- Before 1830. The earliest city charter—the keure or "electio"—dates from 1229. It was essentially a penal code. Early government consisted of two institutions—a college of aldermen (échevins, schepenen), recorded as early as 1154, and a college of jurors (jurés, geschworenen). Seven aldermen and 13 jurors appointed for life exercised powers conferred by the ducal authority. The amman presided over the colleges. In 1235, offices were chosen annually—aldermen by the duke and juniors by their peers. By 1270, the college of aldermen had all but disappeared, its powers assumed by the aldermen alone, who acquired the right to elect the officeholder. By the end of the 13th century, aldermen were drawn largely from the lignages.Demands by commoners for a share in governance first emerged during the troubled times following the death of Duke Henry III (1261). Arising in 1303 led to a reemergence of the council of jurors, to be suppressed by reimposition of the patrician regime after the rising of 1306. Duke John II did grant aldermen discretionary power to admit craftsmen to the freedom of the city. Recognition of guilds led to rising demands by the latter, and, buffeted by fierce rivalries among the lignages, aldermen themselves began to increasingly defend the rights of bourgeois citizens.From 1306 to 1421, almost all power resided with the seven aldermen, who met on the Grand' Place in a storehouse (de Meerte) purchased in 1301 and later at the Hôtel de Ville. They held administrative and legislative powers, appointed the deans and the "Eight" of the guild, and the 10 patricians on the tribunal of the peacemakers, a body created in 1343 to judge crimes. Offices were divided equally among the lignages.Government was largely corrupt by the mid-14th century. Elections had not been held for over a hundred years, aldermen having obtained prescriptive rights to name successors. From 1334, two treasurers (receveurs, rentmeesters) were chosen annually by the aldermen to oversee finances, but the city was heavily in debt. A board for financial administration followed in 1368 on which guild members participated, which eliminated the debt by 1386. In 1375, the old system of elections was revived by which all patricians, 27 years of age and older, were compelled to participate in a long and complex electoral procedure on pain of forfeiture of all civil liberties.The statute of 11 February 1421, which would remain the city's instrument of government until the end of the ancien régime, established a complex governing structure in which power was divided among the patrician aldermen, six councillors from the nations, two burgomasters, and two treasurers. Officeholders served one-year terms subject to reelection only after a long interval. The patricians continued to hold the preponderance of power, which craftsmen in the nations were able to weaken significantly only after the rising of 1477. From the mid-15th century, elected officials from the lignages and the nations formed the "Loi" (law) of the city. This was that portion of the magistracy that constituted the so-called first member of government. The second member comprised the Grand Council (Conseil de la Ville), made up of former officeholders. The third member consisted of jurors from the guilds and the Hundred Men, companies of tradesmen organized for military service. The third member acted as a consultative corps (arrière-conseil ). About 1460, both the second and third acquired voting powers on certain matters, notably financial measures. Guild leaders of the cloth trade were consulted on issues dealing with that activity. The magistracy drafted ordinances and pronounced penal judgments, which were executed by the amman.The nations vigorously asserted their liberties at the same time that powerful monarchs from the 16th through the 18th centuries sought to strengthen their prerogatives. The patricianship became largely subsumed into the aristocracy during the 16th through the 18th centuries and eventually only well-to-do members of the guilds could secure elective offices. Urban government became, in effect, an oligarchy.Belgium was annexed by France by a decree of 1 October 1795 and the decree on municipalities in force in France since 14 December 1789 was applied. Under the French regime, local privileges and institutions were abolished. "Active" citizens (those who paid a certain tax) elected a corps municipal and a conseil général. The mayor—the chief executive of the commune—was elected to a two-year term by active citizens. Two powers of local government were defined, which remain in effect today: powers that pertain to communal interests and powers defined by the state and delegated to municipal authorities. In practice, increasing concentration of power characterized rule by the French regime. Brussels served as capital of the département of the Dyle and the local government became, in effect, an administrative subdivision of the central government with limited autonomy. The mayor became an appointed official.Under the Dutch regime, certain local liberties were restored, but the trend reverted to growing centralization. Eventually, King William I chose the burgomaster, including from among individuals outside the communal council, then called the regency council. Council members were elected for life.After 1830. The city government was established based on national legislation of 1836. The government sits at the Hôtel de Ville and consists of three institutions; the burgomaster, college of aldermen (collège échivinal, schepencollege), and communal council (conseil communal, gemeenteraad).The burgomaster is the head of the communal executive. The college of aldermen is the "cabinet" of the communal government. Elected by the council, it consists of members of the majority parties. There are currently nine aldermen (the numbers vary based on the population and an additional member can be added from the language minority, i.e., a Dutch-speaker). Aldermen divide up portfolios, such as finance; social affairs; registry of births, marriages, and deaths; education; and culture. The college meets collectively in closed door sessions presided over by the burgomaster and members prepare proposals for the council, whose decisions it administers.The communal council is the legislature of the commune. Council members are elected by the voters by proportional representation for a fixed six-year term in October of an election year (2000 was the last). There are currently 47 councillors. A guarantee for the Flemish minority ensures that, if no Dutch-speakers are elected, the first nonelected Dutch-speaker on electoral lists is given a seat on the Centre Publique d'Aide Social committee and is given access to council papers. The council's functions include nominating the burgomaster, electing the aldermen, overseeing the college of aldermen, voting an annual budget, setting local taxes, approving local bylaws and plans for building and land use, and authorizing loans. The burgomaster presides over council sessions, which are open to the public except for executive sessions.Since 1989, following the federalization of Belgium, Brussels is one among 19 communes forming the Brussels Capital Region.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.