Who owns the foreign exchange reserves managed by the National Bank?

In accordance with its Statutes (Article 14), the NBB participates in the basic tasks within the domain of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), which include "to hold and manage the official foreign exchange reserves of the Member States of the Union".

Whether they consist of gold, claims or foreign currencies, the foreign exchange reserves shown on the National Bank’s balance sheet are Belgium’s official reserves which the National Bank holds and manages on behalf of the Belgian economy. The National Bank owns the reserves but cannot dispose of them freely. These reserves in fact constitute assets allocated to the performance of the general interest tasks taken on by the National Bank, especially as regards monetary policy and foreign exchange policy.

A group of the National Bank’s minority shareholders lodged an appeal before the Court of Arbitration, seeking cancellation of Article 141 § 2 of the Law of 2 August 2002 introducing an Article 9bis  into the Bank’s Organic Law, on the grounds that this provision had transferred to the State the ownership of the foreign exchange reserves belonging to the National Bank.

In a judgment handed down on 10 December 2003, the Court of Arbitration ruled that this provision did not in any way alter the ownership of these reserves, and merely regulated their status in the European system. It confirmed that these assets are allocated to the tasks and operations of the ESCB and the other tasks of public interest conferred on the National Bank, and drew attention to the special status of the National Bank which, while having been set up in the form of a private company, takes on tasks in the public interest (recital B.4.3.).