It’s a Happy National Day to Belgium! In 1830, Belgium regained its independence from The Netherlands and on the 21 July we celebrate that — and the installation of the first Belgian king.
This young nation has been a member of the EBU since the beginning of Eurovision. However, Belgium has always been a bit of a complicated matter. So, on this 21st of July, we explain everything you need to know about Belgium in Eurovision and take down some of the persistent myths and misunderstandings about its participation.
So grab your waffles and a Belgian beer, while we enjoy a little tour of Belgium at ESC.
FAQs: All your questions about Belgium at Eurovision answered
1. Two Belgian broadcasters, but one country participating?
Belgium participates as one country at Eurovision. However, the participation itself is organised by the broadcasters of two different regions: Wallonia and Flanders. That’s partly because there is not one national broadcaster for the entire nation. VRT is the broadcaster that creates television content for the Flemish-speaking region called Flanders. RTBF is the broadcaster for Wallonia, the French-speaking region.
VRT and RTBF take turns selecting a Eurovision candidate for Belgium. Until 2020, when Eurovision was cancelled, VRT has overseen the even years (2014, 2016, 2018…) while RTBF has taken the odd years (2015, 2017, 2019…).
2. What about the German-speaking region? And Brussels?
Belgium also has a German-speaking region known as Ostbelgien. Besides that, Brussels has its own government and can be considered a region of its own. The German-speaking region and Brussels are, however, considerably smaller than Wallonia and Flanders. To give you some numbers on that:
- Brussels: 1.2 million inhabitants
- Flanders: 6.6 million inhabitants
- German-speaking region: 77,000 inhabitants
- Wallonia: 3.6 million inhabitants
These two regions have their own broadcasters as well. So, in theory, they could become EBU members and participate in some way. But as smaller regions, they simply don’t have the interest nor capacity to participate in the song contest.
Also: Consider the financial impact if they ever won Eurovision. The smaller German-speaking broadcaster Belgischer Rundfunk (BRF) could not bear this. Brussels has Bruzz, BX1 and VivaBruxelles (although, VivaBruxxelles is actually an RTBF channel). But these are also relatively small in comparison to VRT and RTBF.
3. Why do RTBF and VRT take turns?
Taking turns is the most convenient way to organise the sharing agreement. Both broadcasters have full freedom and ownership during their year at the helm. And they don’t have any accountability towards the other. Take into account that both regions have a different musical preference. What one region might consider a good Eurovision entry, might not be the case in the other region. This is one reason the two regions have separate musical charts. Flanders and Wallonia each have their own Ultratop, the hit-list for best-selling singles.
4. Do RTBF and VRT work together?
Some people tend to believe that VRT and RTBF don’t talk to each other and refuse to cooperate. This is not the case. Media outlets from both regions are welcomed at Eurovision press events hosted by each broadcaster. Luckily, the Eurovision press never has to travel to a different location: VRT and RTBF are actually based in the same building in Brussels. They do have separate entrances and exits, though. We’ve been guilty of forgetting that when we’ve entered the building and have at times stood at the RTBF entrance in a VRT Eurovision year. But that’s just a small inconvenience.
Next to attending the other’s Eurovision press events, the broadcasters also talk with each other about more important matters. The most recent example is Hooverphonic. The band from Flanders was internally selected to participate for Belgium in Rotterdam. And we all know what happened to Eurovision 2020.
The cancellation presented Belgium with a practical problem. With VRT taking the even years and RTBF the uneven years, it would actually have been the RTBF’s turn next year.
Normally, this would mean either RTBF would have to send Hooverphonic or that Hooverphonic would have to sit a year out to finally get their moment at Eurovision. Or they could just not participate at all. The broadcasters came together and decided there was a better way. RTBF agreed to sit 2021 out, giving VRT and Hooverphonic their moment.
So as of 2020 turns have been switched. RTBF will now oversee the even years, and VRT the odd years. A broadcaster willingly giving up its turn to let the other broadcaster shine another year. Isn’t that the type of love Eurovision is all about?
5. Can the broadcasters select artists from outside their region?
It’s often assumed that Belgium’s broadcasters will only select artists from their own region. This is not correct. The broadcasters can select whoever they want, even someone from outside their region.
This has already happened. In 2014, Axel Hirsoux participated in Eurosong — the Flemish national final from VRT. Axel is from Wallonia and French-speaking. Axel won the Flemish national final. In fact, the Flemish televote handed him an amazing 57.31% of the votes. And so Axel — a French-speaking Wallonian — went to Eurovision for the Flemish broadcaster. And he had the Flemish audience to thank for that.
6. What if Axel Hirsoux had won Eurovision?
7. But where are we going if Belgium wins?
8. So what happened when Sandra Kim won in 1986?
Sandra Kim stole European hearts in Bergen, Norway, winning Eurovision 1986 with “J’aime la vie”. Not prepared for this, Belgium and the broadcasters were suddenly faced with a lot of questions. Who needed to organise Eurovision? Sandra was sent by the Wallonian RTBF. But 1987 would normally be a “VRT year”. The broadcasters decided at first to organise Eurovision together. But practical problems and differences in vision between the broadcasters made this difficult. So RTBF — which sent Sandra in the first place — organised the Eurovision Song Contest alone in 1987 and choose to do so in Brussels. The Wallonian region didn’t have a suitable venue, so they went elsewhere.
Long story short: The question where Eurovision would be held in case of a win of Belgium is something that is better answered when it actually happens. However, the general consensus seems to be that the broadcaster which sent the winning artist should organise the following Eurovision. If RTBF sends a winning artist, perhaps it will be held in Wallonia. If VRT sends a winning artist, then perhaps it will be held in Flanders. However, Brussels is also still an option. And in the end, it doesn’t matter.
Belgium participates in Eurovision as one country. And in case it ever wins again, we will find a solution for whatever problems and questions occur then. As one country.