Federale Overheidsdienst Buitenlandse Zaken / Service Public Fédéral Affaires Etrangères

  • Federal Public Service Foreiegn Affairs Archives Administration
  • Ministère des affaires étrangères, direction des archives / Ministerie van Buitenlandse zaken, archief


Rue des Petits Carmes 15 / Karmelietenstraat 15
Brussels Capital


+32 25 01 81 11


+32 25 01 38 57


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was created in February 1831; it replaced the Comité diplomatique of the provisional government. Initially, the primary mission of this new ministry was to obtain international recognition for the young Belgian kingdom. The organisational structure and missions of the ministry continued to evolve throughout the 19th century. Until the First World War, foreign policy was no real priority for the Belgian governments, as the limited number of diplomats in this period shows. This changed after the war (cfr. notably the creation of a League of Nations office within the ministry) and especially after 1945, due to the increased international cooperation (e.g. NATO, UN, European integration movement). As a consequence, the organogram and functions of the ministry were repeatedly modified. The successive constitutional reforms also had an impact on the ministry: today, the regional governments are allowed to conclude international agreements, and have certain competences regarding foreign trade. Within the administration, the secretary-general (called ‘chairman of the board of directors’ since 2000) remained very influential for a long time. Since the 1970s, the cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs has become increasingly influential. Today, the ministry (which became a Federal Public Service in 2002) is composed of six directorates-general (Bilateral Affairs, Consular Affairs, Development Cooperation, European Affairs and Coordination, Legal Affairs and Multilateral Affairs and Globalisation) and five directorates and staff directorates. In addition, the FPS Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation also has a number of important functions – via its Directorate Protocol and Security – in matters regarding Belgian nobility, the National Orders, royal visits, etc. For a long time, Belgian diplomacy was almost exclusively dominated by the nobility, bourgeoisie and officers: until the First World war, diplomatic offices were highly prestigious but practically unpaid. After the Second World War the influence of the aristocracy waned rapidly. For quite some time, the diplomatic corps also predominantly consisted of French-speaking men. Since the 1960s, language use has been more balanced. In 1973, Edmonde Dever was the first woman to be appointed as ambassador.

Archival and Other Holdings

Two main collections are kept at this archive; the Africa Archive and the Diplomatic Archive. The Africa archive became the property of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the conclusion of an agreement on 26 August 1960 by Minister for African Affairs A. De Schryver and the government archivist E. Sabbe. That agreement was in line with a Royal Decree covering the legacy of the former Ministry of Colonial Affairs which assigned Belgium’s responsibilities for African affairs to the respective federal ministries. The Africa Archive comprises documents falling within the remit of relevant departments of the Independent State of Congo (Congo Free State) and the former Ministry of Colonies and African Affairs as well as files on similar topics concerning Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi (e.g. religious missions, the Belgian Royal Colonial Institute, annual reports from Belgian Congo, annual reports from Ruanda-Urundi, and such like). The main topics covered are politics, administration, justice, security, civil status records, economics, public works, mining, communications and telecommunications, education, religion, ethnography, history and official documents dating from 1885 to 1962.

The Diplomatic Archive contains collections of political correspondence and general publications, starting in 1830. Belgian consular and diplomatic correspondence is categorised by country and in chronological order. Most of the political correspondence up to 1934 is kept in bound volumes. Correspondence with consulates between 1832 and 1890 and between 1900 and 1910 is gathered together in separate bound volumes.

All documents of political and economic importance are listed using a continuous numbering system and divided into subjects or listed geographically or filed by name. Most of this kind of documentation, along with the development of ministerial remits, mirrors the structure of the respective ministry.

Among the holdings of the Diplomatic Archives:

  • General files concerning the internal politics of countries and their economic situation (files created by ministerial units, allotted remits on a geographical basis);

  • Specific files covering multiple aspects of bilateral and multilateral relations in which Belgium was – or still is – involved, including official VIP visits, protocol files, the problem of political refugees, wars, major conferences, border issues, etc.);

  • Files created owing to the diversification and growing number of European, Western or international organisations, and relating to them and to the role Belgium plays in them, including economic integration;

Files documenting the development of Belgian foreign and domestic trade, (statistics, trade agreements, treaties, the defence of Belgium’s economic interests abroad, Belgian emigration, colonisation, loans and Belgian establishments abroad) plus documents concerning problems of communication (inland, maritime or aerial navigation), since the Directorate-General of the Navy fell under the ministry’s jurisdiction until 1873).

  • The ministry’s archives also contain numerous files on various Belgian private companies (mainly ranging from the 19th century to the early 20th century).

  • Press files (collections of press cuttings on specific topics, from 1890 to 1950)


  • Category ‘P’ and category ‘B’ microfilms: documents impacting on policy (P) or trade policy (B), which have been stored on film (copies of existing paper files) to ensure their preservation (copies of existing files and/or papers) or as an alternative to archiving them in paper form. The contents of these series of microfilms are catalogued separately and listed in the general index card file by name and subject.

  • Quai d’Orsay microfilms: microfilm copies of selected documents kept at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mainly political correspondence with the French authorities about general colonial affairs and Belgian colonial affairs in particular.

  • ‘Nobility’ microfilms: the ministry’s Archives Department is actually only the depository of these microfilms for which the original documents belong to its Nobility Department. Microfilming handwritten documents, many of which are ancient, makes them accessible to researchers but avoids the inevitable deterioration of originals caused by repeated handling.

Opening Times

The collections from the library of the FPS Foreign Affairs can be consulted in the Royal Library’s general reading room.

Monday to Friday: from 9 am to 7 pm Saturday: from 9 am to 5 pm (not in July and August)

Conditions of Access

All researchers must apply in writing (by post, fax or email) stating the subject, the period and the scientific aim of the research.

Embargo: Pursuant to a ministerial decree dated 27 July 1981 and subsequently confirmed by a ministerial decree on 12 December 2003, only documents that are over 30 years old may be consulted.

For documents between 30 and 50 years old, prior authorisation from the Diplomatic Committee (comprising diplomats and/or senior officials from Central Office) is required. Such authorisations are issued in response to requests to consult files that are submitted by researchers to the Archive Directorate (Diplomatic archive and Africa archive).

Access to documents over 50 years old is authorised by the Archive Directorate itself, subject to general criteria mainly concerning the protection of Belgium’s international relations, as specified by the 1994 law on administrative publicity, and the protection of privacy as per the 1992 privacy law.

You can only use the reading rooms if you have a reader’s card.


Since 1 June 2017, the collections from the library of the FPS Foreign Affairs can only be consulted in the general reading room of the Contemporary Printed Books department of the Royal Library of Belgium.

Reproduction Services

Photocopying: Photocopies of documents may be obtained from the reading room supervisor upon submission of a request form filled out by the individual in question and initialled for authorisation by the Head of the Archive Department. Prices: €0.25 per page for A4 format and folio copies, €0.60 per page for A3 format copies, and €4 for burning onto a CD-ROM. Reproductions of documents, photos and scans on CD-ROM are available on request. Prices for this service will be based on a minimum charge. Copyright rules apply.


  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Archives Administration website consulted on 22/07/2019

  • Pierre-Alain Tallier (dir.), Gertjan Desmet & Pascale Falek-Alhadeff, Sources pour l'histoire des populations juives et du judaïsme en Belgique/Bronnen voor de geschiedenis van de Joden en het Jodendom in België, 19de-21ste eeuw, Brussel, ARA-AGR/Avant-Propos, 2016, 1,328 p.

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