Belgium Map

Belgium    Introduction Back to Top

Belgium (in French, Belgique; in Dutch, België), officially Kingdom of Belgium, constitutional monarchy in north-western Europe, bounded on the north by the Netherlands and the North Sea, on the east by Germany and Luxembourg, and on the south and south-west by France. With the Netherlands and Luxembourg, Belgium forms the Low, or Benelux, Countries. It is about 282 km (175 mi) long, from the south-east to the north-west, about 145 km (90 mi) wide, and is roughly triangular in shape. The area is 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Brussels, located in the centre of Belgium.

	(1995 official estimate)
Population Density
	331 people/sq km
	(859 people/sq mi)
Urban/Rural Breakdown
	97% Urban
	3% Rural
Largest Cities
	Brussels 951,580
	Antwerp 459,072
	Ghent 227,483
	(1995 estimates)
Ethnic Groups
	57% Flemings
	32% Walloons
	11% Other
	including Germans, Italians, Moroccans, French, Dutch, and Turks
	Dutch, French, German
	80% Roman Catholicism
	20% Other
	including Islam, Judaism, and Protestantism
Belgium    Provinces Back to Top

10 provinces (French: provinces, singular - province; Dutch: provincien, singular - provincie) and 1 region* (French: region; Dutch: gewest); Antwerpen, Brabant Wallon, Brussel* (Bruxelles), Hainaut, Liege, Limburg, Luxembourg, Namur, Oost-Vlaanderen, Vlaams-Brabant, West-Vlaanderen; note - the Brussels Capitol Region is not included within the 10 provinces.

Belgium    People Back to Top

The population of Belgium is 10,258,762 (2001 estimate). Nearly 60 percent live in the Flanders region. The overall population density, one of the highest in Europe, is 336 persons per sq km (870 per sq mi). The largest concentrations were in the Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, and Ghent (Gent) industrial areas, as well as in the narrow industrial region between Mons and Charleroi. In recent decades the Limbourg city region has increased in population because of industrial expansion in that area. Almost 10 percent of all Belgians live in Brussels, which is also home to vast numbers of foreign guest workers. Some 97 percent of the population is classified as urban.

The population of Belgium is divided into three linguistic communities. In the north the Flemings, who constitute more than half of Belgium's population, speak Netherlandic. Although speakers of English usually call the Netherlandic spoken in The Netherlands “Dutch” and that spoken in Belgium “Flemish,” both are actually the same language . In the south the French-speaking Walloons make up about one-third of the country's population. About one-tenth of the population is completely bilingual, but a majority have some knowledge of both French and Flemish. The German-language region in eastern Liège province, containing fewer than 1 percent of the Belgians, consists of 9 communes around Eupen and Saint-Vith. The city of Brussels comprises 19 officially bilingual communes, although the metropolitan area extends far into the surrounding Flemish and Walloon communes. The French-speaking population is by far the larger in the capital region

Belgium    History Back to Top

Belgium derives its name from the Belgae, an ancient Celtic tribe. The Roman region of Gallia Belgica (Belgian Gaul) included modern Belgium, northern France, The Netherlands, and part of Switzerland. Rome’s successor in western Europe was the kingdom of the Franks, which originated in Belgian Gaul and expanded into Germany, eventually extending from the Pyrenees Mountains eastward across the Alps and southward as far as Rome itself. The Franks were led by Charlemagne, who united all of western Europe through conquest during his reign from 768 to 814. When the Frankish realm was partitioned in 843, Belgium was incorporated in the duchy of Lorraine, which was part of Francia Orientalis (the East Frankish Kingdom, or Germany). In the extreme west of this realm arose the county of Flanders, which was a fief of the kings of France. In 1384 Flanders was united with Burgundy, and by the mid-15th century the dukes of Burgundy ruled the greater part of the Belgian and Dutch Netherlands. While owing allegiance to the French crown, Burgundy’s aim was to found a powerful state between France and Germany. This effort was disrupted by the death in 1477 of the last Burgundian ruler, Charles the Bold.

The regime installed by the French was generally unpopular, but Belgium profited from French rule. It expanded in area after France conquered the prosperous city of Liège and annexed it to Belgian territory. Economically, after the French opened the Schelde River to shipping, Antwerp’s trade revived. New markets were also opened for local industry. In 1814 the country was occupied by armies of the nations ranged against Napoleon Bonaparte. The next year the Battle of Waterloo, the last great battle of the Napoleonic Wars, was fought on Belgian soil.

The Belgians drew up a constitution providing for a bicameral legislature elected by male property owners and a king whose executive acts had to be countersigned by a responsible minister. They chose as their monarch Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He was a model constitutional monarch whose political skills enabled him to wield considerable power at home, and to become an influential figure among Europe’s rulers. The Dutch finally agreed to recognize Belgium in 1839 and a peace treaty was signed. In the settlement, half of Luxembourg became a Belgian province, while the Dutch were awarded nominal control of the remainder of the Grand Duchy, as well as Limbourg east of the Meuse River. In its most important provision, the European powers confirmed Belgium as an independent and perpetually neutral state.

Belgium    Culture Back to Top

Belgium's long and rich cultural and artistic heritage is epitomized in the painting of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jan van Eyck, and Hans Memling; the music of Josquin des Prez, Orlando di Lasso, and César Franck; the dramas of Maurice Maeterlinck and Michel de Ghelderode; and in the many palaces, castles, town halls, and cathedrals of the Belgian cities and countryside. Aside from language, the cultural discontinuities between the Flemish- and French-speaking parts of Belgium are minor. Nonetheless, some regions are more strongly associated with particular cultural attributes than others. Flanders is particularly noted for its visual art, and various schools of painting have arisen there. In music, avant-garde tendencies have become influential in Brussels, Liège, Ghent, and Antwerp, while Hainaut remains the centre of the classical and popular traditions. Literary works produced in Flanders have a style peculiar to the region, whereas in the Walloon area and in Brussels most authors are trying to write for a larger French readership that is inclined especially toward Parisian tastes

Festivals play an important part in Belgian life. One of the most famous festivals is the three-day carnival at Binche, near Mons, held just before Lent. During the carnival, noisemaking and dancing are led by “Gilles,” men dressed in high, plumed hats and bright costumes. Another famous pageant is the Procession of the Holy Blood, held in Brugge in May. December 6 commemorates Saint Nicholas’s Day, an important children’s holiday.

Belgium's rich artistic heritage makes it an artistic centre of considerable importance. The paintings of the Flemish masters are on display in museums throughout the country; Belgium's contribution to Art Nouveau is clearly evident in the Brussels cityscape; and folk culture is kept alive in a variety of indoor and outdoor museums. Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, and Ghent are centres of contemporary artistic creation. The National Orchestra and the National Opera in Brussels enjoy international acclaim. The renowned Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Music Contest attracts talented young artists from throughout the world. The International String Quartet Competition in Liège and the Young Musicians' Competition also are significant annual musical events.

Belgium    Life Back to Top

The people of Belgium are primarily of two ethnic groups, the Flemings (Teutonic origin) and the Walloons (Celtic origin, probably with an admixture of Alpine elements). The most distinguishing characteristic of these two groups is language. The Flemings speak Dutch (often referred to by its historic regional name, Flemish; see Flemish Language), and the Walloons speak French. The predominantly Flemish provinces are in the northern half of Belgium, called Flanders (Flemish Region), and the predominantly Walloon provinces are in the southern half, called Wallonia. The capital of Brussels, an enclave within the Flanders region, is mixed. In 1993 these three ethnolinguistic areas became official federal regions.

Belgium    Land Back to Top

Belgium generally is a low-lying country, with a broad coastal plain extending from the North Sea and The Netherlands and rising gradually into the Ardennes hills and forests of the southeast, where a maximum height of 2,277 feet (694 metres) is reached at Botrange. The main physical regions are the Ardennes and Ardennes foothills; the Anglo-Belgian Basin to the north comprising the Central (Bas) Plateaus, the plain of Flanders (Vlaanderen), and the Kempenland (Campine); and the intrusion of the Paris Basin on the south known as the Côtes Lorraines

Belarus    Plants and Animal Back to Top

Peat bogs and marshland cover about 25 percent of the country, while the soil of about 70 percent of Belarusian territory is podzolic (acidic with fairly large amounts of iron oxides). The forest region, though extensive, is not contiguous. Coniferous forests predominate, with pine the principal tree; spruce, oak, birch, alder, and ash trees also are found. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Puszcza Bialowieska) Reserve in the southwest is part of the oldest existing European forest and the sanctuary of the virtually extinct European bison, or wisent. Belarus has more than 70 mammal species, including deer, fox, wild pig, wolves, and the common squirrel. There are 280 bird species, including doves, kestrels, wrens, bullfinches, and woodpeckers. Forests contain grass snakes and vipers, while rivers are the habitat of fur-bearing animals such as mink and otter.

Belgium    Economy Back to Top

Although the service economy is growing rapidly in Belgium, the country remains heavily industrialized, importing great quantities of raw materials that are processed mainly for export. Such industry gives Belgium one of the highest gross domestic products in the world, despite its relatively small population. With about three-quarters of exports going to other European Union (EU) countries, Belgium’s economy is dependent upon its neighbors and the nation is a strong proponent of integrating European economies. In the early 1990s a growing budget deficit, combined with high unemployment rates, hindered Belgium’s overall economic growth. To reduce its deficit, the government initiated an austerity program that cut spending while raising taxes, as well as beginning a program to transfer some state-owned enterprises to the private sector. The budget in 1998 anticipated revenues of $109.5 billion and expenditures of $114.4 billion. Gross domestic product in 1999 totaled $248.4 billion.

Belgium has a free-enterprise economy. Only a small percentage of the country's active population is engaged in agriculture, suggesting the great role of industry, commerce, and services in the national economy. National prosperity was long mainly dependent on Belgium's role as a fabricator and processor of imported raw materials and on the subsequent export of finished goods. The country became a major steel producer in the early 19th century, with factories centred in the southern Walloon coal-mining region. After World War II, drastic monetary reform aided postwar recovery and expansion, particularly of the Flemish light manufacturing and chemical industries that developed rapidly in the north, and Belgium was one of the first European countries to reestablish a favourable balance of trade. By the late 20th century, however, coal reserves in Wallonia were exhausted, the aging steel industry had become inefficient, labour costs had risen dramatically, and foreign investment (a major portion of the country's industrial assets are controlled by multinational companies) had declined.

This modern private enterprise economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the populous Flemish area in the north, although the government is encouraging investment in the southern region of Wallonia. With few natural resources, Belgium must import substantial quantities of raw materials and export a large volume of manufactures, making its economy unusually dependent on the state of world markets. About three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Belgium's public debt is expected to fall below 100% of GDP in 2002, and the government has succeeded in balancing is budget. Belgium became a charter member of the European Monetary Union (EMU) in January 1999. Economic growth in 2000 was broad based, putting the government in a good position to pursue its energy market liberalization policies and planned tax cuts.

Belgium    Communications Back to Top

highly developed, technologically advanced, and completely automated domestic and international telephone and telegraph facilities domestic: nationwide cellular telephone system; extensive cable network; limited microwave radio relay network international: 5 submarine cables; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) and 1 Eutelsat

Belgium    Languages Back to Top

In 1963 a law was passed establishing three official languages within Belgium: Dutch was recognized as the official language in the north, French in the south, and German along the eastern border. In the city and suburbs of Brussels, both French and Dutch are officially recognized, although French speakers are the larger group. In the country as a whole, strictly Dutch speakers make up about 56 percent, and French speakers 32 percent of the population. Only 1 percent of the people speak German, while some 11 percent speak more than one language.

Belgium    Politics Back to Top

AGALEV (Flemish Greens) [Dos GEYSELS]; ECOLO (Francophone Greens) [no president]; Flemish Christian Democrats or CVP (Christian People's Party) [Stefaan DE CLERCK, president]; Flemish Liberal Democrats or VLD [Karel DE GUCHT, president]; Flemish Socialist Party or SP [Patrick JANSSENS, president]; Francophone Christian Democrats or PSC (Social Christian Party) [Joelle MILQUET, president]; Francophone Liberal Reformation Party or PRL [Daniel DUCARME, president]; Francophone Socialist Party or PS [Elio DI RUPO, president]; National Front or FN [Daniel FERET]; Vlaams Blok or VB [Frank VANHECKE]; Volksunie or VU [leader vacant]; other minor parties.

Belgium    Government Back to Top

Belgium is a constitutional, representative, and hereditary monarchy. Succession to the throne is determined by primogeniture. The present ruler is King Albert II. The Belgian constitution was promulgated in 1831 and revised in 1893, 1921, 1970, 1971, 1980, 1989, and 1993. The reforms of the 1970s and afterward gradually transformed Belgium into a federal state, giving the majority of essential governmental powers to the three regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. Executive power is vested in the king, who appoints the prime minister, cabinet ministers, and judges. The king is commander in chief of the armed forces and, with the approval of parliament, has the power to declare war and conclude treaties. The rights of the king, according to the constitution, include convening and dissolving parliament, conferring titles of nobility, and granting pardons. All royal acts, however, must be countersigned by a minister, who in turn assumes responsibility for those acts before parliament.

Belgium    Legal Back to Top

Legal system: civil law system influenced by English constitutional theory; judicial review of legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory Executive branch: chief of state: King ALBERT II (since 9 August 1993); Heir Apparent Prince PHILIPPE, son of the monarch head of government: Prime Minister Guy VERHOFSTADT (since 13 July 1999) cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the monarch and approved by Parliament elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; prime minister appointed by the monarch and then approved by Parliament note: government coalition - VLD, PRL, PS, SP, AGALEV, and ECOLO Legislative branch: bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate or Senaat in Dutch, Senat in French (71 seats; 40 members are directly elected by popular vote, 31 are indirectly elected; members serve four-year terms) and a Chamber of Deputies or Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers in Dutch, Chambre des Representants in French (150 seats; members are directly elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms) elections: Senate and Chamber of Deputies - last held 13 June 1999 (next to be held in NA 2003) election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - VLD 15.4%, CVP 14.7%, PRL 10.6%, PS 9.7%, VB 9.4%, SP 8.9%, ECOLO 7.4%, AGALEV 7.1%, PSC 6.0%, VU 5.1%; seats by party - VLD 11, CVP 10, PS 10, PRL 9, VB 6, SP 6, ECOLO 6, AGALEV 5, PSC 5, VU 3; Chamber of Deputies - percent of vote by party - VLD 14.3%, CVP 14.1%, PS 10.2%, PRL 10.1%, VB 9.9%, SP 9.5%, ECOLO 7.4%, AGALEV 7.0%, PSC 5.9%, VU 5.6%; seats by party - VLD 23, CVP 22, PS 19, PRL 18, VB 15, SP 14, ECOLO 11, PSC 10, AGALEV 9, VU 8, FN 1 note: as a result of the 1993 constitutional revision that furthered devolution into a federal state, there are now three levels of government (federal, regional, and linguistic community) with a complex division of responsibilities; this reality leaves six governments each with its own legislative assembly; for other acronyms of the listed parties see Political parties and leaders Judicial branch: Supreme Court of Justice or Hof van Cassatie (in Dutch) or Cour de Cassation (in French) (judges are appointed for life by the monarch)

Belgium    organization Back to Top
International organization Member


Belgium    Education Back to Top

Educational freedom was provided by the constitution of 1831, the first law for public elementary education was not passed until 1842. In 1914 compulsory attendance was enacted for children between the ages of 6 and 14; compulsory schooling now extends to age 18. Since 1959 the education system has included state secular schools and private Roman Catholic schools. Educational controversies involving language and religion that arose in Belgium in the 19th century have continued to the present day. Almost the entire adult population is literate. The oldest Belgian university dates from the Middle Ages. The Catholic University of Leuven, since 1970 divided into independent French- and Dutch-speaking universities, was founded under religious auspices in 1425.

Belgium    Defence Back to Top

Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, National Gendarmerie, Medical Service
Military manpower - military age: 19 years of age
Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 2,517,596 (2001 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service: males age 15-49: 2,079,624 (2001 est.)
Military manpower - reaching military age annually: males: 63,247 (2001 est.)

Belgium    International Disputes Back to Top


Time and Date in Brussels