies for Wallonia and Brussels and two assemblies for the Walloon and German communities were created. The five legislative bodies correspond to the same number of executive councils elected by direct suffrage. The regional administrations are responsible for environmental policies, transport and public works, while the representative bodies of the linguistic communities are responsible for education and cultural policy.
The agreement reached on the institutional issue was not in itself sufficient to improve the political climate. While the government cuts in social spending caused numerous trade union unrest, in January 1994 three socialist ministers (including the deputy prime minister, G. Coëme) involved in a scandal linked to the illegal financing of parties, through bribes paid by the Italian aeronautical industry Agusta to obtain orders from the Belgian government, they were forced to resign.
In the European elections of June 1994 there was a general advance of right-wing formations – such as the Vlaams Blok and the Walloon Front National – and of the liberals, which demonstrated the distrust of a growing part of the electorate towards the ruling parties. Further difficulties came to the executive from a resurgence of inter-ethnic tensions, due to disputes over the allocation of financial resources to the communities, as well as to the request, made by the head of the Flemish Council, to transform the Belgian federation into a confederal state.
The decline of the government coalition seemed to stop with the political elections of May 1995, in which Socialists and Christian Socialists obtained 82 of the 150 seats in the House, while the strengthening of the liberals and the far right was less than expected. Dehaene was then appointed prime minister of the new center-left government. At the same time, elections for regional assemblies were held which had similar results: in Flanders and Wallonia, executives made up of socialists and Christian-socialists were formed, while in the Brussels region the Council, led by socialists, including the liberals.
The national government continued to be mainly engaged on the front of containing the deficit in view of the European monetary union. To this end, he introduced drastic cuts in public spending, particularly in the field of rail and school transport, which provoked strikes and protests by the trade unions. The agreement, signed in April 1996 between the government, trade unions and workers to contain the high rate of unemployment, restored social peace only for a short time, as the measures taken were judged insufficient by the main unions.
In the second half of 1996, Belgian society was struck by the discovery of a gang of pedophiles and murders, which had operated for years with the protection of elements belonging to the police, the judiciary and the political world itself. The scale of the scandal, and above all its ramifications in the institutional apparatuses, aroused a strong reaction in public opinion and a serious crisis of legitimacy of the entire ruling class.
At the beginning of 1997, the closure of some industrial plants in Wallonia contributed to the widespread popular discontent, which caused a resumption of strikes and protests. Belgium, as a member of NATO, participated in the war against Yugoslavia which began in March 1999 and ended in June.