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Geography and Landscape

Geography

Belgium (French: Belgique; German: Belgien) is a federal constitutional monarchy in Northwestern Europe. The total area of Belgium is 30,518 km2 and the capital is Brussels (French: Bruxelles).

Brussels Grand Place HalldinPhoto:Mats Halldin CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Belgium includes about 30 small areas or exclaves located in the Dutch province of North Brabant, which together form the municipality of Baarle-Hertog.

Belgium borders the North Sea in the west (coastline: 66 km), in the north the Netherlands (450 km), in the east the Netherlands (167 km) and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (148 km), and in the south France (620 km).

Belgium Satellite photo: Public domain

The Walloon Region (French: Région Wallone) is a federal state of Belgium with the capital Namur (French: Namur). The region includes the territory of the provinces of Walloon Brabant, Namur, Luxembourg, Hainaut and Liège. The total area of the Walloon Region is 16,844 km2 and the population is approximately 3,315,000. The region has its own "Walloon Parliament" and its own government, which is based in the regional capital of Namur.

The seven ministers are elected by the Walloon Parliament. The chairman, the prime minister, comes from the government. The government exercises power through decisions and is accountable to parliament. The decisions are published in the Belgian Official Gazette.

The Flemish Region is the other federal state of Belgium with the capital Brussels. The region includes the territory of the provinces of Limburg, East Flanders, West Flanders, Antwerp and Flemish Brabant. The total area of the Flemish Region is 13,522 km2 and the number of inhabitants is approximately 5,900,000. The Flemish Parliament is the legislative assembly for both regional and community affairs, and the Flemish Government exercises executive power.

The government is based in Brussels and has a maximum of eleven ministers. It is elected by the Flemish Parliament. The government elects a chairman, the prime minister, from its members. The government exercises executive power through decisions and, as a college and each of its members, is individually accountable to Parliament. The decisions are published in the Belgian Official Gazette.

Landscape

Scheldt Belgium Photo:Spotter2 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Geographically, Belgium can be divided into three regions: Low Belgium (up to 100 meters high), Central Belgium (from 100 up to 200 meters high) and High Belgium (from 200 meters up to more than 500 meters high).

Lower Belgium starts in the west with the coast, a strip of sea, sandy beach and dunes, which extends in a straight line over a distance of approximately 65 kilometers. Behind the coast are the polders, a flat and very fertile land that has been drained and protected by strong sluices against the strong tides.

The Flemish plains lie between the western polders and the rivers Leie and Schelde, a sandy region with some hills here and there. To the east lie the Kempen, a landscape with mainly pine forests, meadows and corn fields.

Central Belgium lies behind the Flemish plains and the Kempen and gradually rises to the Sambre and Meuse valleys. These low loam plateaus form the most fertile soil in Belgium. Brabant is highly urbanized, but the Sonian Forest is still a remnant of the former coal forest, which spread over much of the country in Roman times.

Central Belgium also includes Hainaut in the west and Hainault in the east. These are also fertile regions with extensive fields and meadows.

High Fens Belgium Photo:Jean-Pol Grandmont CCNaamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

High Belgium is sparsely populated and most forests are found here, starting south of the Sambre and Meuse with the Condroz plateau. This fertile region is best known as a tourist attraction with the valleys of the Maas and the Ourthe and the many monuments. Between the Vesder and the Maas lies the land of Herve, which, due to the rich, moist clay soil, is ideally suited for pastures and therefore for cattle breeding.

South of the Condroz is the Fagne and Famenne region; not so suitable for agriculture, but more known for the many caves. South of it are the Ardennes, a very wooded area with natural birch and planted spruce forests, interspersed with plateaus and deep valleys. Spruce trees do well here because of the acidic soil. Here is also the highest point in Belgium: the Signal of Botrange with 694 meters.
The southernmost part of Belgium is Belgian Lorraine with a milder climate than elsewhere in the country and a so-called Cuesta landscape; steep edges created by the alternation of hard and soft layers. There are even vineyards on the southern slopes of the hills.

Climate and Weather

Belgium generally has a moderate maritime climate, but there are considerable differences between the different regions. Furthermore, the weather is characterized by great volatility. The average temperature throughout Belgium is 11.2 °C.

Bourgoyen sunset Photo:Donar Reiskoffer CC3.0 Unported no changes made

There are three main types of climate. A real maritime climate occurs on the coast and a little inland. The average temperature difference between the hottest and the coldest month is the smallest here (summer 16.9 ° C; winter 3 ° C). A so-called changed maritime climate prevails in central Belgium and the Kempen. The distance to the moderating influence of the sea is somewhat greater, which means that the average temperature differences are somewhat greater (summer 14.7 °C; winter 2.5 °C).

In the mountainous area to the east of the Meuse and the Sambre, a so-called changed continental climate prevails. The influence of the sea is smallest here and the temperature differences are greatest (summer 15.5 °C; winter 0.4 °C). Due to the elevated position of the area, it is not as warm in summer as in the rest of Belgium.

July and August are on average the hottest, January and February the coldest months. Winters in the High Ardennes are generally harsh and long.

Average annual precipitation fluctuates between 1400 mm locally in High Belgium and about 800 mm on the coast and in Central Belgium. The largest quantities fall in Low and Central Belgium in July and August (thunderstorms) and in High Belgium in November and December. The precipitation in the Ardennes is caused by rainstorms, which arise because the rising air cools, the water vapor condenses and then falls as rain. The average annual rainfall across Belgium is 852 mm. The average number of days with measurable precipitation (at least 0.1 mm) is two hundred per year. The number of thunderstorms fluctuates annually between 75 and 90. The maximum thickness of the snow layer increases on average with the height and varies from 6 cm on the coast to more than 30 cm on the Ardennes plains. The average annual number of hours of sunshine is 1392.

Plants and Animals

Plants

Shepherd's purse Photo:Shizoa CC Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 2.5 Unported no changes made

Despite its small surface area, Belgium has a fairly rich and varied plant world, including 1300 species of vascular plants, an even greater number of seaweeds, more than 5000 species of fungi and lichens and about 700 species of liver and leaf mosses. Atlantic and Central European plant species in particular provide many elements. Some of the northernmost representatives of the sub-Mediterranean flora even reach Belgium, for example the bacon, the Apennine rockrose, the palm tree and the woolly snowball.

Various submontane plants, including grasses such as the mountain meadow grass and the forest fescue, as well as the wreath-leaf Solomon seal, the white rush and the pepper tree, occur in the highest parts of Belgium. Among the varieties of vascular plants, about 400 species can be found almost everywhere, including the large nettle, the shepherd's purse and the annual meadow grass.

The dunes are covered with colostrum grass, marram grass and the striking sea buckthorn. The sea polders protected by dikes lie behind the dunes and are practically fully cultivated.

The Flemish Kempen and Flanders are woody. Most of the forests were felled and cultivated here from the early Middle Ages. Most of the forest also disappeared in the Kempen and turned into heather. A large part of the heath has already been cultivated again by planting, among other things, maritime pine and scots pine.

Belgium Kempen Photo:Paul Hermans CCNaamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Kempens Plateau is the eastern part of the Kempen and includes several shallow pools with varied plant growth.
The Picardy-Brabant area is characterized by many beech forests and is almost entirely cultivated land. In the eastern part of this area there are some oak hornbeam forests.

If the forests are completely absent, meadows are created with, among other things, blue grass, finned short stem and mountain turn, also a type of grass.

In the High Ardennes you will find many beech forests and the high-stemmed fir is also common here. Here, too, submontane plant species such as wreath-leaf Solomon seal and mountain meadow grass. The extensive bogs are the locations for many peat mosses, bilberry and one-eared wool grass.
The southern Lorraine area has, thanks to the mild climate, several sub-Mediterranean plant species. The extensive forests mainly consist of beech, hornbeam and oak. Swampy areas are home to different types of wool grass and sedge.

Animals

Hedgehog Photo:kallerna CCNaamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

A number of animal species are threatened in Belgium due to the increasing urbanization, the chemical control of crops and the pollution of the surface water, including wild cat, otter, cormorant, bittern and tench. Long ago or only recently wolf, raven, sturgeon, salmon and bottlenose dolphin have disappeared.

Mole, hedgehog and a number of shrew species are found throughout Belgium.
Locals are still quite common for the rabbit, hare and squirrel, acorn, riot and hazel mice, rat, mouse and vole species; the hamster especially in Haspengouw. Some of the approximately twenty bat species are quite common. Fox, ermine and stone marten are rare, the polecat more common. Wild boar and roe are mainly found in the Ardennes, but also in the Kempen. The red deer is only found in the Ardennes.
The bird fauna has about 350 species, but they are not all standing or breeding birds; many species are only migrants or wanderers.

Slowworm Photo:Hedwig Storch CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The reptiles and amphibians are not as strongly represented. Slowworm and some lizard species are quite common, three snake species are rarer. In addition to a dozen toad and frog species, newts are found all over the country; however, certain species are quite strictly geographically limited.

Of the approximately 150 fish species, about two thirds live in the sea and one third in freshwater. The diversity of forms of the marine invertebrate fauna is limited by the uniformity of the coastal area. However, in the extreme southwest corner of De Panne there are some more southern shells, such as the "coffee bean"; on the harbors and especially on the pier in Zeebrugge, including the breakwater anemone and the sea anchors; in the spui bowl in Ostend you will find a remarkable wealth of shapes, including threadworms, while for example the millipede and the tunicate Botryllus can take on extraordinary dimensions. Species such as the sturgeon shrimp occur in brackish areas.

A special cave fauna lives in the caves of the Kalkstreek and where south-facing slopes, especially in Belgian Lorraine, form a favorable microclimate, southern forms such as the praying mantis can be found.

History

Prehistory

Skull Prehistory no changes Photo:We El Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported

Archaeological finds prove that long before the agricultural Neolithic, northwestern Europe was inhabited by the so-called Neanderthals. Flint tools of hunters and fishermen date from about 500,000 BC. Late Paleolithic flint industries and Weichselian skeletons have also been found in various locations. In the Neolithic (c. 4000 BC) the first agricultural villages with about 100 inhabitants appeared. From 3500 to 2000 BC. lived in the Kempen, the Leem region and the Meuse valley cultures of the Middle Neolithic.

In the Middle Bronze Age from about 1500 to 1100 BC. was established in Flanders and the Kempen, among others, the Famenne group. The different other groups are distinguished on the basis of different grave shapes. During the Iron Age, Hallstatt culture (700-500 BC) and Celtic La Tène culture were the most important. During this time some fortified market and trading places and hill fortifications also arose. Moreover, a distinction was made between warriors and the common people, probably under the influence of invading Celts.

The Roman period

Coin of ClaudiusPhoto:Uploadalt Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Celtic Belgae, so called by the Romans, were built from 57 to 51 BC. subdued by Caesar and their territory was annexed as part of Gallia.

Under Emperor Augustus, Belgica (so called since 16-13 BC) became an administratively independent province of the Roman Empire. Until the first century, resistance to Roman civilization was strong in the Celtic regions. Only under Emperor Claudius did the actual romanization occur, but at the same time it was possible to preserve the social structures. Cultural conversion was also aided by the construction of a number of major roads and auxiliaries for the Roman army to supply the subjugated peoples.

Furthermore, the Roman colonies in Trier and Cologne became markets for the products of North Gaul agriculture and indigenous crafts. Some large farms (villae) even arose and places like Tongeren and Tournai got an urban character. Smaller villages and communities (vici) also flourished and trade with Italy and the rest of Gallia intensified. Fishing villages and salt extraction companies were established on the coast, in the west of Belgium. The textile industry also developed strongly and large herds of sheep were kept for wool. Other economic activities included logging, coal fires, iron, zinc and limestone mining.

From 256 Frankish warriors crossed the Rhine and all Gallia was looted and many towns and villages were destroyed. Around 280 the invaders were driven out, but a tribe, the Salians continued to invade the Belgian areas. Eventually around 296 an alliance was made between the Romans and this Frankish tribe and they were appointed as defenders of the national border between Nijmegen and the sea.

From about 297, Belgica was split by Emperor Diocletian into Belgica Prim in the southeast and Belgica Secunda in the west. Germania Inferior, located in the northeast, was already detached from Belgica at the end of the first century.

The Merovingian and Carolingian Period

Charles the Great Photo:Myrabella Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The authority vacuum that emerged in North Gaul was seized by the Salian Franks to descend further south and made Tournai the capital of their new empire. One of the most important families was the Merovingians with, among others, Chlodovech I, who laid the foundation of the Frankish empire from Tournai. His main successors, Chlotarius and Dagobert, brought further unity to the Frankish empire.

In 639, however, the empire was divided into Austrasia and Neustria, the border of which ran through present-day Belgium. However, the power of the kings visibly diminished as the mayors, the administrators of the royal goods, began to strengthen their position of power. In 719, Charles Martel was proclaimed a court mayor of the entire Frankish empire, and even managed to expand the territory. After the death of King Theodoric IV, Martel exercised royal power in his own name.

In 751 the last Merovingian monarch was deposed and the Carolingian dynasty settled. The most important prince became Charlemagne, who became emperor of a Christian European unity kingdom in 800. The power and wealth of the Roman Catholic Church also increased sharply. Under the rule of Charlemagne and his successor Louis the Pious (814-840), peace and peace reigned in this area and the (agricultural) economy flourished.

The post-Carolingian period and the medieval principalities

Golden Spurs Battle Photo: Public domain

After the death of Louis the Pious in 840, the unity in the Frankish empire disappeared and the Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the empire into three parts:

Francia Occidentalis or West Francia, Francia Media or Middle Francia and Francia Orientalis or East Francia. The western part of present-day Belgium belonged to West Francia, the eastern part to Central Francia and the Scheldt formed the boundary between the two parts. The northern part of Central Francia was later named Lorraine and was divided into Lower Lorraine and Upper Lorraine in the second half of the 10th century. The eastern part of present-day Belgium belonged to Lower Lorraine.

From the end of the ninth century, the king lost absolute power in West Francia (now: France). The Normans' raids and the decline of central authority further intensified this process. A few so-called shafts, in fact civil servants, saw their chance and started to exercise authority in their own name. During this time the foundations of the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Hainaut and the County of Flanders were also laid. Flanders then had to deal with French centralization politics for centuries, but managed to retain its independence. The Golden Spurs Battle in 1302 became famous during this time.

Other principalities of Lorraine were Limburg, Loon, Luxembourg, Namur and Bouillon, which were incorporated in a larger context from the fourteenth century. The Principality of Liège remained independent until the French Revolution.

From about 1050, a period of economic growth started for the backward, agricultural and depopulated regions that formed today's Belgium. As a result, population growth also increased sharply and it was also possible to engage in trade and industry, which in turn stimulated the rise of the cities. The cloth industry in Flanders, the export of natural stone and the first coal were extracted in Liège in 1195. The countless annual markets created a lot of trade, which even attracted foreign merchants. At one point, merchants from the same city united in a "hanze" who later joined together and became increasingly powerful. This is how the Flemish Hanseatic League of London traded on England and Scotland, and the Hanseatic League of XVII cities, which traded on Italy.

From the middle of the fourteenth century, Europe was hit by an economic depression and the plague or "black death" caused the eradication of one third of the European population. Fortunately, the regions of present-day Belgium were less affected by the economic depression. For example, the first blast furnaces appeared in Liège, which greatly increased iron production, and Bruges remained an important trading city until the late 15th century.

The Burgundian period

Philip the Good Photo: Public domain

After the death in 1384 of Louis of Male, Count of Flanders, the House of Burgundy entered the history of the Netherlands. Louis's successor was Margaret of Male, who in 1369 was married to Philip de Stioute, Duke of Burgundy. Under his rule, most principalities that make up present-day Belgium were included in the Burgundian regions, which were later referred to as the Southern Netherlands.

His grandson Philip the Good became Duke of Brabant-Limburg in 1430 and forced Jacoba of Bavaria to surrender her counties Holland-Zeeland-Hainaut in 1433. In 1451, Philip also became Duke of Luxembourg and succeeded in uniting all these areas into a personal union. His son and successor Karel de Stoute tried unsuccessfully to conquer Alsace-Lorraine in order to connect the Dutch regions.

The marriage of his daughter Mary of Burgundy to Maximilian of Austria prevented France from attacking the Netherlands for the time being and also ensured that the House of Habsburg was brought into the Burgundian inheritance. Until 1494 Maximilian held the regency for his son Philip the Fair. Philip the Fair would also be the last monarch to conduct a personal government over the Netherlands from 1494-1506.

A number of central institutions managed the areas in Burgundian times. The chancellor was the central figure in the government and also chairman of the Court. A number of specialized institutions emerged from this Court: the Great Council for the Judiciary, the Court of Auditors for Finance and the Secret Council for Political Policy. Nobility, the clergy and the cities were represented in the regional States. In 1464 the first joint meeting, the States General, took place, which was mainly concerned with political problems. At that time, regional government bodies such as the Council of Flanders, the Council of Brabant and audit offices in Lille and Brussels also emerged.

The economic history of the Burgundians was strongly influenced by the political events of the time. For example, international trade suffered greatly from the Hundred Years' War between France and England, which started in 1337. From the fifteenth century, the political and therefore economic center of gravity shifted from Flanders to Brabant. At the end of the fifteenth century, Antwerp became the headquarters of the Portuguese spice trade in northwestern Europe.

The origin of the Seventeen Provinces

Karel V Photo: Public domain

Since the death of Philip the Fair in 1506, the Northern and Southern Netherlands have been an integral part of the heritage of the Habsburgs, and the kings and emperors of Habsburg have been represented by governors, including the famous Margaret of Austria. She soon had problems with the States General, but from 1517 she regained control of the Netherlands.

In that year Charles of Luxembourg, later Charles V, left for Spain and turned the board over to the Grand Council, which also included Margaret. Charles V managed to put an end to the feudal lordship of France over Flanders, Artesia and Tournai. After the death of Margaret in 1530, Charles V was very committed to the unification of the Netherlands. This took shape in 1549 through the so-called Pragmatic Sanction. The government of the Netherlands came into the hands of governor Maria of Hungary and the Council of State.

The rebellion against the Spanish regime of Philip II

Alva Photo: Public domain

In 1555, Charles V was succeeded by the absolute monarch Philip II. This absolutism met with much opposition from the high nobility in the Netherlands. In addition, Protestantism emerged in the Netherlands in the early sixteenth century. From 1522, a strict repressive policy arose from, among other things, the state acquisition. However, all this did not lead to the restriction of Protestantism, and in 1565 an oath of alliance was established, many of whose members adhered to the Reformation or religious freedom. The Iconoclasm took place in 1566 and then the measure was full for Philip. Governor Margaret of Parma was replaced by the Duke of Alva, who led a very strict and bloody regime.

The opposition to this was led by William of Orange, who had initially fled the Netherlands but unleashed the Eighty Years' War from 1568. This war in the Northern and Southern Netherlands had a mixed course, which was strongly related to the attitude of Western powers such as England and France. Ultimately, the Northern Netherlands managed to achieve independence in 1648.

The Spanish troops operated from the Southern Netherlands, which suffered greatly as a result. In 1576 Governor Requesens, the successor of Alva, died and on the initiative of the States of Brabant, the Pacification of Ghent was concluded that same year, guaranteeing freedom of religion. However, the insurgents did not abide by this and in response the Catholics turned away from them and united in 1575 in the Union of Arras with Philip II. The Duke of Parma, Farnese, then subjugated almost all of Flanders and much of Brabant. Many areas were recaptured and Catholicism became the state religion while Protestantism practically disappeared from the map.

Under Spanish rule

Philip II Photo: Public domain

Shortly before his death, Philip II gave up sovereignty over the Netherlands to his daughter Isabella and her husband Albrecht of Austria. In the end it only succeeded to rule the Southern Netherlands. Albrecht started negotiations with the Northern Republic of the United Netherlands, which led to the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609, effectively recognizing the independence of the Republic. Albrecht died in 1621 and immediately the Southern Netherlands returned under Spain and the war resumed. This war did not end until the Treaty of Munster in 1648, when the Southern Netherlands had to give up North Brabant, Zeelandic Flanders and a large part of the Countries of Overmaze.

Since 1635, the Southern Netherlands were also regularly at war with France and this battle was fought mainly on "Belgian" territory. Part of Hainaut and Flanders was lost, but total annexation by the French could be prevented with the help of the Republic and England.

Economically, the war was disastrous for the Southern Netherlands. Antwerp lost its status as an international commercial center and the countryside also suffered from looting, famine and plague. Only with the appointment of Isabella and Albrecht did the economic tide turn somewhat again, but in the second half of the 17th century the declining trend started again due to falling agricultural prices. At the end of the 17th century, an economic low was reached by constant war violence and the population was again hit by severe famine.

Under Austrian rule

Maria Theresia Photo: Public domain

After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Southern Netherlands were assigned to the Austrian emperor Charles VI. He was represented by a governor-general and the daily management was in the hands of a minister plenipotentiary. Initially, this was the Marquis of Prié who soon came into conflict with the guilds and nobles.

After the death of Charles VI, the War of the Austrian Succession broke out and it was again fought on South Netherlands territory. He was succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresia who, after the Treaty of Aachen in 1748, was able to rule the Southern Netherlands. However, she also had this done again by a governor-general, including Karel van Lotharingen, and a minister plenipotentiary, including the count of Cobenzl. Cobenzl caused a cultural and especially economic revival. He reformed the finances and managed to strengthen the central power of Brussels.

This centralist and absolutist policy was continued even more vigorously by Maria Therese's son, Joseph II. The administrative system and the court were also modernized by him in 1787. This met with a lot of resistance in all layers of the population, which ultimately led to the Brabant Revolution of 1789, after which the States General proclaimed in 1790 the independence of the so-called “United Belgian States”, a federation with few powers for the umbrella congress. . Moreover, the covenant was plagued by divided factions and regional particularism.

In 1792, the French invaded the Southern Netherlands and managed to occupy the entire country, including the Prince-Bishopric of Liège. In 1793, however, they suffered such a defeat at Neerwinden that they had to withdraw. On June 26, 1794, the French managed to gain a final victory at the Battle of Fleurus.

The annexation to France

battle of Waterloo Photo:JoJan Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported no changes made

Immediately after this victory by the French, the reforms of the French Revolution were gradually introduced and the ancien régime, the old social and political order, was abolished. On October 1, 1795, the Southern Netherlands were incorporated into the French Republic as Belgian departments. Church persecution and conscription caused rebellions in 1798.

Peace only came with the consulate of Napoleon I Bonaparte and the concordat that the Pope concluded with Napoleon. During the French period, the industrial revolution that arose in England developed. The textile industry was mechanized, a military industry was created that supplied the French army and modern factories were built. The population rebelled against conscription and heavy taxes.

The Frenchification process in Flanders was accelerated by the introduction of French as the official language. It was therefore not surprising that at the Battle of Waterloo Belgians fought with and against Napoleon; Napoleon Bonaparte eventually suffered his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

The United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Belgian Revolution

Leopold I and family Photo: Public domain

On June 21, 1814, the great powers signed the "Eight Articles of London," deciding to reunite the northern and southern Netherlands. This happened on the initiative of England, which wanted to form a strong buffer state against France after the collapse of the French Empire. In July of that year, the articles were accepted by William I, and on September 21, 1815, he took the constitutional oath as "King of the Netherlands."

Willem I's policy ensured a further economic and industrial development of the Belgian regions. Unfortunately, the common man did not take advantage of this. Illiteracy was tackled by the expansion of primary education and efforts were made to make Dutch the official language in Flanders. However, the Catholics strongly opposed the king's educational policy and a real school struggle ensued. After 1825, liberals and Catholics joined together, and in 1828 the Union of the Catholic and Liberal Opposition was formed (Unionism).

Due to the bad economic situation and the French July revolution, riots broke out in Brussels on August 25, 1830. This eventually led to the separation of the southern provinces and the creation of the Kingdom of Belgium. This event is also known as the Belgian Revolution. The Provisional Government declared independence on October 4, 1830. On November 3, a select group of people elected the National Congress that approved the Constitution on February 7, 1831.

After a conference on November 4 in London, the great powers on December 20, 1830 recognized the separation between the Netherlands and Belgium. On February 3, 1831, the Duke of Nemours, the second son of the French king, was elected "King of the Belgians". However, he declined and on February 24, Surlet de Chokier, the president of the National Congress, was appointed regent. On June 4, 1831, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Cotha was elected head of state by Congress, and on July 21, he took the oath as the first king of the Belgians.

After the revolution of 1830, it was thought in certain circles that the young Belgian state needed colonies to acquire insured outlets for its industrial production. These thoughts were mainly shared by King Leopold I, who financed travel and business from his own resources, but always failed.

Until the First World War

Leopold II Photo: Public domain

After independence, Unionism came under pressure from the recurring philosophical contradictions. For example, the Catholics no longer wanted to cooperate with the liberals after a condemnation from Rome of the liberal character of Catholicism. The Liberals, for their part, rejected Unionism because they feared that the Church would have too great an impact on public life. However, Unionism continued to exist through the intervention of King Leopold I and the Catholics. In Unionism they saw the best guarantee for a combination of their own authority and ecclesiastical interests.

Nevertheless, Unionism came to an end with the emergence of the Liberal Party in 1846, which came to power immediately after the elections of 1847. Immediately the contradictions between liberals and Catholics resurfaced, and education policy was again a source of unrest with the flaring up of the school struggle around 1880, which ultimately benefited Catholics. Catholics won elections in 1884 and remained in power for thirty years.

Economically, Belgium changed quite quickly from an agricultural state to an industrial state with mining and metal industry as important sectors. The construction of a railway network from 1834 also provided economic impulses. Foreign trade was stimulated and banking and insurance boomed. However, economic liberalism also caused poverty and miserable living conditions that resulted in a number of Belgian Workers' Party (1885) consisting of socialist groups, which organized strikes and rebellions. This attention to the social conditions of the workers led to a number of social laws and the introduction of universal multiple suffrage for men from the age of 25 in 1893. Liberals in particular suffered greatly from this development.

A new electoral system meant a drop in the number of seats from 61 in 1892 to 20 in 1894. From around 1860, the Flemish Movement ensured that the Frenchification of Flanders was put on the political map. Language legislation resulted in the Equality Act in 1898. Regarding foreign and military policy, Belgium has maintained neutrality since 1831. Personal conscription was introduced in 1909 and general conscription in 1913. This reform came too late to have any effect when on August 2, 1914, Belgium was involved in World War I by a German ultimatum.

King Leopold II, like Leopold I, was an ardent advocate of expansion abroad. Following the tours of Livingstone and Stanley, he founded the Association Internationale Africaine in 1876. However, he got few supporters and then hired Stanley. This would undertake an expedition to the Congo River, funded by the Association Internationale du Congo. Stanley, meanwhile, had already signed an agreement with 450 chieftains who had surrendered sovereignty over their territories. The Association Act was recognized as a sovereign state by the Berlin Act of 1885. In April, Leopold was allowed to act as the head of state of the Independent Congo State and even received financial support from Parliament. In 1890, more areas were conquered and both Houses granted a new loan. The condition was that Belgium could take over the Congo State if the Association failed to repay the loan. Leopold wanted to monopolize the rubber and ivory exploitation and thus opposed the Berlin Act, which advocated free trade. Many protests followed, resulting in a division into a crown domain (for the Congo State), a free trade zone and an area closed to trade. The planned takeover of the Congo State by Belgium fell through in 1901. In 1904, an international commission of inquiry was set up by Leopold to report all abuses. After the report was published on June 3, 1906, Leopold announced that he was ready for a transfer of sovereignty, except for the crown domain. The deed of renunciation was signed on November 28, 1907 and on November 15, 1908, the Congo State became a colony of Belgium under the new name Belgian Congo. The claims of the crown domain were reversed after Leopold's death in 1909.

First World War

World War I Ypres Photo: Public domain

World War I started on August 4, 1914 with the invasion of Belgium by Germany. The Belgians only managed to slow down the advance of the Germans, but already in October the Belgian army had to withdraw behind the river IJzer in the southwest of Belgium. King Albert stayed in Belgium, but the government withdrew to Le Havre, France. There was little evidence of real resistance, but the number of people (the so-called activists) who cooperated with the German occupiers was also small. The liberation offensive started at the end of September 1918, after which the armistice was concluded on 11 November. Under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, Belgium's neutrality was abolished, it was allowed to exercise a mandate over Rwanda-Urundi and annexed the German territories of Eupen, Malmédy and Sankt Vith, the so-called Eastern Cantons.

Between the two world wars

Henri Jaspar

Photo: Public domain

After 1918, despite the lack of a total vision of colonialism, important innovations were introduced in the colonies, making Belgian Congo one of the most exemplary African colonies with forms of indirect government, social and medical facilities and primary education.

The single universal suffrage was introduced in 1919, which would only apply to men until 1949. People now almost always had to rely on coalition governments and in the period of reconstruction after the First World War to the beginning of the Second World War, the three so-called national parties, the Catholics, the Socialists and the Liberals, often collaborated. In all other cabinets up to World War II, Catholics participated with either the Liberals or the Socialists as partners.

Other parties that manifested themselves in the interwar period were the Flemish National Union (VNV), which increasingly tended to fascism and national socialism, and the Communist Party of Belgium (CPB: now KPB).

The recovery of the economy only started again after 1925. Until then, the continued loss of the franc's value in particular caused an economic downturn. The Jaspar cabinet (1926-1927) devalued the franc and this depreciation of currency gave strong impetus to trade and industry. Unfortunately, this economic boom soon came to an end after the world crisis in the 1930s. The economy only recovered after a new devaluation of the franc in 1935. In the years between the two world wars, social legislation was also addressed, which resulted in strike law (1921), an eight-hour working day (1921) and minimum wages (1936). In 1925, Belgium joined the Locarno Conventions, incorporating it into a broader collective security system. After Germany canceled the treaties, Belgium returned to a neutrality policy. Even now, however, it could not be prevented that Belgium entered a subsequent world war.

The second World War

Battle of the Bulge Photo: Public domain

On May 10, 1940, the German troops invaded Belgium without a declaration of war, and on May 28, Belgium capitulated. King Leopold III stayed in Belgium, but the ministerial team fled to France and later to London. The fully occupied Belgium meanwhile got a military administration. After an initial hesitant start, the resistance movement that started from the beginning quickly expanded after the winter of 1941.

The Belgian economy was deployed by the Germans in warfare and a compulsory labor service was introduced. Naturally, the VNV belonged to the collaborating parties, but worse were the strongly pro-German Flemish SS and DeVlag. After the Allied breakthrough from Normandy, Brussels was liberated on September 2, 1944 and a few weeks later practically all of Belgium. After the Battle of the Bulge, Belgium was again a free country.

Period 1945-1970

Boudewijn

Photo: Public domain

After the Second World War, all major parties changed their name. The Catholic Party became the Christian People's Party (CVP), the BWP became the Belgian Social Party (BSP), and the Liberals transformed their party into the Party for Freedom and Progress (PVV) in 1961. Flemish nationalism returned to politics in 1954 through the Volksunie (VU). In the 1980s, "green" parties such as Agalev and Ecolo entered parliament and the far-right Vlaams Blok.

After the Second World War, two national union governments were first formed. After 1946, many coalition governments followed with varying compositions and the occasional one-party cabinet under the CVP.

After the Second World War, the philosophical contradictions quickly arose again and the controversial attitude and possible return of Leopold III as king also led to major conflicts between the parties. Add to this the constant Flemish-Walloon contradictions and all this brought Belgium to the brink of civil war. This could only be prevented by the abdication of Leopold III in 1951 for the benefit of his son Boudewijn.

Economically, Belgium was able to recover quickly from the war by, among other things, the Marshall Plan, the Benelux and other European connections, the 1944 coin restructuring and the revival of coal production and the relatively intact industrial infrastructure. The school struggle flared up again when the socialist-liberal cabinet Van Acker canceled the large subsidy of free (Catholic) education. In 1958 the School Pact was concluded by the three national parties, as a result of which the turmoil in the educational world returned. Despite economic progress, many people remained unemployed and only improved from 1959 onwards after the passed Regional Expansion Act. Economic economies of scale, especially as a result of the entry into force of the European Economic Community, led to a period of economic boom from 1960 onwards. A second regional expansion law was enacted in 1966, marking a new boom period.

After the Second World War, the idea of independence in the Belgian Congo took on an increasingly clear form. Unrest in Leopoldstad forced the Belgian government to recognize the right of the Belgian Congo to independence (January 13, 1959). Without significant opposition from the government, the Belgian Congo became an independent state on June 30, 1960. Immediately there were disturbances that forced Belgium to make a military intervention.

After the First World War, the mandate given to two provinces of German East Africa, Urundi and Rwanda, expired on 1 July 1962 and the area was split into the independent states of Rwanda and Burundi. In the foreign field, the Benelux was gradually put into operation and Belgium joined various international organizations such as the Western European Union, NATO and the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

The Flemish Movement recovered somewhat after the end of the school struggle and afterwards the Flemish-Walloon relations were tackled again. For example, the language border was established in 1962 and the language legislation was revised in 1963. The idea of the federation also re-emerged, despite major reservations from the three major parties. However, the Constitution Revision Procedure was initiated, but the CVP-BSP government failed to secure a two-thirds majority in the mid-1960s to implement the revisions. The elections of March 31, 1968 yielded much seat gains for the federalist parties.

The seventies

Wilfried Martens Photo:Babciakorekta Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding 2.0 Unported no changes made

In the 1970s, Belgium was also affected by the international economic crisis and the outdated economy was settled. Restructuring of the textile, coal and steel industries was badly needed.

The closure of many companies and the loss of thousands of jobs was taken for granted. Unemployment grew from 3.4% in 1972 to 18.5% in 1983 in just over a decade. This in turn led to major budget deficits and a massive increase in government debt.

The center-right governments-Martens pursued a strict restructuring policy from 1982 to contain the budget deficit and that policy started to bear fruit in the late 1980s: the budget deficit could be reduced and unemployment started to fall, partly thanks to the reviving business cycle.

From 1970, politics was mainly dominated by state reform. Economic decentralization followed and a constitutional revision brought an end to unitary Belgium. Belgium was divided into four language areas, three cultural communities and three regions. However, the whole of the state reform failed in October 1978 on Flemish resistance and constitutional objections from the CVP, Martens' party.

1980-2000

Jean-Luc Dehaene no changes made Photo:Michel Vuijlsteke at en.wikipedia Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported

In 1980, the new constitutional reform was implemented under the six-party cabinet of Wilfried Martens. This broadened community autonomy and brought about regionalization. Disagreements persisted only over the Brussels statute. It soon became apparent that the state reform had many snags. Problems arose about state aid to Walloon steel companies in particular and the language skills of political figures in the Flemish facility governments. In the autumn of 1987, the issue of Mayor José Happart van Voeren led to the resignation of the cabinet and the longest government crisis in Belgian history, namely from December 1988 to May 1989. All this was more or less the signal for the further reform of bring the state forward. A new constitutional amendment in 1988 gave the regions, communities and urban region of Brussels even more autonomy and financial freedoms. The parliamentary elections caused major shifts in the Belgian political world. All major parties lost seats and the profit went to the far-right Vlaams Blok in Flanders and to the environmental party Ecolo in Wallonia.

Prime Minister Martens was succeeded by Christian Democrat Jean-Luc Dehaene who formed a Roman-red cabinet in 1992. Dehaene's main goal was to reduce the excessive government debt. Other spearheads of this government were the restructuring of the national budget, the reduction of unemployment and the reform of social security. The budget deficit (1.3%) was reduced in 1998 to such an extent that Belgium was included in the European Monetary Union (EMU).

After a constitutional reform in 1993, Belgium became a real federal state and the powers of state, communities and regions were officially established. The federal bicameral system was also reformed and direct elections to regional parliaments were held. The Brussels-Capital Region received its status in 1989. On July 31, 1993, King Baudouin died and was succeeded by his brother, Albert II.

In the parliamentary elections of June 13, 1999, the government parties suffered a major defeat. These elections were dominated by a dioxin crisis that broke out just before the elections. On May 27, it was announced that chickens and eggs had become contaminated with dioxin through animal feed. As it later turned out that the responsible ministers had known about the problems for a long time, a heavy election defeat of the government parties was obvious.

The CVP suffered the largest losses and the largest fraction now became the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD). The biggest winners were of course the green parties Ecolo in Wallonia and Agalev in Flanders. The far-right Vlaams Blok also won in Flanders, although not as much as expected. The day after the elections, Prime Minister Dehaene offered the resignation of his cabinet and was no longer available for the next government period. Guy Verhofstadt, the later prime minister and chairman of the VLD, was appointed formator and created a government of liberals, socialists and greens. For the first time since 1958, the government ruled without the CVP.

During the Kosovo crisis in 1999, 600 Belgian para-commandos took part in Allied Harbor, NATO's operation to protect Kosovar refugees in Albania. In the same year, 1,100 troops left for Kosovo to participate in KFOR, the NATO peacekeeping force for Kosovo.

In December 1999, the Verhofstadt government announced that it would pursue an active foreign policy again, particularly in Central Africa, where the old colony of Belgium, Congo, is located. As soon as there would be peace in the region, Belgium would endeavor to support the reconstruction politically and financially.
On December 4, 1999, crown prince Filip married Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz, who from that day is entitled "princess of Belgium".

The euro was introduced on 1 January 1999 and the franc was completely replaced by the euro from 1 January 2002.

21th Century

Guy Verhofstadt Foto:Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons - cc-by-sa-3.0

The big winner in the elections of May 18, 2003 were the socialists, big losers the greens, after which a purple coalition of liberals and socialists (VLD, MR, SP.A and PS), again led by Verhofstadt, took office on 12 July. The Greens disappeared from the federal government (and also from the federal parliament).

The new government has an ambitious domestic program, which aims, among other things, to create 200,000 new jobs during the government period. The previously initiated administrative reforms will also continue, with a special focus on improving the judicial system and the police. However, the Copernicus reforms, introduced by Verhofstadt I for the renovation of the civil service, transforming the former system of ministries into federal public services (fods), have largely been reversed. The government has also made an exception to the ban on tobacco advertising for the Francorchamps race track in hopes of regaining the Belgian Grand Prix.

Responsibility for arms exports has been delegated to the regions, in the interest of the Walloon arms industry in particular. After a long discussion about the introduction of migrant voting rights (VLD against, the other three coalition partners in favor), this was introduced in February (at the local level). Verhofstadt II is generally regarded as less stable than Verhofstadt I. The next federal elections are scheduled for July 13, 2007. Federal and regional elections are no longer held at the same time. The last regional elections took place on June 13, 2004. As a result of these elections, the Belgian political system has an asymmetrical composition for the first time since the regions were created. This means that a different coalition rules at the regional level than at the federal level. In the current situation, the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD & V) are governing party at regional level, but opposition party at federal level. Obviously, such an asymmetry puts (even more) stress on political relations in Belgium.

In the last regional elections of June 13, 2004, the right-wing nationalist Vlaams Belang (formerly: Vlaams Blok) continued its electoral growth. After the CD & V / NV-A cartel, VB is the largest party in Flanders. The VB has never got around to management. The cordon sanitaire - the traditional Flemish parties have so far boycotted any coalition with the Belang - has prevented this for the time being. However, the question is how long the cordon can be kept as long as the VB continues to grow.

Municipal elections are taking place in October 2006 in Belgium, parties across the spectrum have polarized election programs that make the political tensions between them more tangible. The municipal elections are seen as an indication of the outcome of the national elections of 2007.

Herman van Rompuyno changes made Photo:Luc Van Braekel Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

After the elections of June 10, 2007, Didier Reynders and Jean-Luc Dehaene were successively appointed as informateurs. Both failed in their assignment due to the community stalemate and the difficult relationship of Joëlle Milquet's CDH with Didier Reynders' MR. The Flemish demand for further state reform and an unconditional split of the electoral district of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde made the task of formator Yves Leterme particularly difficult. On Thursday, August 23, 2007, the formator offered his resignation to King Albert, who accepted it. On 29 August 2007, after talking to several ministers of state, the king designated CD&V Herman Van Rompuy as 'scout' to demine the community field and to bring government negotiations out of the doldrums. At the end of September, Yves Leterme became a formateur for the third time, but at the beginning of November his formation attempts were definitively wiped off, because CDH leader Joelle Milquet refused to answer Leterme's ultimate 3 questions to continue with the negotiations.

The unilateral approval of the split of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde earlier that month by the Flemish politicians in the Parliamentary Committee had done no good, nor had the subsequent alarm bell procedure invoked by the Walloons due to a conflict of interest. Following Leterme's resignation, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt came up again in December, who set up a new interim government just before Christmas until March 23 with Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists. This Christmas cabinet consists of 7 Flemish ministers (including the prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt) and 7 Walloon ministers. In March 2008, the crisis will come to an end and a cabinet will be headed by Yves Leterme. In the fall of 2008 it is already over with peace and Leterme falls on the Fortis issue, he has tried to influence the lawsuit over the bank deal. In December 2008, the Royal Scout ex-Prime Minister Martens tries to persuade the parties to continue with the same parties, but with a new Prime Minister. On January 2, 2009, the new government is appointed with Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy. In November 2009, van Rompuy becomes the new President of the European Council. Leterme returns as prime minister. After an argument about the Flemish-Walloon issue, the cabinet falls in April 2010. In the elections of June 2010, the Flemish alliance becomes the largest party in Flanders and the socialists win in Wallonia. Ellio de Rupo became Prime Minister in December 2011 after a record time (541 days) without government.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde no changes Photo:Michael Thaidigsmann Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding 3.0 Unported

In July 2013, King Albert II abdicated in favor of his son Philipe. In May 2014, the N-VA becomes the separatist Flemish party the largest in Flanders and the king asks its leader to look into the possibilities of forming a new government. In October 2014, Charles Michel forms a new coalition government. In 2015, the security level will be tightened in response to a threat from the Islamic State. In March 2016, Brussels was nevertheless startled by attacks on Zaveltem and in Brussels itself, where a total of 35 deaths were to be regretted. In the elections of 26 May 2019, the N-VA received 16% of the votes, Vlaams Belang 12% and Parti Socialiste became the third party with 9.5%. Since then, a formation has been going on and Belgium has been led by a resignation cabinet. This was initially led by Prime Minister Michel. Since he was appointed President of the European Council, Michel was succeeded in October 2019 by the first female Belgian Prime Minister: Sophie Wilmès.

Population

Tintin most famous Belgian?no changes Photo:Newtown graffity Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding 2.0 Unported

Belgium has 11,491,346 million inhabitants (2017). In 1830, Belgium had only 3.8 million inhabitants and in a hundred years that number doubled to over 8.1 million. More than 8.5 inhabitants were counted in the first census after World War II. The population grew fastest between 1961 and 1971, with an average of 51,000 people per year. In 1996 this number fell to "only" 24,000. Population growth in 2017 was 0.7%.

The number of births per thousand inhabitants fluctuated around 17 from 1947 to 1964, followed by a sharp drop to 11.3 in 2017. The death rate (the number of deaths per thousand inhabitants) was 9.7 in 2014 (compared to 12.3 in 1970 and 11.5 in 1980). Between 1970 and 1980, the infant mortality rate (the number of deceased children under 1 year per thousand births) decreased by 43% (from 21.1 to 12.1) and again from 1980 to 1986 from 12.1 to 9.4. In 2017, the infant mortality rate fell to 3.4.

In 2017, life expectancy was 83.8 years for women and 78.75 for men. The aging of the population can be expressed, among other things, by the share of the elderly (65+) in the total population, which rose from 11 to 14.4% between 1947 and 1988; in 1993 this share was 17.81% and increased to 18.6% in 2017.

The structure of the entire population currently looks as follows:
0-14 years: 17.2%
15-64 years: 64.2%
65+: 18.6%

The population density of Belgium is 376 inhabitants per square kilometer, but there are important regional differences; there are more inhabitants per square kilometer in the Flemish Region than in the Walloon Region. The Brussels-Capital Region is very densely populated with more than 5000 people per square kilometer.

Flanders is most populated with about 6.5 million inhabitants, while Wallonia has 3.6 million inhabitants. The nearly 1.2 million inhabitants of the Brussels-Capital Region represent almost 10% of the total Belgian population. 14% of the Flemish population lives in the Flemish cities of Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges and 15% of the Walloon population in the three Walloon cities of Charleroi, Liège and Namur.

The most densely populated areas in Belgium are the provinces of Antwerp, Flemish Brabant and the Brussels Region. Limburg is the least populated province in Flanders. The most populous province in Wallonia is Hainaut. The average number of Belgians lives in the Walloon province of Luxembourg; only 55 inhabitants per km2.

In 2017, just over 1,000,000 immigrants lived in Belgium. The six main nationalities are Italians, Moroccans, French, Dutch, Turks and Spaniards. These native populations mainly live in Hainaut (the old industrial axis of Mons-Charleroi), the Liège Basin, the former Limburg mining region, Brussels and Antwerp.

Immigrants are responsible for about half of the annual population growth.

Language

French-speaking Community Flag Photo: Public domain

Belgium has two large language communities, the Dutch and French, and a smaller German language community. The time-honored language issue or language conflict is a direct result of this multilingualism. The Constitution of 1831 stipulated that the use of the languages spoken in Belgium is free. Only for acts of the public authorities and for lawsuits can something be arranged. In fact, however, French has been the official language since the creation of the Belgian state. On August 17, 1873, a law was passed in which Dutch was considered equivalent to military, legal, administrative and educational language. In a law of 31 July 1921, the so-called territoriality principle, the monolingualism of the French and Dutch language areas was first formulated. The Brussels agglomeration became bilingual.

Dutch-speaking Community flag Photo: Public domain

According to this principle, Dutch and French are the only permitted languages in law, education and administration in the Dutch and French language areas. In the Brussels-Capital Region, Dutch and French are the same as the official language.
On November 8, 1962, the language boundaries were precisely defined and in i963 the German-speaking area was legally recognized.
In 1970, the Constitution was revised and the four language areas were enrolled in the Constitution, but exceptions persist and invariably cause problems. In some municipalities, non-native speakers enjoy so-called "facilities" and another administrative and educational language may also be used.
However, the government must perform all its actions in the language of the language area and directly elected representatives such as city councilors and aldermen are required to have knowledge of the language.

The origin of the name of the political concept of Belgium can be found in the name Belgae, a group of Celtic tribes that inhabited the area that was to be established as the province of Belgica under the Roman emperor Augustus. After the Roman rule, the name fell into disuse until the humanists (second half of the 15th century), who however applied the names Belgium and Belgae to both the current Netherlands and present-day Belgium and to both together. For example, the designation Belgium Foederatum denotes the Republic of the United Netherlands.
During the Brabant Revolution, the Southern Netherlands were declared an independent state, which was given the name États Belgiques Unis. From now on, the name Belgians was used almost exclusively with regard to residents of the territory that would later form Belgium, and with the creation of the state of Belgium (1830), the names Belgium and Belgians took on their current meaning forever.

Religion

Antwerp Cathedral Foto:Ad Meskens Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

In Belgium, freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed, which does not mean that all religions have the same privileges. Some religious groups are not legally recognized and others refuse legal recognition, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and some fundamentalist sects. Groups that are legally recognized are financially supported by the state. This is the case for the Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Jewish and (since 1974) Islamic religion.

Belgium is a predominantly Catholic country. The number of Catholic baptisms in 1995 still amounted to 70% of the total Belgian population. It is striking that in 1995 only 13% of the Catholics indicated that they were practicing, compared to about 50% in 1970. Among the more or less practicing Catholics one distinguishes the so-called progressive and conservative Catholics.
Belgium is a church province that has included eight dioceses since 1967: the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, Hasselt, Namur, Ghent, Tournai and Bruges.

The number of Protestants is estimated at over 60,000 divided into a few denominations and sects. The Protestants are grouped into several churches, the most important of which are: the Protestant Church of Belgium (16,000 members), the Reformed Church of Belgium (10,000 members, mainly in Wallonia) and the Reformed Churches in Belgium (2,000 members, especially in Flanders Since 1978 these churches have been grouped in the United Protestant Churches of Belgium.
The Belgian Evangelical Mission (BEZ) has been structured gradually since 1972 into a Federation of Free Evangelical Municipalities (VEG). This BEZ-VEG has a Baptist signature and has approximately 5000 members. The VEG has a certain "sect" character. Other sectarian Protestant groups are the Pentecostal churches (approx. 5000 members), the Assembly of Believers, the Assembly of the Brothers, the Association of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Belgium and the Salvation Army, each with approximately 1500 members. Even smaller groups are the Free Lutheran Church and the Mennonite Mission.

Belgium has about 80,000 Orthodox, five bishops and more than fifty priests and deacons. Most of the Orthodox are of Greek descent and Orthodox parishes can be found all over the country:
Ecumenical Patriarchate: 29 parishes belong to the Orthodox Archdiocese of Belgium and the Exarchate of the Netherlands and Luxembourg; 5 belong to the Exarchate of the Orthodox Parishes of Russian tradition and 2 belong to the tradition of the Ukrainian language.
The Moscow Patriarchate includes five parishes, three chapels and two monasteries.

The Patriarchate of Serbia includes one parish; to the Patriarchate of Romania two parishes; to the Patriarchate of Bulgaria one parish.
In 1985, the Orthodox Worship Service was officially recognized by the Belgian State. A 1988 law provides for the practical organization of this worship. This law also provides that the "Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople or his deputy" is the representative "of the whole of the Orthodox Church". About 20% of Belgians have no religion.

Furthermore, the little known Belgian Buddhists (several thousand) have their own home in Brussels. The best known of these legally unrecognized religions are Jehovah's Witnesses, with about 20,000 publishers.

The number of Jews in Belgium is about 35,000 and there are three institutionalized forms of religious group formation: Orthodox, conservatives and Reformed. These three forms occur in Belgium, but the reformed municipality of L'Union Libérale Israélite de Belgique was not recognized by the Central Israelite Consistory (CIC).

Synagogue Antwerp Photo: Torsade de Pointes in the public domain

Fewer Jews live in Antwerp than in Brussels (13,000 and 18,000 respectively), yet Antwerp's Jewish community (largely of Polish origin) is the best known. This is partly because she lives in Antwerp more concentrated and further because 80% of the Jews are affiliated with a religious congregation (against only 40% elsewhere) and because the Jewish community in Antwerp strongly adheres to traditional customs.

Antwerp has two large municipalities: the Orthodox Machsike Hadass, who is closely related to the ultra-Orthodox Chassidiem (a mystical-charismatic community with specific dress) and the conservative Shomer Hadass.

According to an estimate in 2011, approximately 900,000 Muslims live in Belgium, of which approximately 98% adhere to the Sunni movement in Islam, making it the largest religious minority in Belgium at the moment. In Brussels about 25% of the population is Muslim, in Wallonia about 4% and in Flanders about 3.9%.
The presence of Muslims in Belgium is strongly linked to the immigration of foreign workers since World War II. It mainly concerns Moroccans, Turks, Tunisians and Algerians. The Center Islamique et Culturel, founded in 1963, has had legal personality since 1968 and Islam was legally recognized in 1974.

The oldest mosque in Brussels is the Grand Mosque Photo: DemeesterPhoto: Demeester Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

About 20% of Belgians are liberal or have no religion.

Society

General

Palace of the Nation Foto:Benjah Creative Commons-licenties Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

The Belgian polity is very complex. A 172 year old walks through Belgium dividing line between a Germanic and a Latin culture, which divides the country into a Dutch-speaking and a French-speaking area. A lack of national unity and increasing frictions and conflicts between French and Dutch speakers eventually led to a thorough administrative reform that started in the 1970s.

The Federal State of Belgium was founded in 1995 under the leadership of Prime Minister Luc Dehaene. There are now three equal levels in the unitary state. First, the Federal State, then the three Communities and the three Regions. These three levels of government have equal legal status with regard to legislative and executive powers. Below that, the provinces and municipalities will serve as administrative layers.

Federal state

Within the Federal State, legislative power is exercised by, on the one hand, the Federal Parliament, which is composed of two assemblies (the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate) and, on the other, the government, in particular the King and the Ministers. The king does not exercise personal power. His ministers have full responsibility for the bills passed by parliament. The person of the King is therefore inviolable and cannot be brought to justice, neither in criminal nor in civil matters.

The members of both chambers are simultaneously elected for a term of four years under the system of proportional representation and universal suffrage. Men and women aged 18 and over have a compulsory vote. In the Chamber of Representatives, the 150 MPs (formerly 212 members) are directly elected by universal suffrage. Instead of 184, the Senate now only has 71 members: 40 senators (25 Dutch speakers and 15 French speakers) who are elected by the population, 21 senators who are appointed by the Communities (10 from the Flemish Community, 10 from the French Community and 1 from the German Community) and 10 co-opted senators (6 Dutch speakers and 4 French speakers). There are also senators who can be added to the senate by operation of law, as a member of the royal family.

The king appoints and dismisses (on the proposal of the majority parties) the ministers and state secretaries, who together form the government. The Council of Ministers (of which the State Secretaries are not a part) has a maximum of 15 members and is led by the Prime Minister. The federal government is composed of as many French and Dutch speaking ministers.

The powers of the Federal State include everything related to the public interest, such as the military, police, justice, social security, energy policy (in particular tariff setting) and public health. The Regions have the power to decide on economic policy, but the state safeguards the economic unity of the country. Communities are competent to decide on culture and education, but compulsory education and diploma requirements are again determined by the state.

Communities

The federal state of Belgium has three Communities. It is based on the "language" and therefore speak of the Flemish, French and German-speaking Community.

The Flemish Community exercises its powers in the Flemish provinces and in Brussels; the French Community in the Walloon provinces, with the exception of the German-speaking municipalities, and in Brussels; the German-speaking Community in the municipalities of the province of Liège that make up the German language area.

A Community is responsible for the culture (e.g. theater and libraries), education, the use of languages and the personal issues which on the one hand comprise health policy and on the other hand aid to persons. They are also responsible for the scientific research and international relations related to their powers.

Regions

In addition to the federal state and the Communities, the Regions are: the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region. The population elects members of the Regions directly every five years. The legislative and executive bodies are referred to as the Regional Council and the Government of the Region.

In Flanders, the Community and Regional institutions have merged and there is therefore one council and one government.

Regions have powers in domains related to their region or area in the broad sense of the word. They are responsible for the economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, spatial planning and urban planning, modernization of agriculture, nature conservation, foreign trade and supervision of provinces and municipalities.

The Flemish Region includes the provinces of West Flanders, East Flanders, Limburg, Antwerp and Flemish Brabant. The Walloon Region includes the provinces of Hainaut, Namur, Liège, Luxembourg and Walloon Brabant. The Brussels-Capital Region encompasses the area of the city of Brussels along with the 19 municipalities of the arrondissement. Besides capital, Brussels is the economic, political and cultural center of Belgium. Due to its growing international role since the European Union came into being, Brussels has become one of the most important European business centers. More than 1100 international organizations are based in Brussels or have their European headquarters there.

Provinces

Belgium Provinces no changes made Foto:Kneiphof, Finn Bjørklid Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported

In its territory, the province has responsibility for everything that is of provincial interest, ie everything that must be done in the interest of the province and that does not fall under the general interest of the federal state, the communities and the regions, or the municipal interest.

There have been ten provinces since the last state reform. As a result of the latter state reform, the province of Brabant was abolished and replaced by the provinces of Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant. The territory of the Brussels-Capital Region falls outside the division into provinces.

The provinces are autonomous institutions, but are supervised by the regions and to a lesser extent by the federal state and the communities. Provinces have a provincial council and its members are elected directly for six years. This council takes decisions of a general nature and takes care of the provincial regulations.

The provincial council appoints six representatives from its members who form the Permanent Deputation. This Permanent Deputation is chaired by the governor and is in fact the daily administration of the province with various powers. The governor is appointed and deposed by the king, and is the responsibility of the Minister of the Interior.

Provinces have broad powers and, among other things, develop initiatives in education, social and cultural infrastructures and social policy. They are also concerned with the environment, roads and waterways, the economy, public works and housing. Although the provinces are autonomous, they are under the control of the communities and regions.

The Permanent Deputation issues permits, among other things, for the operation of industrial, craft, commercial and agricultural establishments that present risks or are harmful and must therefore be monitored.
The provincial governor has powers with regard to security and law enforcement.

Province capital area number of inhabitants as of 1-1-01
Antwerp Antwerp 2,867 km2 1,645,652
Hainaut Mons 3,786 km2 1,279,823
Limburg Hasselt 2,422 km2 794,785
Liège Liège 3,862 km2 1,020,042
Luxembourg Arlon 4,440 km2 248,750
Namur Namur 3,666 km2 445,824
East Flanders Ghent 2,982 km2 1,363,672
Flemish Brabant Leuven 2,106 km2 1,018,403
Walloon Brabant Wavre 1,091 km2 352,018
West Flanders Bruges 3,144 km2 1,130,040

Municipalities

Belgium municipalitiesPhoto:Public domain

When the Belgian State was created in 1831, there were 2,739 municipalities. Since the merger of municipalities in 1975, there are still 589 municipalities:

Flanders 308 municipalities
Wallonia 262 municipalities
Brussels Region 19 municipalities

Each region supervises the municipalities of its territory. The supervision of other governments, in particular the communities and the federal state, is limited to the areas for which the communities and the federal state are competent.

In each municipality, there is a city council composed of 7 to 55 members, depending on the number of inhabitants. The municipal council arranges everything that is of "municipal interest" by means of municipal regulations. The city council elects the aldermen who, together with the mayor, form the College of Mayor and Aldermen. The mayor, under the responsibility of the Minister of the Interior, is appointed by the king from among the members of the city council. City councilors can nominate candidates to the governor.

The municipal powers are very broad and encompass everything related to the "municipal interest", which may be in the areas of public works, social assistance, law enforcement, housing, education, etc.

The municipalities are under the control of the federal state, the communities, the regions and the provinces and must also perform tasks imposed on them by the higher authorities.

The municipalities are also mainly in charge of the police forces, the management of the registry office and the maintenance of the population registers. The mayor is at the head of the municipal police. Each municipality also has a Public Center for Social Welfare that provides social assistance.

Education

General

Belgium has freedom of education under Article 24 of the Constitution. Education in Belgium is provided in institutions belonging to the official or public sector (communities, provinces, municipalities) and to the special or free sector (especially Roman Catholic schools).

The education system in Belgium is structured across the levels of primary education (pre-school education and primary education), secondary education and higher education. Moreover, the Act of 6 July 1970 included special education in the statutory regulation.

Since 1921, compulsory education applies to children aged six to fourteen. In 1983, compulsory education was extended to eighteen years, with a system of part-time compulsory education from sixteen to eighteen years.

Nursery Education

In Belgium, pre-school facilities form an integral part of the educational infrastructure. Parents, on the other hand, are free to let their children between the ages of 2.5 and 6 enjoy this education. Many nursery schools are attached to a primary school and located in the same building.

Primery Education

There is a separate free education system for each of the three official languages and communities in Belgium.

Children under compulsory school age up to the age of 15 must complete primary school and at least the first two years of secondary education. Those who do not finish the first two years of secondary education continue to attend full-time until the age of 16. One can then choose to attend part-time education until the age of 18.

Primary education is aimed at children aged 6 to 12 years, consists of six years and divided into three two-year cycles. Children become compulsory school age in September of the year in which they reach the age of six.

At the end of the six-year primary school, students receive a "Certificate of primary education" (French: Certificat d'études de base; German: CEB, Abschlusszeugnis der Grundschule).

In the Brussels Region, the study of Dutch is compulsory from the age of eight. In the rest of the French Community, a second national language (Dutch or German) or English can be taught from the age of 10.

In the German Community, French can be taught from the first grade and is compulsory from the third year.

In the Flemish Community of the Brussels Region, French can be taught from the first grade. The study of French is compulsory from the age of 8. In all other schools of the Flemish Community, French can be taught from the age of 10.

Secundary Education

Secondary education (French: enseignement secondaire; German: Sekundarschulwesen) is also compulsory and for young people aged 12 to 18. secondary education comprises four directions: general, technical, art and vocational education. The diploma of upper secondary education (French: certificat d'enseignement secondaire supérieur; German: Abschlusszeugnis der Oberstufe des Sekundarunterrichts) is awarded to students who have finished secondary education.

In the French Community, secondary education can be divided into two main categories:

Type 1, the renewed education, consisting of three two-year cycles:

First cycle: observation rate for students aged 12 to 14,

Second cycle: orientation for students aged 14 to 16,

Third cycle: degree of determination for students aged 16 to 18 years.

Type 2, traditional education, consisting of two three-year cycles.

Most students are currently attending type 1 education. For the German Community, only type 1 is available.

The offer in type 2 schools includes a smaller number of general and technical courses. The first cycle of technical education leads to a certificate of lower secondary education.

In the Flemish Community, the two types of education have been replaced by a new unitary structure comprising three two-year cycles and comprising four directions, general, technical, art and vocational education.In addition to general arts, technical and vocational education, institutions are called "atheneum" (athénée) for official (neutral) schools and "lyceum" or "college" for free schools. Institutes that provide technical or vocational education are usually referred to as "institutes".

In the French Community, the study of a foreign language is compulsory in all types of secondary education and an additional foreign language can be taught in certain directions.

In the German Community, German and French are taught from the first cycle while an additional foreign language can be taught from the second cycle. In some schools, subjects are taught in French.

In the Flemish Community, French and in some cases also English is taught from the first cycle. A foreign language is taught from the second cycle onwards and a third language is also taught in general secondary education.

Higher Education

Leuven University Photo:JuhansonCreative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

There are three types of higher education in the Flemish and French Community: higher education of the short type, of the long type and university education.

University education is provided at universities or university-level institutions and comprises courses of at least four years divided over two cycles. Each cycle is concluded with a diploma that grants access to the next cycle. Each of these cycles runs over two to three years.

Short-type higher education consists of one cycle of three to four years and covers a wide range of courses of study.

Long-type higher education is equated with university education and comprises two cycles that run for at least four years.

In addition to the six "full" universities, there are a number of university institutions that offer a limited number of courses of study.

In the German Community there is only higher education of the short type. Allied and pedagogical higher education concludes with the "Graduierte" diploma.

The following university diplomas are awarded in the French Community:

-candidate after the first two- or three-year cycle.

-licencié after the two- or three-year second cycle.

-doctor.

Short-type higher education is concluded with a graduate diploma.

In the Flemish Community, the first cycle of university education is concluded with the candidate diploma. The second cycle concludes with the licentiate diploma and the third cycle concerns the doctorate.

Politics

Coat of arms of Belgiumno changes Photo:Sodacan Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported

Belgian domestic politics has been dominated since long time by three political groups: the Christian Democrats, the socialists and the liberals, who rule Belgium in varying coalitions. Since the seventies of the 20th century, these three groups have been divided into regional Flemish and Walloon parties.

The parliamentary elections of July 1999 caused a major shift in the Belgian political landscape. This was mainly due to many scandals in the 1990s, including the murder of Deputy Prime Minister André Cools, the Dutroux affair, the Augusta-Dassault bribery scandal and the contamination of animal feed with dioxin. Major election winners were the Greens and Liberals who, together with the Socialists, formed a government led by Guy Verhofstadt. For the first time since 1958, the Christian Democrats entered the opposition.

The far-right Vlaams Blok is nowadays a significant factor in both Belgian national and local politics. In 1995, the Vlaams Blok was the largest party in Antwerp with 27% of the votes. The current political situation is described in the chapter on history.

Economy

General

From 1960 to 1974, Belgium experienced a growth phase in economic development. Growth then averaged 4.9% per year. In the recession period 1974-1988 there was a slow growth or even a few years (1975 and 1981) a contraction of the gross national product (GDP). At that time, the growth of the economy averaged only 1.7% per year.

Since 1974, the economic situation has also been characterized by a high inflation rate, high unemployment, a deteriorating state of public finances and a fluctuating balance of payments. Another important factor was the ever-increasing increase in government expenditure between 1960 and 1981. The growth rate of the public sector has slowed since 1981, influenced by the difficulties in public finances. Both in terms of employment and added value, the agricultural, forestry and fisheries, processing and manufacturing sectors have clearly lost importance compared to service activities. Significant growth was recorded in the financial sector, among others.

The increase in prosperity in the various regions is very uneven. If one looks at the turnover, the Flemish urban areas or urban regions have a business dynamics that is five times greater than in Wallonia; investments are four times greater in Flanders. Average per capita income is also very different: in Flanders, income is among the highest in Europe, while in Wallonia it remains below the European average. The Brussels region maintains its strong position.

In Flanders, the major economic drivers are Antwerp, Ghent and the Flemish periphery around Brussels. Liège and Charleroi were hit hard in Wallonia. The Antwerp-Genk-Brussels triangle is developing into one large business economic region with all the socio-economic problems that entails.

The geographical shifts are also important. The Flemish Region has experienced the strongest expansion and was also less affected by the economic recession. The provinces with important employment in the heavy industry (Hainaut and Liège) have experienced the greatest difficulties.

Public finances were balanced for the first time in fifty years in 2000. Reducing public debt has been high on the political agenda for years. Under pressure from the requirements for accession to the European Monetary Union, Belgium has successfully managed to reduce the deficits. The budget deficit was -1.5% in 2017 and the national debt 104% of GDP. Gross domestic product growth was 1.7% in 2017.

Agriculture and Horticulture, Fishing

Greenhouse horticulture Photo:LHOON Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 2.0 Unported no changes

Over the years, the significance of agriculture and horticulture for the economy of Belgium has become less and less important. For example, the number of jobs has been greatly reduced due to, among other things, mechanization and the reduction of cultivated land. This sector is further characterized by specialization and economies of scale, particularly in Wallonia. Between 1970 and 1987, the number of farms nearly halved, while the average area per farm increased by almost 75%. There are currently approximately 64,000 agricultural and horticultural companies in Belgium. More than 95% of Belgian cultivated land is used for arable farming, pastures and grassland.

In 2017, the share of the agricultural sector in gross domestic product was 0.7 percent. Despite everything, the livestock has increased, in particular due to the strong increase in pig breeding. Compared to greenhouse horticulture, horticulture in the open ground has increased more. Vegetables occupy about half of the surface under glass and floriculture almost 30%. Approx. 600,000 ha of the Belgian surface is covered with forests, especially in the provinces of Luxembourg, Namur and Liège. Annual wood production fluctuates around 1 million m3, of which two thirds are coniferous wood. Belgium is one of the most important export areas for agricultural products for the Netherlands. In 2017, agricultural products accounted for 15% of total exports to Belgium.

Only sea fishing has commercial significance in Belgium: fishing takes place in the North Sea, Newfoundland and Icelandic waters. The main fish species supplied are cod, plaice and sole. Tongue is the most important in terms of value. The main fishing port is Zeebrugge, both in volume and value. Shrimp is caught along the coast, oyster farming in Ostend and Nieuwpoort. Under the influence of European fishing quotas, Belgian fishing has deteriorated sharply since the 1960s.

Mining

Mining BelgiumPhoto:Jean-Pol GRANDMONT Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

Coal extraction as well as the extraction of ores such as iron, zinc, lead and copper has lost all meaning in Belgium. The complete closure of coal mines was completed in 1992. In 1988, Belgian coal production was still 2.6 million tons compared to 11.4 million tons in 1970. Expensive subsidy policies and competition from oil, natural gas and nuclear energy have accelerated this downturn. Replacement employment for the many unemployed miners has been insufficient. Iron ore mining in Belgian Lorraine was only 94,000 tons in 1976, enough for only 0.5% of the total Belgian ore use.

The extraction of rocks is much more important than the extraction of ores. Mention can be made of Porphyry, an eruptive rock, quartzite, hard sandstone, hard slate for roofing, bluestone or bluestone, various types of marble such as black marble, red marble and gray marble, limestone for lime kilns and cement factories, chalk, mainly used in the lime kilns and the cement industry, lime phosphate, the extraction of which gave rise to the superphosphate industry, clay and clay for brickworks and pan factories, clay suitable for pottery and refractory materials, sand for the construction industry and white sand as raw material for the glass industry.

Energy supply

Nuclear power station Tihange Photo:Hullie Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

The energy sector is very important for industry in Belgium, especially the metal and chemical sector. Industry is the largest consumer of energy, followed by household use and then other businesses. Most energy is obtained from nuclear energy, which is used exclusively for the production of electricity.

In addition, energy is produced from petroleum, coal, coke, natural gas, hydropower and alternative energy sources. Because Belgium itself does not have fossil fuels, people are very dependent on foreign countries.

Natural gas entered the Belgian market in 1966 and is mainly imported from Norway, the Netherlands and Algeria. Petroleum from the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran), Norway and Eastern Europe. Belgium plays an important role as a distributor of natural gas for the EU countries.

Since 1991, coal mines are no longer in use in Belgium. What is still consumed in coal is imported from abroad as an energy source.

Industry

Steel production Liège Photo:François Schreue Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding 2.0 België no changes made

Around 1800, the center of gravity of industrial activity was still in the Dutch-speaking part of the country: the textile industry. The industrial revolution and the exploitation of the coal ponds of Wallonia shifted industrial activity towards the south and the region of Liège. Since 1900 and especially after the Second World War, the industry developed faster in the northern provinces.

Among the factors that contributed to the post-war shift, the exploitation of the Campine coal basin, the changes in the energy balance, the better demographic conditions in the Flemish region, the geographic location and the location of branches of foreign companies, should be mentioned, partly helped by active government intervention.

The strongest industries in Belgium are the food industry, the chemical industry, the car industry and the technologically advanced production in metallurgy, the machine industry and electronic equipment.

The transport equipment industry is the most important metalworking industry in Belgium. It mainly consists of car assembly companies and 250 suppliers to the car industry. Every year 1 million passenger cars are assembled, of which approximately 95% are exported. In addition, trucks, trailers, buses and trailers are produced. In addition, there are some large Belgian manufacturers of tram and railway equipment, such as Alstom and Bombardier.

In 2000, construction contributed 4.7% of gross domestic product and is also important for employment. In 2000, 237,000 people were employed in construction, and in the late 1990s, there were just over 70,000, often small, companies.

The chemical industry is one of the most important industries in Belgium. Approximately 100,000 people work in mainly medium-sized and small companies. The chemical industry's main trading partners are Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Italy. Two-thirds of the chemical industry takes place in Flanders and one-third in Wallonia.

The textile industry is not only one of the largest industrial sectors, but also one of the largest employers. After Italy, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium ranks fifth in Western Europe in terms of market turnover. The interior, textile and technical textile subsectors are the most important. 70 percent of the production is intended for export.

High-tech companies are active in mechanical engineering (mechanics and mechatronics). including manufacturers of machines, equipment and parts. Furthermore, many companies that focus on supply to industry, inspection and certification and maintenance and repair. Almost 70% of the production goes abroad.

The metal industry in Belgium is divided into the sectors of non-ferrous metals, metal products, plastic products, machine industry, electrical engineering and electronics, the ICT sector, the car industry and aerospace and defense and security.

The formerly strong steel industry in Wallonia has struggled in recent decades, despite government support. As a result of the rollback of government aid, considerable restructuring has taken place in the steel industry, and the largest Walloon steel company Cockerill Sambre was more than half owned by the French steel group Usinor.

The oil industry is made up of two industries, namely the processing of imported crude oil and the marketing of refined products. The oil and petrochemical industries have developed near the ports of Antwerp and Ghent. The port of Antwerp, after Houston in the United States, ranks second in the world ranking of petrochemical centers.

The imported crude oil is processed in Belgium by twelve export-oriented refineries. The sector consists of international companies as well as independent importers, traders, and small and medium-sized companies. As a result of the second oil crisis, when energy saving and the switch to other forms of energy became increasingly important, activity in this sector has deteriorated considerably.

Trade

Belgie Export Photo:R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Belgian economy is very focused on international trade and exports therefore contribute more than 70% to GDP.

The Belgian economy is an open economy, in which prosperity is highly dependent on foreign trade. Belgium has the largest dependence coefficient within the EC countries, after Luxembourg. Foreign trade has expanded since the 1960s. In 2000, total imports into Belgium amounted to EUR 202,426 million and total exports from Belgium amounted to EUR 186,728 million.

The Netherlands has long been the most important buyer of Belgian products. Since the 1970s, these have been Germany and France, as well as England and Italy. The main import partners are Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Italy.

Transport

High Speed Trains Belgium Photo:JH Mora Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes

The traffic sector is of great importance for the Belgian economy. The development of the transport sector is greatly enhanced by the high population density, growing industrial and commercial activity and the development of the European Union. Passenger transport was already strongly promoted in the nineteenth and early twentieth century by the expansion of the railway and neighborhood rail network. In 1860, Belgium already had 5000 km of railway lines, and the neighborhood railway network reached the same length just before the First World War. As a result, the railway had a major influence on the spatial distribution of residential and work facilities. The use of public transport peaked around 1960. However, the significant increase in mobility subsequently came entirely from the growing number of passenger cars.

At the end of 1988, the railway network of the National Company of Belgian Railways still had a length of 3,554 km, of which 2,240 km were electrified. The thorough reform of the rail offer in 1984, with the introduction of intercity and interregional connections, has consolidated longer-distance transport and curtailed production costs.

The government plan STAR 21 includes restructuring of the entire rail system in Belgium, with expansion and modernization of the existing railways, railway works and stations, but also the completion of the Belgian part of the HST route Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam.

Urban public transport is operated by Intermunicipal Transport Companies, subsidized by the State until 1988 and by the Region concerned from 1989 onwards. In the period 1963-1988 a lot of money was spent to equip the large agglomerations, especially Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi, with a metro or pre-metro network. In 1991, the Flemish Transport Company De Lijn was established, which is responsible for urban and regional transport in the Flemish Region. Local services continued to exist in the Walloon Region and in Brussels. Only Brussels has a real metro. Regional transport was less and less meeting a real need: the number of travelers fell from 306 million in 1980 to 244 million in 1988 and to 242 million in 1990. The qualitative decline in services, the traffic difficulties in the inner cities, the sharp fare increases and the reduced government contributions were the main cause of this decline.

The stagnant public transport was offset by the enormous expansion of car traffic. Belgium has the densest road network in the European Union per 100 square km: 462 km, and in the world in addition to Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Belgium also retains first place for motorways; just before the Netherlands: 55 km per 1000 km2.

In Belgium there are five major airports, Zaventem near Brussels, and the smaller regional airports Antwerp-Deurne, Charleroi-Gosselien, Liège-Bierset and Ostend Airport. Air traffic expanded strongly, partly due to the democratization of passenger traffic, especially in tourist flights. Zaventem takes fifth place in Europe in terms of freight transport and Bierset is in twelfth place.

Freight transport was strongly influenced by the expansion of port activity and the industrial movements that favored mass transport rather than diversified international road transport. The forms of combined transport developed strongly, while transport was also increasingly approached as a link in an integrated production chain.

Antwerp Port Photo:Wwuyts Creative Commons-licenties Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

Belgium has four seaports: Antwerp, Ghent, Zeebrugge and Ostend and three major inland ports: Brussels, Liège and Charleroi. The port of Antwerp is the largest port in Europe after the port of Rotterdam. Antwerp is primarily a container port; about 60% of general cargo transport is supplied in containers. The enormous efforts to expand Zeebrugge is primarily a transit port and specialized in container port and roll-on-roll or transport. The port of Ghent is a medium-sized seaport with a number of industrial specializations. The port of Ostend is the smallest seaport and specializes in roll-on roll-off transport, transshipment and transport of sand and gravel.

Inland waterway transport has been faced with overcapacity across Europe and the aging of the fleet of mainly smaller ships, the majority of which are owned by single-ship skippers. The Belgian inland waterway network is 1506 km long, of which 406 km is navigable for ships of 1350 tons and more.

Tourism

Plopsaland Belgium Photo: Public Domain

Due to the increased prosperity and increasing leisure time, tourism has also grown in importance for the Belgian economy since 1950. This is evident, for example, from the sharp increase in interest in recreational areas of all kinds (one-day tourism), but also from the number of overnight stays in Belgium. The main tourist areas in Belgium are: the coast: 26.6%; art historical cities (Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Tournai, Ghent, Leuven, Liège, Mechelen and Tongeren): 20.8%; Meuse and Ardennes: 22.5%; Kempen 18%; other tourist municipalities 12.2%.

The Ardennes attract tourists in both summer and winter. This area has an average of 40 to 75 snow days per year and has slopes for alpine skiing and cross-country trails.

Other econimic activities

SupermarketPhoto:Jean Housen Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

Belgian retail is more like French retail than Dutch. Shopping centers outside the city can be found both in France and in Belgium, originating from large supermarkets or hypermarchés. The Belgian retail trade is dominated by foreign companies, especially in the food and clothing sector.

Belgium was one of the first industrialized countries in Europe, but has developed much more into a service economy in recent decades. In 2017, services in Belgium contributed 77% to GDP. Many services are related to industry, varying from payroll companies, accountancy, legal services, call centers and consultancy. The service sector with many Belgian and also foreign companies is mainly located in the Brussels region, mainly because of its central location in Europe and the proximity of the many bodies of the European Union. Financial services make an important contribution to the gross national product. The many small banks in Belgium have grown into large groups through mergers with Dutch and French banks in particular.

The Belgian food sector with its many small companies ranks third in total Belgian industry in terms of turnover. Approx. 80% of exports go to EU countries.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Trappist beer Photo:Charly H Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

Belgium has everything for a varied holiday. There is a lot to see and do in large cities such as Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. You can walk and cycle through beautiful nature reserves such as the Ardennes and relax on the Belgian beaches with seaside resorts such as Knokke and Ostend and there is always time for a beer.

Brussels Grote Markt Photo: Vase PetrovskiPhoto:Vase Petrovski Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic no changes made

One of the tourist highlights of the capital Brussels and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 is the Grand Place (French: Grand-Place), with City Hall (15th century), the Broodhuis (which now houses the Museum of the City of Brussels) and various guild houses. Many tourists pose together with Manneken Pis and to a lesser extent with the female counterpart, Jeanneke Pis. Other important sights in Brussels are the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula (13th century) and the Mont des Arts, with a magnificent view over the city. There is also the Royal Palace of Brussels, built between 1774 and 1780 in the style of Louis XVI. Worth seeing are the picturesque neighborhood around the Grand Place, Ilôt Sacré; the shopping street of Brussels, Boulevard Waterloo; the Warandepark with a music kiosk, statues, fountains and open air theaters along the symmetrical avenues; the Sablon district (French: le Sablon) in the historic heart of Brussels with the Our Lady of the Sablon church, the Petit Sablon, a park in which 19th-century sculptors depict 48 old crafts in bronze and the Sunday antique market. A modern attraction is the Atomium, a futuristic atomic aluminum tower, built for the 1958 World Fair. Just south of Brussels is the site where the Battle of Waterloo was fought, the battle that had so much influence on the history of Belgium and the modern Europe.

Antwerp Het SteenPhoto:Jean-Pol GRANDMONT Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

Antwerp also has a Grote Markt with an imposing town hall and many guild houses, but also with the Brabofontein, which portrays the legend of the origin of Antwerp, and the 18th-century Groenplaats with a statue of the world-famous Antwerp painter Peter Paul Rubens. Antwerp is also known for the Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world and the Steen castle, the oldest building in Antwerp (early 13th century). A new feature is the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), which opened in May 2011 with 460,000 collection pieces about the city, harbor and shipping.

Bruges Photo:Jean-Christophe BENOIST Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

Historic Bruges offers the tourist a lot of cultural heritage, including the well-preserved picturesque center. The many originally medieval buildings were rebuilt or restored in a neo-Gothic style in the 19th century. Special are the annual Procession of the Holy Blood and the five-yearly Golden Tree Procession. Also in Bruges again a Grote Markt, with the Belfort of Halletoren, since 1999 included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The Bruggemuseum is the collective name for 12 museums, each of which tells something about the history of Bruges from its own perspective, including the Guido Gezellemuseum, the Gruuthusemuseum, the Museum of Ethnology and the Archeology Museum.

Graslei in GhentPhoto:Thomas Kindermans Creative Commons-licenties Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes made

Ghent has nearly 10,000 valuable real estate objects, and the city center is therefore full of sights. The face of the city is determined by the 'Ghent tower row', consisting of the Belfry Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tower of St. Batavian Cathedral and the Tower of St. Nicholas Church. The Book Tower of the university library is sometimes seen as the 'fourth' tower of Ghent. The Gravensteen is impressive, the only surviving medieval castle (12th century) in Flanders. In 1500 the later emperor Charles V was born in the Prinsenhof. Sint-Jorishof is the oldest hotel in Europe. In addition to the aforementioned churches, Ghent also has two medieval churches: St. Michael's Church and St. Jacob's Church.

Liège Photo:A.Savin Creative Commons - Atribuição-CompartilhaIgual 3.0 Não Adaptada no changes made

Liège is the largest city in Wallonia and is located on the Meuse, it is a very popular tourist destination. The history of Liège can be seen in the Grand Curtius museum, the industrial past is exhibited in the Maison de la Métallurgie et de l'Indindustrie de Liège, and life in Wallonia can be seen in the Musée de la Vie Wallonne. Other museums include the Museum of Walloon Art, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Musée des Transports and commun du Pays de Liège. For remarkable ecclesiastical architecture, the Romanesque St. Bartolomeus Church with its early 12th-century baptismal font, St. Martin's Basilica and St. Paul's Cathedral can be visited. The Montagne de Bueren is a challenge, a staircase with no less than 374 steps.

Flemish coast Photo: Luna04Photo:Luna04 Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding-Gelijk delen 3.0 Unported no changes

The Flemish Coast is an approximately 67-kilometer-long coastal strip on the North Sea and one of Belgium's most important tourist regions, although much of the nature has disappeared in the past fifty years due to ever-increasing urbanization. But Belgium's only coastal strip still has a lot to offer to tourists. In addition to beautiful beaches, culture, sports and history enthusiasts will also get their money's worth, and nature is also very worthwhile in some places. The most popular resorts are Blankenberge, Knokke, Middelkerke and Ostend, but visitors can also visit many museums, a number of amusement parks and sea aquariums.

Ardennes no changes Photo:Jean-Pol GRANDMONT Creative Commons-licentie Naamsvermelding 3.0 Unported

The Ardennes, an area that extends to France and Luxembourg, is a very popular holiday area in Wallonia, in the southeast of Belgium, a short distance from the Netherlands. The Ardennes are mainly an attraction for nature lovers, cyclists and hikers, in short, the active tourist. The Ardennes can be divided into an area with a quiet rolling landscape, the other part is more rugged with extensive forests, jagged rock formations and steep cliffs. Castles, farms and old villages point to a rich history, and World War II has also left its mark here. The castle of Bouillon is a medieval castle, consisting of three fortresses that are connected to each other; the Barvaux labyrinth is a magnet for young and old and has a different theme every year; Bastogne is home to the Bastogne Historical Center, the most important museum of the Battle of the Bulge; Plopsa Coo is an amusement park for the little ones at the waterfalls of Coo; The Han Caves in Han-sur-Lesse is one of the largest cave complexes in Europe.

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Sources

Belgium, a way of life
Lannoo

European Union: fifteen country documents

European Platform for Dutch Education

The Stateman's Yearbook: the politics, cultures and economies of the world
Macmillan Press Limited

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2021
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