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Kingdom of Belgium

Dutch: Koninkrijk België;
French: Royaume de Belgique

CAPITAL: Brussels (Brussel, Bruxelles)

FLAG: The flag, adopted in 1831, is a tricolor of black, yellow, and red vertical stripes.

ANTHEM: La Brabançonne (The Song of Brabant), named after the Duchy of Brabant.

MONETARY UNIT: The euro replaced the Belgian franc in 2002. The euro is divided into 100 cents. There are coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents and 1 euro; and 2 euros. There are notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. 1 = $1.25475 (or $1 = 0.79697) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Labor Day, 1 May; Independence Day, 21 July; Assumption Day, 15 August; All Saints' Day, 1 November; Armistice Day, 11 November; Dynasty Day, 15 November; and Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays are Easter Monday, Ascension, and Whitmonday.

TIME: 1 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in northwestern Europe, Belgium has an area of 30,510 sq km (11,780 sq mi) and extends 280 km (174 mi) senw and 222 km (137 mi) nesw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Belgium is about the same size as the state of Maryland. Belgium borders on the Netherlands to the n, Germany and Luxembourg to the e, France to the s and sw, and the North Sea to the nw, with a total boundary length of 1,385 km (859 mi).

Belgium's capital city, Brussels, is located in the north-central part of the country.


The coastal region, extending about 1648 km (1030 mi) inland, consists of sand dunes, flat pasture land, and polders (land reclaimed from the sea and protected by dikes), and attains a maximum of 15 m (50 ft) above sea level. Eastward, this region gradually gives way to a gently rolling central plain, whose many fertile valleys are irrigated by an extensive network of canals and waterways. Altitudes in this region are about 60180 m (200600 ft). The Ardennes, a heavily wooded plateau, is located in southeast Belgium and continues into France. It has an average altitude of about 460 m (1,500 ft) and reaches a maximum of 694 m (2,277 ft) at the Signal de Botrange, the country's highest point. Chief rivers are the Schelde (Scheldt, Escaut) and the Meuse (Maas), both of which rise in France, flow through Belgium, pass through the Netherlands, and empty into the North Sea.


In the coastal region, the climate is mild and humid. There are marked temperature changes farther inland. In the high southeasterly districts, hot summers alternate with very cold winters. Except in the highlands, rainfall is seldom heavy. The average annual temperature is 8°c (46°f); in Brussels, the mean temperature is 10°c (50°f), ranging from 3°c (37°f) in January to 18°c (64°f) in July. Average annual rainfall is between 70 and 100 cm (28 to 40 in).


The digitalis, wild arum, hyacinth, strawberry, goldenrod, lily of the valley, and other plants common to temperate zones grow in abundance. Beech and oak are the predominant trees. Among mammals still found in Belgium are the boar, fox, badger, squirrel, weasel, marten, and hedgehog. The many varieties of aquatic life include pike, carp, trout, eel, barbel, perch, smelt, chub, roach, bream, shad, sole, mussels, crayfish, and shrimp.


About 520 sq km (200 sq mi) of reclaimed coastal land is protected from the sea by concrete dikes. As of 2000, Belgium's most significant environmental problems were air, land, and water pollution due to the heavy concentration of industrial facilities in the country. The sources of pollution range from nuclear radiation to mercury from industry and pesticides from agricultural activity. The country's water supply is threatened by hazardous levels of heavy metals, mercury, and phosphorous. It has a renewable water supply of 12 cu km. Pollution of rivers and canals was considered the worst in Europe as of 1970, when strict water-protection laws were enacted.

Air pollution reaches dangerous levels due to high concentrations of lead and hydrocarbons. Belgium is also among the 50 nations that emit the highest levels of carbon dioxide from industrial sources. In 1996 its emission level was 106 million metric tons. Belgium's problems with air pollution have also affected neighboring countries by contributing to the conditions which cause acid rain.

The Ministry of Public Health and Environment is Belgium's principal environmental agency, and there is also a Secretary of State for Public Health and Environment. The Belgian government has created several environmental policies to eliminate the country's pollution problems: the 199095 plan on Mature Development, an Environmental Policy Plan, and the Waste Plan.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 9 types of mammals, 10 species of birds, 6 species of fish, 4 types of mollusks, and 7 other invertebrates. The Mediterranean mouflon, the Atlantic sturgeon, and the black right whale are listed as endangered. There are nine Ramsar wetland sites within the country.


The population of Belgium in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 10,458,000, which placed it at number 77 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 17% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 17% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 96 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 0.1%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 10,809,000. The population density was 342 per sq km (887 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 97% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.16%. The capital city, Brussels (Brussel, Bruxelles), had a population of 998,000 in that year. Other major urban areas are located within 100 km (60 mi) of Brussels. The largest cities and their estimated populations include Antwerp (Antwerpen, Anvers), 952,600; Gent (Ghent, Gand), 230,951; Charleroi, 206,779; Liège (Luik), 196,825; Brugge (Bruges), 117,172; and Namur (Namen), 106,213.

The government has conducted a census every 10 years since 1848. Since 1984 the registration of births and deaths has been delegated to the Flemish and Walloon language communities. Belgium's population has distinctive language and ethnic divisions. The Ardennes region in the south is the least densely populated region.


At the end of 2001, 862,000 persons of foreign nationality were living in Belgium. About 65% were those of other EU countries, primarily Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Spain. There were also a considerable number of Moroccans and Turks living in Belgium that year. In 2003 the foreign labor force in Belgium was 7.6%, and the foreign population was 8.3%. The net migration rate of Belgium was 1.23 migrants per 1,000 population as estimated for 2005.

As of 2004, Belgium hosted approximately 13,500 refugees. In 2004 there were 22,863 asylum applications, mostly from Russia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iran.


Two thousand years ago the population of Belgium, as mentioned by Julius Caesar in his book on the Gallic wars, was of Celtic stock. This population was displaced or lost its identity, however, during the great invasions that brought down the Roman Empire. The Salian Franks, who settled there during the 4th century ad, are considered the ancestors of Belgium's present population. The origin of the language frontier in Belgium has never been satisfactorily explained. In the indigenous population, the ratio of Flemings (Dutch speakers) to Walloons (French speakers) is about 5 to 3. In 2004, the Flemings constituted about 58% of the total population; Walloons accounted for 31.7%. The remaining 11% was comprised of those with mixed ancestry or other groups.


According to a 1970 constitutional revision, there are three official languages in BelgiumFrench, Dutch (also called Flemish), and German. Dutch is the language of the four provinces of Antwerp, Limburg, East Flanders (Oost-Vlaanderen), and West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen), which form the northern half of the country. French is the language of the four southern Walloon provinces of Hainaut, Liège, Luxembourg, and Namur. The central province of Brabant is divided into three districtsone French-speaking (Nivelles, Nijvel), one Dutch-speaking (Leuven, Louvain), and one bilingual (composed of the 19 boroughs of the capital city, Brussels). The majority of people in the Brussels metropolitan area are French-speaking. According to 2005 estimates, 60% of the total population speak Dutch (Flemish), 40% speak French, less than 1% speak German, and 11% are legally bilingual in Dutch and French.

The relationship between the two major language groups has been tense at times. For many years, French was the only official language. A series of laws enacted in the 1930s established equality between the two languages. Dutch became the language of administration, the schools, and the courts in the Flemish region (Flanders), while French continued to be the language of Wallonia. The use of German is regulated in the same way in the German-speaking municipalities in the province of Liège. As a rule, French is studied in all secondary schools in the Flemish region, while Dutch is a required secondary-school subject in Wallonia.

In 1963, a set of laws created four linguistic regions (with bilingual status for Brussels), a decision incorporated into the constitution in 1970. Subsequent legislation in 197174 provided for cultural autonomy, regional economic power, and linguistic equality in the central government. Disagreement over the future status of bilingual Brussels intensified during the late 1970s. In 1980, after a political crisis, the Flemish and Walloon regions were given greater autonomy, but the issue of Brussels, a predominantly French-speaking territory surrounded by a Dutch-speaking region, remained intractable and was deferred.


According to a 2001 Survey and Study of Religion conducted by universities within the country, about 47% of the population were nominally Roman Catholic. However, other sources have reported that Roman Catholics account for as high as 75% of the population. The Roman Catholic Church estimates that of its total Belgian membership, only about 1015% are active participants.

Based on the Survey and Study of Religion, the Muslim population numbered about 364,000, most of whom were Sunni. Protestants numbered between 125,000 and 140,000. Greek and Russian Orthodox adherents numbered about 70,000. The Jewish community was approximately 45,000 to 55,000 and Anglicans numbered approximately 10,800. The largest unrecognized religions included the Jehovah's Witnesses, with 27,000 members, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), with about 3,000 members. About 350,000 people belong to laics, the government's term for nonconfessional philosophical organizations. Estimates indicate that up to 15% of the population do not practice any religion at all. About 7.4% claim to follow the tenets of nonconfessional philosophical organizations (laic ).

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. The government gives "recognized" status to Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Anglicanism, Islam, and Orthodox Christianity. These groups are allowed to receive some funding from the government. Laic groups are also considered as a recognized religion. Some social discrimination has been reported by Jews, Muslims, and members of "unrecognized" groups.


In 2004, the densest railway network in the world comprised 3,521 km (2,190 mi) of track operated by the government-controlled Belgian National Railway Co., of which 2,927 km (1,821 mi) was electrified. In addition, Belgium has a regional railway network of 27,950 km (17,367 mi). The road network in 2003 comprised 149,757 km (89,417 mi) of highways, of which 117,110 km (72,842 mi) were paved, including 1,747 km (1,087 mi) of expressways. All major European highways pass through Belgium. In 2003, Belgium had 4,793,271 passenger cars and 661,948 commercial vehicles registered for use.

Inland waterways comprise 2,043 km (1,270 mi) of rivers and canals, and are linked with those of France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 2003, a total of 1,570 km (976 mi) of these waterways are in regular commercial use. The chief port, Antwerp (one of the world's busiest ports), on the Scheldt River, about 84 km (52 mi) from the sea, handles three-fourths of the country's foreign cargo. Other leading ports are Gent and Zeebrugge. Liège is the third-largest inland river port in Western Europe, after Duisburg, Germany, and Paris. In 2005 the Belgian merchant fleet was comprised of 53 vessels, with a total of 1,146,301 GRT. The fleet numbered 101 ships (2.2 million GRT) in 2002, but offshore registry programs and so-called "flags of convenience" have enticed ship owners into foreign registry.

In 2004, there were an estimated 43 airports. As of 2005 a total of 25 had paved runways, and there was also a single heliport. The Belgian national airline, Sabena, formed in 1923, is the third-oldest international airline. Brussels National Airport, an important international terminus, is served by more than 30 major airlines. In 2003, a total of 2.904 million passengers flew on scheduled domestic and international flights.


Belgium is named after the Belgae, a Celtic people whose territory was conquered in 57 bc by Julius Caesar and was organized by him as Gallia Belgica. In 15 bc, Augustus made Gallia Belgica (which at that time included much of present-day France) a province of the Roman Empire. In the 5th century ad, it was overrun by the Franks, and in the 8th century, it became part of the empire of Charlemagne. But this empire soon fell apart, and in the 10th century there emerged several feudal units that later would become provinces of Belgium. These included the counties of Flanders, Hainaut, and Namur, the duchy of Brabant, and the prince-bishopric of Liège. During the three following centuries, trade flourished in the towns of the county of Flanders. Antwerp, Bruges, Ypres (Ieper), and Ghent in particular became very prosperous. In the 15th century, most of the territory that currently forms Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourgformerly called the Low Countries and now called the Benelux countriescame under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy as the result of a shrewd policy of intermarriage. Through the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Archduke Maximilian of Austria, those same provinces, then collectively known as the Netherlands, became part of the Habsburg Empire in the early 1500s. When Maximilian's grandson Emperor Charles V divided his empire, the Netherlands was united with Spain (1555) under Philip II, who dedicated himself to the repression of Protestantism. His policies resulted in a revolt led by the Protestants.

Thus began a long war, which, after a 12-year truce (160921), became intermingled with the Thirty Years' War. Under the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years' War, independence was granted to the northern Protestant provinces. The southern half remained Roman Catholic and under Spanish rule. By this time, the southern Low Countries (the territory now known as Belgium) had become embroiled in Franco-Spanish power politics. Belgium was invaded on several occasions, and part of its territory was lost to France.

Under the Peace of Utrecht (1713), which concluded the War of the Spanish Succession, Belgium became part of the Austrian Empire. The country was occupied by the French during the War of the Austrian Succession (1744) but was restored to Austria by the Treaty of Aixla-Chapelle (1748). Belgium entered a period of recovery and material progress under Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II. The latter's administrative reforms created widespread discontent, however, which culminated in the Révolution Brabançonne of 1789. Leopold II, successor to Joseph II, defeated the Belgians and reoccupied the country, but his regime won little popular support. In 1792, the French army invaded the Belgian provinces, which were formally ceded to France by the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797). This French regime was defeated by the anti-Napoleonic coalition at Waterloo in 1815.

Belgium was united with the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This action caused widespread discontent, culminating in a series of uprisings. The Dutch were compelled to retreat, and on 4 October 1830, Belgium was declared independent by a provisional government. The powers of the Congress of Vienna met again at London in June 1831 and accepted the separation of Belgium and the Netherlands. However, William I, king of the United Netherlands, refused to recognize the validity of this action. On 2 August 1831, he invaded Belgium, but the Dutch force was repulsed by a French army. In 1839, he was forced to accept the Treaty of the XXIV Articles, by which Belgian independence was formally recognized. The European powers guaranteed Belgium's status as "an independent and perpetually neutral state."

In 1831, the Belgian Parliament had chosen Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as ruler of the new kingdom, which was already in the process of industrialization. In 1865, Leopold I was succeeded by Leopold II (r.18651909), who financed exploration and settlement in the Congo River Basin of Africa, thereby laying the foundations of Belgium's colonial empire. Leopold's nephew, Albert I, came to the throne in 1909. At the outbreak of World War I, German troops invaded Belgium (4 August 1914). The Belgian army offered fierce resistance, but by the end of November 1914, the only Belgian towns not occupied by the Germans were Nieuport (Nieuwpoort), Furnes (Veurne), and Ypres. Belgium, on the side of the Allies, continued to struggle to liberate the kingdom. Ypres, in particular, was the scene of fierce fighting: nearly 100,000 men lost their lives at a battle near there in April and May 1915 (during which the Germans used chlorine gas), and at least 300,000 Allied troops lost their lives in this region during an offensive that lasted from late July to mid-November 1917.

Under the Treaty of Versailles (1919), Germany ceded to Belgium the German-speaking districts of Eupen, Malmédy, St. Vith, and Moresnet. The country made a remarkable recovery from the war, and by 1923, manufacturing industries were nearly back to normal. After a heated controversy with Germany over reparations payments, Belgium joined France in the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923. In 1934, Leopold III succeeded Albert.

Belgium was again attacked on 10 May 1940, when, without warning, the German air force bombed Belgian airports, railroad stations, and communications centers, and Belgian soil was invaded. Antwerp fell on 18 May and Namur on 23 May. By the end of the month, British, French, and Belgian forces were trapped in northwestern Belgium. King Leopold III surrendered unconditionally on 28 May and was taken prisoner of war. The Belgian government-in-exile, in London, continued the war on the side of the Allies. With the country's liberation from the Germans by the Allies and the well-organized Belgian underground, the Belgian government returned to Brussels in September 1944. During the Allied landings in Normandy, King Leopold III had been deported to Germany. In his absence, his brother Prince Charles was designated by parliament as regent of the kingdom.

The country was economically better off after World War II than after World War I. However, a tense political situation resulted from the split that had developed during the war years between Leopold III and the exiled government in London, which had repudiated the king's surrender. After his liberation by the US 7th Army, the king chose to reside in Switzerland. On 12 March 1950, 57.7% of the Belgian electorate declared itself in favor of allowing Leopold III to return as sovereign. The general elections of 4 June 1950 gave an absolute majority to the Christian Social Party, which favored his return, and on 22 July 1950, Leopold came back from exile. But the Socialists and Liberals continued to oppose his resumption of royal prerogatives, and strikes, riots, and demonstrations ensued. On 1 August 1950, Leopold agreed to abdicate, and on 17 July 1951, one day after Leopold actually gave up his throne, his son Baudouin I was formally proclaimed king.

In 1960, the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), a major vestige of Belgium's colonial empire, became independent. The event was followed by two years of brutal civil war, involving mercenaries from Belgium and other countries. Another Belgian territory in Africa, Ruanda-Urundi, became independent as the two states of Rwanda and Burundi in 1962.

Belgium was transferred into a federal state in July 1993. The country is divided into three regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels) and three linguistic communities (Flemish, French, and German). Voters directly elect members to the regional parliaments. The French-speaking branch of the Socialist party dominates Wallonia while the Dutch-speaking faction of the Christian Democratic Party governs Flanders. As a participant in the Marshall Plan, a member of NATO, and a leader in the movement for European integration, Belgium shared fully in the European prosperity of the first three postwar decades. Domestic political conflict during this period centered on the unequal distribution of wealth and power between Flemings and Walloons. The Flemings generally contended that they were not given equal opportunity with the Walloons in government and business and that the Dutch language was regarded as inferior to French. The Walloons, in turn, complained of their minority status and the economic neglect of their region and feared being outnumbered by the rapidly growing Flemish population. In response to these conflicts, and after a series of cabinet crises, a revised constitution adopted in 1970 created the framework for complete regional autonomy in economic and cultural spheres. In July 1974, legislation provided for the granting of autonomy to Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels upon a two-thirds vote in parliament. However, the necessary consensus could not be realized. In 1977, a Christian SocialSocialist coalition proposed to establish a federal administration representing the three regions, but could not obtain parliamentary approval for the proposal. In 1980, however, following several acts of violence as a result of the dispute, parliament allowed the establishment in stages of regional executive and legislative bodies for Flanders and Wallonia, with administrative control over cultural affairs, public health, roads, and urban projects.

Labor unrest and political violence has erupted in the past. In 1982, as a result of an industrial recession, worsened by rising petroleum prices and debt servicing costs, the government imposed an austerity program; an intensification of the austerity program, announced in May 1986, aimed to cut public sector spending, restrain wages, and simplify the taxation system. Vigorous tradeunion protests have taken place to protest the freezing of wages and cuts in social security payments. Belgium has one of the largest national debts in Western Europe. Since 1995, however, unions have gone along with pay freezes to restore profitability and improve labor market performance.

A riot in May 1985, at a soccer match between English and Italian clubs, caused the death of 39 spectators and precipitated a political crisis. The government coalition collapsed over charges of inefficient policing, and a general election returned the Christian SocialLiberal alliance to power in November 1985. This in turn accelerated terrorist attacks on public places as well as NATO facilities, responsibility for which was claimed by an extreme left-wing group, Cellules Combattantes Communistes (CCC). Security was tightened in 1986. Linguistic disputes between the French- and Dutch-speaking sections have continued to break out. Extremist parties have sought to capitalize on anti-immigrant feeling among the general population. The Flemish Blok (now Flemish Interest) has been the third-largest party in Flanders and openly advocates an independent Flanders in order to get rid of French-speakers and foreigners.

Economic performance was buoyant from 1996, with growth rates averaging close to 3%; however, with the global economic downturn of the beginning of the 21st century, Belgium's growth rates have lowered. Belgium joined the European economic and monetary union in January 1999 with no problems. Actual unemployment was around 12% as of 2004 but was closer to 20% if elderly unemployed people and people in special government-sponsored programs were included.

Parliamentary elections were held on 18 May 2003, and the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD) finished first in the Flemish elections, defeating the Socialists and Christian Democrats, and the far-right Vlaams Blok. In Wallonia, the Socialists came in first. In both elections, the Greens suffered. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, in office since 1999, formed a center-left coalition of Liberals and Socialists after the May elections. Under Verhofstadt's leadership, Belgium legalized euthanasia and the use of marijuana, and approved gay marriages.

Under Belgium's "universal jurisdiction" law, enacted in 1993, Belgian courts can hear cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity even if the crimes were not committed in Belgium and did not involve Belgian citizens. Amendments to the law in April 2003 made it harder to bring a case where neither victim, plaintiff, nor accused were Belgian. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former US president George H. W. Bush were charged with war crimes under the law, relating to the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon, and the bombing of a civilian shelter in the 1991 Gulf War, respectively. Due to pressure from the United States, Belgian courts now may try only cases which involve charges against Belgian citizens or people resident in Belgium.

The European Union was divided over the use of military force by the United States and UK in the months leading up to the war in Iraq that began on 19 March 2003. Belgium stood with France and Germany in opposing a military response to the crisis.

In 2004, the far-right Vlaams Blok increased its share of the vote in regional and European elections. However, the Belgian High Court ruled that the party was racist and stripped it of the right to state funding and access to television. The party was subsequently reorganized under a new name, the Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest.

In May 2005, the government survived a confidence vote, enabling it to put to rest a dispute over the voting rights of French speakers in Dutch-speaking areas around Brussels. This came after months of negotiations over the issue, which sparked demonstrations and riots and brought the government to the brink of collapse.


Belgium is a hereditary monarchy governed under the constitution of 1831. This document has been frequently amended in recent years to grant recognition and autonomy to the Dutch- and French-speaking communities. Executive power is vested in the king, who appoints and removes ministers, civil servants, judges, and officers. In June 1991, parliament approved a constitutional amendment to allow female members of the royal family to succeed to the throne. The monarch, however, would continue to be known as king regardless of gender.

With approval of parliament, the king has the power to declare war and conclude treaties; he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. According to the constitution, the king's rights include conferring titles of nobility, granting pardons, and administering the coinage of money. However, none of the king's acts becomes effective unless countersigned by a minister, who assumes responsibility for such acts before parliament. Therefore, the king must choose ministers who represent the majority in parliament. Each ministry is created in response to necessity, and there is no fixed number of ministers.

Legislative power is vested in the king and in the two-chamber parliament. The Chamber of Representatives has 150 members, who are elected for a four-year term through a system of proportional representation. The Senate has 71 members, with 40 directly elected and 31 indirectly elected or co-opted for a four-year term. All persons 18 years of age and older are entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, and those who fail to vote are subject to fines. In time of emergency, the king may convoke extraordinary sessions. The government and both chambers may introduce legislation, and both chambers have equal rights. When a bill is introduced, a committee examines it and appoints a rapporteur, who reports on it before the full assembly. The king may dissolve the chambers either simultaneously or separately, but an election must be provided for within 40 days and a session of the new parliament must meet within two months.

In accordance with the constitutional reform of 1980, there are three communities: the Dutch-, the French-, and the German-speaking communities. They have, in a wholly autonomous manner, responsibility for cultural affairs, education, and for matters concerning the individual. There are also three regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels), which are responsible for the regional aspects of a broad range of concerns, including the economy, energy, public works and housing, employment, and environmental policy. The institutions of the communities and regions are based on the same principles as those of the national political structure: each entity has a "regional parliament" (the council), whose decisions are implemented by a "regional government" (the executive). The council and the executive are directly elected and can only be brought down by a vote of no confidence.

On 14 July 1993, parliament approved a constitutional revision creating a federal state.


Political parties in Belgium are organized along ethnolinguistic lines, with each group in Flanders having its Walloon counterpart. The three major political alliances are the Christian Social parties, which have consisted of the Parti Social Chrétien (PSC) and the Christelijke Volkspartij (CVP); the Socialist parties, the Parti Socialiste (PS) and Socialistische Partij (SP); and the Liberal parties, Parti Réformateur et Liberal (PRL) and Flemish Liberal Democrats (VLD). The People's Union (Volksunie, or VU) was the Flemish nationalistic party, while the French-speaking Democratic Front (Front Démocratique des FrancophonesFDF) affirms the rights of the French-speaking population of Brussels. The Flemish Interest (Vlaams BelangVB) is separatist and antiforeigner while the much smaller far-right National Front (Front NationaleFN) is openly racist and xenophobic. In 2001, the CVP was renamed the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party (CD and V); the SP was renamed the Social Progressive Alternative Party, or SPA; and the VU split into two partsthe conservative wing established the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), and the left-liberal wing became the Spirit Party. Groen! (formerly AGALEV) is the Flemish Green Party, and ECOLO represents francophone Greens. In 2002, the PSC was renamed the Democratic Humanistic Center (CDH), and the PRL, FDF, and the MCC or Movement of Citizens for Change (created in 1998 by a former leader of the francophone Christian Democrats), formed a new alliance called the Reform Movement (MR). Although these changes in parties' names and new groupings have taken place in the last few years, the Belgian political landscape has not been seriously reorganized.

Following the 13 June 1999 election, party strength in the Chamber of Representatives was as follows: CVP, 14.1% (22 seats); PS, 10.1% (19 seats); SP, 9.6% (14 seats); VLD, 14.31% (23 seats); PRL, 10.1% (18 seats); PSC, 5.9% (10 seats); VB, 9.9% (15 seats); VU, 5.6% (8 seats); ECOLO, 7.3% (11 seats); AGALEV, 7.0% (9 seats); FN 1.5% (1 seat) (150 total seats).

The 1999 election ended the political career of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Flemish Christian Democrat who led a center-left coalition of francophone and Flemish socialists and his francophone Christian Democratic Party throughout the 1990s. Six parties (French-speaking and Dutch-speaking branches of the Liberal, Socialist, and Green parties) reached a core agreement only three weeks after the election on forming a "blue-red-green" coalition government. It was Belgium's first government in 40 years not to include the Christian Democrats, the first to include the Greens, and the first since 1884 to be led by a Liberal prime minister (Guy Verhofstadt).

The presence of the Greens means a commitment to a progressive withdrawal from nuclear energy, starting with gradual decommissioning of nuclear power stations more than 40 years old. However, the Greens were dealt a setback in the 2003 elections. In the 18 May 2003 elections, the party strength was distributed as follows: VLD, 15.4% (25 seats); SP.A-Spirit, 14.9% (23 seats); CD and V, 13.2% (21 seats); PS, 13% (25 seats); VB, 11.6% (18 seats); MR, 11.4% (24 seats); CDH, 5.5% (8 seats); N-VA, 3.1% (1 seat); ECOLO, 3.1% (4 seats); AGALEV, 2.5%, no seats; FN, 2%, (1 seat), and Vivant (Alive), a human rights party, took 1.2% of the vote but secured no seats. Verhofstadt formed a center-left coalition government.


Belgium is divided into 10 provinces: Antwerp, East Flanders, West Flanders, and Limburg in the north, Hainaut, Liège, Luxembourg, and Namur in the south, Flemish Brabant, and Walloon Brabant. Each of the provinces has a council of 50 to 90 members elected for four-year terms by direct suffrage and empowered to legislate in matters of local concern. A governor, appointed by the king, is the highest executive officer in each province.

There are 482 communes. Each municipality has a town council elected for a six-year term. The council elects an executive body called the board of aldermen. The head of the municipality is the burgomaster, who is appointed by the sovereign upon nomination by the town council. Recently, the number of municipalities has been greatly reduced through consolidation.

In 1971, Brussels was established as a separate bilingual area, presided over by a proportionally elected metropolitan council. Linguistic parity was stipulated for the council's executive committee.


Belgian law is modeled on the French legal system. The judiciary is an independent branch of government on an equal footing with the legislative and the executive branches. Minor offenses are dealt with by justices of the peace and police tribunals. More serious offenses and civil lawsuits are brought before district courts of first instance. Other district courts are commerce and labor tribunals. Verdicts rendered by these courts may be appealed before five regional courts of appeal or the five regional labor courts in Antwerp, Brussels, Gent, Mons, and Liège. All offenses punishable by prison sentences of more than five years must be dealt with by the 11 courts of assize (one for each province and the city of Brussels), the only jury courts in Belgium. The highest courts are five civil and criminal courts of appeal and the supreme Court of Cassation. The latter's function is to verify that the law has been properly applied and interpreted. The constitutionality of legislation is the province of the Council of State, an advisory legal group.

When an error of procedure is found, the decision of the lower court is overruled and the case must be tried again. The death penalty was abolished for all crimes in Belgium in 1996.

A system of military tribunals, including appellate courts, handles both military and commonlaw offenses involving military personnel. The government is considering narrowing the jurisdiction of these courts to military offenses. All military tribunals consist of four officers and a civilian judge.

Detainees must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Although there are provisions for bail, it is rarely granted. Defendants have right to be present, to have counsel, to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to appeal.


Belgium's active armed forces in 2005 numbered 36,900, with 18,650 reservists. In terms of personnel, the army is the largest, with 24,800 active members (4,200 reservists), followed by the air force with 6,350 active members (1,600 reservists), and the navy with 2,450 active personnel (1,200 reservists). Belgium also has an 1,800 active member medical service (850 reservists) and a Joint Service force of 1,500 active members (2,200 reservists). The army is equipped with 52 main battle tanks, 104 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 223 armored personnel carriers, and 132 artillery pieces (48 self-propelled). The air force operated 90 combat aircraft, in addition to 36 transports, two early warning/electronic intelligence aircraft, and 49 helicopters. The navy operates a pair of guided missile frigates in addition to one patrol vessel, and six mine warfare/counter measures/hunter ships and nine logistics and support vessels. In 2005 Belgium spent $3.35 billion on defense.


Belgium is a charter member of the UN, having joined on 27 December 1945, and participates in ECE and all the nonregional specialized agencies. Paul-Henri Spaak of Belgium served as the UN General Assembly's first president (194647); from 1957 to 1961, he also served as the secretary-general of NATO, of which Belgium is also a member. The country has been partnered with Luxembourg in the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU) since 1922. In 1958, Belgium signed a treaty forming the Benelux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg) Economic Union, following a 10-year period in which a customs union of the three countries was in effect. Belgium is also a member of the Asian Development Bank, Council of Europe, the European Union, the European Investment Bank, the Paris Club (G-10), G-9, the Western European Union, and OECD. It is also is a permanent observer of the OAS and a member of the OSCE (1973) and the WTO (1995).

Brussels, the seat of EU institutions, has become an important regional center for Western Europe. In 1967, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was transferred from Rocquencourt, near Paris, to a site near Mons. On 16 October 1967, the NATO Council's headquarters were moved from Paris to Brussels. Belgium is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Belgium is part of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group), the Australia Group, the Nuclear Energy Agency, the European Space Agency, the Zangger Committee, and the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The country has offered support for UN efforts in Kosovo (est. 1999), India and Pakistan (est. 1949), Burundi (est. 2004), and the DROC (est. 1999).

In environmental cooperation, Belgium is part of the Antarctic Treaty, the Basel Convention, the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


In relation to its size and population, Belgium is among the most highly industrialized countries in Europe. Poor in natural resources, it imports raw materials in great quantity and processes them largely for export. Exports equal around 80% of GDP, and about three-quarters of Belgium's foreign trade is with other EU countries.

With the exception of Luxembourg and Ireland, Belgium is the most open economy in the EU as measured by the value of exports and imports relative to GDP, and one of the most open in the world. Belgium's economy is highly integrated with that of its three main neighborsGermany, France, and the Netherlands.

For a century and a half, Belgium maintained its status as an industrial country, not only by virtue of its geographical position and transport facilities but also because of its ability for most of this period to shape production to meet the changing requirements of world commerce. Since the 1950s, the Belgian parliament enacted economic expansion laws to enable long-established industries to modernize obsolete plant equipment. Belgium's highly developed transportation systems are closely linked with those of its neighbors. Its chief port, Antwerp, is one of the world's busiest. Belgium has a highly skilled and productive workforce, and the economy is diversified. By 2004, the service sector accounted for approximately 73% of GDP, followed by industry (25.7%) and agriculture (1.3%).

Real growth averaged 5.4% annually during 196773 but, like that of other OECD countries, slumped to 2.5% during 197380, and 0.7% during 198185. It averaged 2.6% during 198491 and was 2.3% in 1995. In 1993, Belgium's recession was the most severe in the EU after Germany's. By 1998, real growth stood at 2.8%. Real GDP growth in 2003 was 1.1% due to the global economic downturn existing in 200103. Growth picked up in 2004, to 2.7%, but was expected to slow to 1.3% in 2005, due to the impact of high oil prices on Belgium and its export markets. A slight recovery was forecast for 2006 (1.7%) and 2007 (2%). Average inflation was forecast at 2.7% in 2005, 2.5% in 2006, and 2.1% in 2007. The government will need to keep the budget from falling into deficit; budget surpluses will be needed until around 2030 to provide for the costs of an aging population. The 2006 budget was expected to be in balance for the seventh year in a row.

In 1993, when Belgium became a federal state with three distinct regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels), substantial economic powers were given to each region, such as jurisdiction over industrial development, research, trade promotion, and environmental regulation. Belgium has been seen as a "laboratory state," in that its federal system might stand as a precursor to a more unified EU based on regional divisions.

In 2004 Belgium had the fourth-highest standard of living in the world. However, being a highly taxed and indebted country, some businesses have stated Belgium stifles private enterprise.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Belgium's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $329.3 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $31,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 2.7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 1% of GDP, industry 24%, and services 74.9% in 2004.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $3.933 billion or about $378 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.3% of GDP.

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Belgium totaled $165.38 billion or about $15,902 per capita based on a GDP of $301.9 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 1.8%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 17% of household consumption was spent on food, 8% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 1% on education. It was estimated that in 1989 about 4% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


As of 2005, the Belgian workforce was estimated at 4.77 million people. In 2003, it was estimated that the service industry employed 74.2% of workers, while 24.5% were employed in industry, and 1.3% in agriculture. The overall unemployment rate climbed to 12% in 1998, but fell to 7.2% by 2002. In 2005, unemployment had risen slightly to an estimated 7.6%.

The law provides workers with the right to associate freely and workers fully exercise their right to organize and join unions. Approximately 63% of the country's workforce (employed and unemployed) are union members. Workers have a broad right to strike except in "essential" industries including the military. A single collective bargaining agreement, negotiated every other year, covers about 2.4 million private sector workers. This gives unions considerable control over economic policy. In addition, unions also freely exercise the right to strike.

Belgium has a five-day, 38-hour workweek. Overtime pay is time-and-a-half on Mondays through Saturdays, with double-time paid on Sundays. Overtime is limited to 11 hours daily and up to 50 hours weekly. In addition, an 11-hour rest period is required between two work periods. Children under the age of 15 years are prohibited from working. Those between the ages of 15 and 18 may engage in part-time work-study programs, or work during school vacations. Child labor laws and standards are strictly enforced. In 2005, the national minimum wage was $1,492 per month, in addition to extensive social benefits. This minimum wage provides a decent standard of living for workers and their families.


Agriculture's role in the economy continues to decrease. In 2003, about 1.3% of the employed population worked on farms, compared with 3.7% in 1973. Agriculture's share in the GNP fell from 3.8% in 1973 to about 1.5% in 2002. Many marginal farms have disappeared; the remaining farms are small but intensively cultivated. Average farm size grew from 6.17 hectares (15.2 acres) in 1959 to 26.88 hectares (66.4 acres) in 2005, when there were 51,540 farms (down from 269,060 in 1959). About 80% of the country's food needs are covered domestically. The richest farm areas are in Flanders and Brabant. About 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres), or 45% of Belgium's total area, are under cultivation. Over half the land cultivated is used for pastureland or green fodder; one-quarter is used for the production of cereals. Total production of grains in 2004 was around 2.5 million tons, of which wheat accounted for about 65%; corn, 22%; barley, 10%; and spelt, triticale, oats, rye, and other grains, 8%.

Government price policy encourages increased production of wheat and barley with decreasing production of rye and oats. Increased emphasis is being placed on horticulture, and nearly all fruits found in temperate climates are grown in Belgium. Chief among these are apples, pears, and cherries. Producers of tomatoes and apples were obliged to refrain from marketing part of their 1992 harvests in order to hold up prices. Tomato production in 2004 totaled 250,000 tons, about 1% of European production.

Belgium imports considerable quantities of bread and feed grains, fodder concentrates, and fruits. Its only agricultural exports are processed foods and a few specialty items such as endive, chicory, flower bulbs, sugar, and chocolates. In 2004, agricultural products amounted to 8.6% of exports; there was an agricultural trade surplus of $3.2 billion that year. Imports from other EU countries account for 85% of agricultural imports.


Livestock raising is the most important single sector of Belgian agriculture, accounting for over 60% of agricultural production. In 2004 there were about 2.7 million head of cattle, 6.4 million hogs, 151,000 sheep, and 33,000 horses. Belgian farmers breed some of the finest draft horses in the world, including the famous Percherons.

The country is self-sufficient in butter, milk, meat, and eggs. Some cheese is imported, mainly from the Netherlands. Milk production amounted to 3.35 million tons in 2004.


The chief fishing ports are Zeebrugge and Ostend (Oostende, Ostende), from which a fleet of 156 boats (with a combined 23,262 GRT) sail the North Atlantic from the North Sea to Iceland. The total catch in 2003 was 27,800 tons, whose exports were valued at $762.4 million. Principal species caught that year were plaice, sole, turbot, and cod.


Forests cover 21% of the area of Belgium. Commercial production of timber is limited; roundwood production in 2003 was estimated at 4.76 million cu m (168 million cu ft). Most common trees are beech and oak, but considerable plantings of conifers have been made in recent years. Belgium serves as a large transshipment center for temperate hardwood logs, softwood lumber, and softwood plywood. Large quantities of timber for the woodworking industry are typically imported from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The total output of Belgium's wood processing and furniture industry in 2004 was 5.65 billion, with furniture accounting for 52%; wood panels, 22%; and construction, packing, and other wood products, 26%.

The total value of exports of forest products in 2003 was $4.7 billion, with imports of $3.9 billion. Belgium's wood processing industry consists of over 2,000 enterprises, 65% of which are furniture manufacturers, typically with fewer than five employees.


Belgium's only remaining active mining operations in 2003 were for the production of sand and gravel and the quarrying of some stone, including specialty marbles and the Belgian bluegray limestone called "petit granite." An important producer of marble for more than 2,000 years, Belgium was recognized for the diversity and quality of its dimension stone. All the marble quarries are in Wallonia, and red, black, and gray are the principal color ranges of the marble. The country was an important producer of such industrial materials as carbonates, including limestone, dolomite, silica sand, whiting, and sodium sulfate.

The mineral-processing industry was a significant contributor to the Belgian economy. The refining of copper, zinc, and minor metals, and the production of steel (all from imported materials), were the most developed mineral industries in Belgium. The country possessed Europe's largest electrolytic copper and zinc refineries, and one of the continent's largest lead refineries. In addition, Belgium retained its position as the world's diamond capital. Estimated production figures for 2003, in metric tons, included: secondary copper, 125,000 and primary zinc, 230,000. Hydraulic cement output in 2003 totaled 8 million tons, with lime and dead-burned dolomite at 1.7 million tons. Quarried Belgian bluestone, or petit granite, totaled 1.2 million cu m in 2003. Petite granite, which is actually a dark bluegray crinoidal limestone, was one of the most important facing stones the country produces.

Belgium was once a major producer of coal, as the Belgian coal mining industry dates back to the 12th century. Coal was mined in the Sambre-Meuse Valley; the last mines closed in 1992. Metallic mining was in its heyday from 1850 to 1870, after which mining activity decreased until the last iron ore operations at Musson and Halanzy were closed in 1978. Belgium has no economically exploitable reserves of metal ores.


In 1998 there were about 120 power stations operating in Belgium; capacity as of 2002 was 14.223 million kW. Electricity generated in that year totaled 76.516 billion kWh, of which 44.992 billion kWh was from nuclear sources and 29.535 kWh came from fossil fuels. In 1981, only 25% of the nation's power was from nuclear sources. By 2002, that figure had risen to 40%, or 5.738 million kW. Hydroelectric generation in 2002 totaled 0.356 billion kWh, while geothermal and other sources accounted for 1.633 kWh. Electricity consumption in the same year was 78.760 billion kWh. The principal sources of primary energy for conventional power production are low-grade coal and byproducts of the oil industry. Belgium is heavily dependent on imports of crude oil, but it exports refined oil products. Power rates in Belgium are regulated through a voluntary agreement between labor, industry, and private power interests. In 2000, total energy consumption was 2.8 quadrillion Btu, of which 45% came from petroleum, 23% from natural gas, 12% from coal, 17% from nuclear energy, and the remainder from hydroelectric and other renewable sources.


Industry, highly developed in Belgium, is devoted mainly to the processing of imported raw materials into semifinished and finished products, most of which are then exported. Industry accounted for 24% of GDP in 2004. Steel production is the single most important sector of industry, with Belgium ranking high among world producers of iron and steel. However, it must import all its iron ore, which comes principally from Brazil, West Africa, and Venezuela. About fourfifths of Belgium's steel products and more than three-quarters of its crude steel output are exported. In recent years, Belgian industry has been hampered by high labor costs, aging plant facilities, and a shrinking market for its products. Nevertheless, industrial production rose by nearly 11% between 1987 and 1991, as a result of falling energy costs (after 1985) and financial costs, and only a moderate rise in wage costs. Industrial production continued to rise in the late 1990s; 1997 registered a 4% growth rate, while it slowed to 3.1% in 1998. The industrial growth rate in 2000 was 5.3%; it was -0.5% in 2001, due to the global economic downturn, and rebounded to an estimated 3.5% in 2004.

Production of crude steel declined from 16.2 million tons in 1974 to 11.3 million tons in 1991, while the output of finished steel dropped from 12.2 million tons to 8.98 million tons. In 2004, Belgium's total crude steel production was 11.7 million metric tons. Belgium as a steel-producing country ranked 18th in the world in 2004, and was the 5th largest steel exporting country in the world. The industry employs some 19,500 people. By 1981, 60% of all Belgian steel production and 80% of all Wallonian steel (concentrated in Charleroi and Liège) came under the control of a single company, the government-owned Cockerill-Sambre. Government subsidies for this firm ended (in conformity with EC policy) in 1985. In 1998, French-owned Usinor agreed to take over Cockerill-Sambre, the last major steel making enterprise in Wallonia. As a result of this and other mergers, the Belgian steel industry is now dominated by one multinational company, Arcelor, based in Luxembourg. Arcelor, which was created in 2001, is the largest steel company in the world and is a merger of Usinor, Arbed, and Arcelia.

Belgium also produces significant amounts of crude copper, crude zinc, and crude lead. The bulk of metal manufactures consists of heavy machinery, structural steelwork, and industrial equipment. The railroad equipment industry supplies one of the most extensive railroad systems in Europe. An important ship-building industry is centered in Temse, south of Antwerp. Belgian engineering and construction firms have built steel plants, chemical works, power stations, port facilities, and office buildings throughout the world.

Belgium's automotive industry has always been one of the strongest components of its economy. Belgium is a world leader in the car assembly industry; with nearly 95% of its output designed for export, Belgium has the highest per capita production in the world. Belgium's local automotive production in 2003 was estimated at $23.5 billion.

The textile industry, dating from the Middle Ages, produces cottons, woolens, linens, and synthetic fibers. With the exception of flax, all raw materials are imported. Centers of the textile industry are Bruges, Brussels, Verviers, Gent, Courtrai (Kortrijk), and Malines (Mechelen). Carpets are made in large quantities at Saint-Nicolas (Sint-Niklaas). Brussels and Bruges are noted for fine linen and lace. Foreign competition has cut into the Belgian textile industry, however. Following the expiration of the World Trade Organization's longstanding system of textile quotas at the beginning of 2005, the EU signed an agreement with China in June 2005 imposing new quotas on 10 categories of textile goods, limiting growth in those categories to between 8% and 12.5% a year. The agreement runs until 2007, and was designed to give European textile manufacturers time to adjust to a world of unfettered competition. Nevertheless, barely a month after the EU-China agreement was signed, China reached its quotas for sweaters, followed soon after by blouses, bras, T-shirts, and flax yarn. Tens of millions of garments piled up in warehouses and customs check-points, which affected both retailers and consumers.

The chemical industry manufactures a wide range of products, from heavy chemicals and explosives to pharmaceuticals and photographic supplies. The diamond-cutting industry in Antwerp supplies most of the United States's industrial diamond requirements. Eighty percent of all rough diamonds are handled in Antwerp, and 50% of all polished diamonds pass through Antwerp. The Antwerp World Diamond Center is concentrated in a two-square-mile area, comprising more than 1,500 diamond companies and four diamond bourses. Those working in the Belgian diamond industry are increasingly being pressured to refrain from buying "conflict diamonds" from Africa, whose proceeds have fueled civil wars in a number of African countries, including Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola. Belgium has one of the largest glass industries in the world. Val St. Lambert is especially known for its fine crystal glassware. Belgian refineries (chiefly in Antwerp) turn out oil products.


The Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Fine Arts, founded in Brussels in 1772, and since divided into French and Flemish counterparts, has sections for mathematics, physical sciences, and the natural sciences. There are, in addition, many specialized societies for the study of medicine, biology, zoology, anthropology, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, geology, and engineering. The National Scientific Research Fund (inaugurated in 1928), in Brussels, promotes scientific research by providing subsidies and grants to scientists and students. The Royal Institute of Natural Sciences (founded in 1846), also in Brussels, provides general scientific services in the areas of biology, mineralogy, paleontology, and zoology. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 41% of college and university enrollment. In 2004 total research and development (R&D) expenditures provisionally amounted to 6.712 billion. As of 2001 (the latest year for which there is complete data) there were 1,462 technicians and 3,134 researchers per million people actively engaged in R&D. In that same year, 64.3% of R&D expenditures came from business, with 21.4% from the government, and 11.8% from foreign sources. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $15.736 billion or 11% of manufactured exports.

Among the nation's distinguished scientific institutions are the Center for the Study of Nuclear Energy in Mol (founded in 1952); the National Botanical Garden of Belgium in Meise (founded in 1870); the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels (founded in 1826); the Institute of Chemical Research in Tervuren (founded in 1928); the Royal Meteorological Institute in Brussels (reorganized in 1913); the Von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Rhode-St-Genese (founded in 1956) and supported by NATO; and the Institute of Spatial Aeronomy in Brussels (founded in 1964). Belgium has 18 universities and colleges offering degrees in basic and applied sciences.


Brussels is the main center for commerce and for the distribution of manufactured goods. Other important centers include Antwerp, Liège, and Ghent. Most large wholesale firms engage in import and export. Customary terms of sale are payment within 3090 days after delivery, depending upon the commodity and the credit rating of the purchaser.

In 1994, the government began privatization efforts of several public sector corporations, including banks and airlines. The domestic market is relatively small. Instead, the economy relies heavily on trade as various industries have capitalized on the country's prime central European location, which serves as a regional transit and distribution center. The country also serves as a vital test market for many European goods and franchises.

Business hours are mainly from 8 or 9 am to 5 or 6 pm, Monday through Friday, with an hour for lunch. Banks are open from 9 am to between 3:30 and 5 pm, MondayFriday. Retail stores are generally open from 9 am to 6 pm, Monday through Saturday; some may close for lunch. Larger stores and shopping centers stay open until 9 pm on Fridays. Important international trade fairs are held annually in Brussels and Ghent. Advertising techniques are well developed, and the chief media are the press, radio, and television.


Foreign trade plays a greater role in the Belgian economy than in any other EU country except Luxembourg. Exports constituted around 80% of GDP in the early 2000s. Belgium's chief exports are iron and steel (semifinished and manufactured), chemicals, textiles, machinery, road vehicles and parts, nonferrous metals, diamonds, and foodstuffs. Its imports are general manufactures, foodstuffs, diamonds, metals and metal ores, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing, machinery, electrical equipment, and motor vehicles. In 1921, Belgium partnered with Luxembourg in the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU).

In 2004, 77.4% of Belgium's exports and 74% of its imports were traded with EU countries. Belgium's leading markets in 2004 were Germany (17.5% of total exports), France (17.4%), the Netherlands (12.9%), the United Kingdom (8.6%), and Italy (5.4%). Belgium's leading suppliers in 2004 were the Netherlands (19.9% of all imports), Germany (16.6%), France (13.7%), the United Kingdom (7.8%), and the United States (5.6%).


Belgium ran deficits on current accounts each year from 1976 through 1984. Trade deficits, incurred consistently in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were only partly counterbalanced by invisible exports, such as tourism and services, and capital transfers. Belgium in the early 2000s had a high current account surplus$14.3 billion in 2003, and averaging 4.2% of GDP from 200004. The current account surplus in 2004 was estimated at $11.4 billion.

Belgium in the early 2000s was attempting to meet the EU's Maastricht target of a cumulative public debt of not more than 60% of GDP. However, the public debt only fell below 100% of GDP at the end of 2003, for the first time in nearly 30 years. Public debt stood at 96.2% of GDP in 2004.

The total value of exports in 2003 was estimated at $189.2 billion. Imports were estimated at $173 billion, for a trade surplus of $16.2 billion.


The National Bank of Belgium (Banque Nationale de Belgique-BNB, founded in 1850), the sole bank of issue, originally was a joint-stock institution. The Belgian government took over 50% of its shares in 1948. Its directors are appointed by the government, but the bank retains a large degree of autonomy. In Belgium, most regulatory powers are vested in the Banking Commission, an autonomous administrative body that monitors compliance of all banks with national banking laws. In order to restrain inflation and maintain monetary stability, the BNB varied its official discount rate from 2.75% in 1953 to a peak of 8.75% in December 1974; by 1978, the rate was reduced to 6%, but it rose steadily to a high of 15% in 1981 before declining to 11.5% at the end of 1982 and 9.75% by December 1985. By 1993 the discount rate was 5.25%. At the time of its abolition on December 15, 1998, the discount rate was 2.75%.

By law, the name "bank" in Belgium may be used only by institutions engaged mainly in deposit bank activities and short-term operations. Commercial banks are not authorized to invest long-term capital in industrial or business enterprises. The largest commercial bank, the General Banking Society, came into being in 1965 through a merger of three large banks. The National Society for Industrial Credit provides medium-term loans to industrial

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 255,300.6 235,365.9 19,934.7
Germany 49,863.2 41,378.0 8,485.2
France-Monaco 44,204.9 31,200.1 13,004.8
Netherlands 29,854.6 39,035.7 -9,181.1
United Kingdom 23,459.0 17,784.9 5,674.1
United States 16,786.9 13,837.6 2,949.3
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 13,853.3 7,879.5 5,973.8
Spain 10,122.7 4,774.8 5,347.9
Areas nes 4,757.0 4,757.0
India 4,350.9 1,998.6 2,352.3
Sweden 3,594.9 5,152.1 -1,557.2
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account 11,623.0
    Balance on goods 9,532.0
     Imports -193,767.0
     Exports 203,299.0
    Balance on services 1,919.0
    Balance on income 6,830.0
    Current transfers -6,658.0
Capital Account -968.0
Financial Account 726.0
    Direct investment abroad -23,302.0
    Direct investment in Belgium 33,768.0
    Portfolio investment assets -3,190.0
    Portfolio investment liabilities 5,739.0
    Financial derivatives -3,848.0
    Other investment assets -80,013.0
    Other investment liabilities 71,572.0
Net Errors and Omissions -13,104.0 Reserves and Related Items 1,723.0
() data not available or not significant.

firms and exporters. Other institutions supply credit to small business and to farmers. The leading savings institute is the General Savings and Retirement Fund, which operates mainly through post office branches. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $63.1 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $241.7 billion.

The Bourse in Belgium is a very old institution. As early as the 13th century, merchants from the main commercial centers, particularly Genoa and Venice, used to gather in front of the house of the Van der Bourse family in Brugge, which was then the prosperous trading center of the low countries. The word "Bourse" is often considered to have originated in Brugge.

The Brussels Stock Exchange was founded in 1801 after Napoleon, then Consul of the Republic, issued a decree of the 13th Messidor in the 9th Year that "There shall be an exchange in Brussels, in the Department of the Dyle." The law of 30 December 1867, completely abolished the provisions then in force controlling the profession of broker, the organization of the exchanges and the operations transacted there. After the crisis of 1929 through 1933, a commission was created to assure investors of greater security. The Commercial Code of 1935 still controls the organization of the stock exchange in large measure. Since the law of 4 December 1990, the Société de la Bourse de valeirs mobiliéres de Bruxelles (SBVMB) is organized under the form of a cooperative society. There is also an exchange in Antwerp. Market capitalization as of December 2004 stood at $818.520 billion, with the local BEL 20 Index up 30.7% from the previous year at 2,932.6.

The exchanges deal in national, provincial, and municipal government bonds, government lottery bonds, and company shares. The issuance of shares and bonds to the public is subject to the control of the Banking Commission in Brussels. There are also a number of special industrial exchanges; the most prominent one is the Diamond Exchange in Antwerp.


Insurance transactions are regulated by the Insurance Control Office of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Compulsory classes of insurance in Belgium are workers' compensation, automobile liability, and inland marine liabilities. Life and disability insurance needs are to a large extent met by Belgium's extensive social security system. Compulsory insurance includes thirdparty automobile liability, workers' compensation, "no fault" liability for property owners with free access to property, hunter's liability, and nuclear liability for power facilities.

In 1996 and 1997, a general pattern of mergers and acquisitions among European union insurers formed, as companies sought to strategically take advantage of the single market in insurance, which became effective in July 1994. Many insurance companies throughout the European Union (EU) are considered too small to operate effectively on an international scale, to meet the challenge of bancassurance, or to invest sufficiently in the new technology needed to survive in the increasingly competitive industry. In 2003, the value of direct premiums written totaled $33.814 billion, of which $21.004 billion was accounted for by life insurance premiums. The country's top life insurer that year was ETHIAS Life,

Revenue and Grants 112,364 100.0%
    Tax revenue 69,460 61.8%
    Social contributions 39,976 35.6%
    Grants 408 0.4%
    Other revenue 2,521 2.2%
Expenditures 112,249 100.0%
    General public services 42,466 37.8%
    Defense 3,233 2.9%
    Public order and safety 2,568 2.3%
    Economic affairs 4,859 4.3%
    Environmental protection 66 0.1%
    Housing and community amenities
    Health 16,748 14.9%
    Recreational, culture, and religion 274 0.2%
    Education 2,975 2.7%
    Social protection 39,060 34.8%
() data not available or not significant.

with gross life premiums written of $3,458.8 million. The top nonlife insurer was Axa Belgium, with gross written nonlife premiums (including healthcare) of $1,265.1 million in 2003.


The government's budgetary year coincides with the calendar year. In the final months of the year, the minister of finance places before Parliament a budget containing estimated revenues and expenditures for the following year, and a finance law authorizing the collection of taxes is passed before 1 January. Inasmuch as expenditure budgets generally are not all passed by then, "provisional twelfths" enable the government to meet expenditures month by month, until all expenditure budgets are passed. Current expenditures, supposedly covered by the usual revenues (including all tax and other government receipts), relate to the normal functioning of government services and to pension and public debt charges. Capital expenditures consist mainly of public projects and are normally covered by borrowings. Improvements in fiscal and external balances in the early 1990s and a slowdown in external debt growth enables the Belgian government to easily obtain loans on the local credit market. As a member of the G-10 group of leading financial nations, Belgium actively participates in the IMF, World Bank, and the Paris Club. Belgium is a leading donor nation, and it closely follows development and debt issues, particularly with respect to the DROC and other African nations.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Belgium's central government took in revenues of approximately $180.4 billion and had expenditures of $180.5 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$100 million. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 93.6% of GDP. Total external debt was $980.1 billion.

Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 37.8%; defense, 2.9%; public order and safety, 2.3%; economic affairs, 4.3%; environmental protection, 0.1%; health, 14.9%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.2%; education, 2.7%; and social protection, 34.8%.


The most important direct tax is the income tax. Since enactment of the tax law of 20 November 1962, this tax has been levied on the total amount of each taxpayer's income from all sources. As of 2005, the top individual income tax rate is 50%, excluding local taxes. Local taxes are levied at rates varying from 410%. Taxes are not paid in one lump sum, but rather by a series of prepayments on the various sources of income. There is a withholding tax on salaries that is turned over directly to the revenue officer. Self-employed persons send a prepayment to the revenue officer during the first half of July. Banks and stockbrokers who offer dividends must first deduct a prepayment of 25%. Taxes on real estate are based on the assessed rental value.

The general corporate income tax, which is levied on all distributed profits, was lowered from 48% to 45% in 1982, to 43% in 1987, to 38% in 1993, and stands at 33% as of 2005. Nondistributed profits are taxed at progressive rates ranging from 2841%. In some instances, local government bodies are entitled to impose additional levies. Numerous tax exemptions are granted to promote investments in Belgium.

In 1971, a value-added tax system was introduced, replacing sales and excise taxes. A general rate of 21% was applied as of 1996 to industrial goods, with a reduced rate of 6% applying to basic necessities and an interim rate of 12% to certain other products, such as social housing and agricultural products.


Customs duties are levied at the time of importation and are generally ad valorem. Belgium applies the EU common external tariff (CET) to goods imported from non-EU countries. There is a single duty system (the CET) among all EU members for products coming from non-EU members. Theoretically, no customs duties apply for goods imported into Belgium from EU countries. Value-added taxes are levied on the importation of foodstuffs, tobacco, alcohol, beer, mineral water, and fuel oils. There are no export duties.


Foreign investment in Belgium generally takes the form of establishing subsidiaries of foreign firms in the country. Belgium is the economic as well as the political center of Europe. The Belgian government actively promotes foreign investment. In recent years, the government has given special encouragement to industries that will create new skills and increase export earnings. The government grants equal treatment under the law, as well as special tax inducements and assistance, to foreign firms that establish enterprises in the country. There is no regulation prescribing the proportion of foreign to domestic capital that may be invested in an enterprise. The foreign investor can repatriate all capital profits and long-term credit is available. Local authorities sometimes offer special assistance and concessions to new foreign enterprises in their area. Since the start of EU's single market, most, but not all, trade and investment rules have been implemented by Belgium in order to be in line with other EU member nations.

The corporation tax rate was reduced in 2003 to 33.99% (24.98% for small companies). Over time, the Belgian government intends to reduce the corporate tax rate to 30%. The standard rate of value-added tax (VAT) is 21%. Overall, Belgium has strong competitive advantages, such as an excellent transportation infrastructure, high-quality industrial sites, and a skilled and productive workforce.

As of 2005, some of Belgium's leading sectors for US foreign investment were automotive parts and service equipment, biotechnology, computer services and software, consumer goods, electric power systems and services, environmental technologies, plastic materials and resins, telecommunication services and equipment, textile fabrics, and travel and tourism services.

Between 2001 and 2005, Belgium was expected to attract an annual average of $30.2 billion in foreign direct investment. With 3.4% of total world FDI, Belgium ranks seventh. Countries with large investments in Belgium include the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, and Switzerland. In 2004, foreign direct investment outflows from the 25 EU countries fell by some 25%, while inflows coming from the rest of the world fell by more than 50%. These falls were strongly influenced by investment flows with the United States. With inflows higher than outflows by 4 billion, Belgium was the EU's largest net recipient of FDI from outside the EU. Belgium was the fourth highest recipient of FDI from within the EU in 2004, at 19 billion, behind the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, and France. In all, Belgium's intra-EU outflows totaled 16.6 billion, and intra-EU inflows totaled 18.9 billion. Extra-EU outflows totaled 4.4 billion, and extra-EU inflows totaled 8.8 billion. Belgian investment abroad is substantial in the fields of transport (particularly in Latin American countries), nonferrous metals, metalworking, and photographic materials.

Belgium has well-developed capital markets to accommodate foreign finance and portfolio investment. More than half its banking activities involve foreign countries. The world's first stock market was opened in Antwerp in the 14th century. At the end of 2000, the Brussels Stock Market merged with the Paris and Amsterdam bourses (and later Lisbon) to form the Euronext stock exchange. Euronext forms the largest (in volume) multinational stock and derivatives exchange in Europe. In 1996, the European Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation (EASDAQ) Exchange opened in Belgium, modeled on the NASDAQ electronic exchange, dedicated to young dynamic "" start-ups. In April 2001, NASDAQ bought majority ownership and renamed it NASDAQ-Europe.


Belgian economic policy is based upon the encouragement of private enterprise, with very little government intervention in the economy. Also, as a country heavily dependent upon foreign trade, Belgium has traditionally favored the freest exchange of goods, without tariffs or other limitations. Restrictions on free enterprise and free trade have always been due to external pressure and abnormal circumstances, as in time of war or economic decline.

To meet increased competition in world markets and to furnish relief for areas of the country suffering from chronic unemployment, the government has taken measures to promote the modernization of plants and the creation of new industries. Organizations have been established to provide financial aid and advice, marketing and scientific research, studies on methods of increasing productivity, and nuclear research for economic utilization. Government policy aims at helping industry to hold costs down and to engage in greater production of finished (rather than semifinished) goods. Results have been mixed, with greater success in chemicals and light manufacturing than in the critical iron and steel industry.

In 1993, the government modified its policy of forbidding more than 49% private ownership in government banks, insurance companies, and the national telecommunications company. In 2000, the government enacted tax reform, reducing corporate, trade, and income taxes. The tax cuts planned through 2006, although improving work and investment incentives, will have to be countered by reduced government spending to compensate for the lost revenue. The telecommunications sector has been liberalized, as have the gas and energy markets.

Belgium successfully attained a budget deficit of less than 3% by the end of 1997, as stipulated by the EU. Due to a strict control of spending, the government has managed to balance the budget in recent years; the 2006 budget foresees balance for the seventh year in a row, but is based on optimistic growth and revenue assumptions. A main economic policy priority has for many years been the reduction of the large public debt, which fell below 100% of GDP at the end of 2003, for the first time in nearly 30 years. With Belgium's employment rate one of the lowest in the EU, the government has created a target of increasing employment by 200,000 by 2007.


Belgium has a social insurance system covering all workers dating back to 1900 for old age and 1944 for disability. The current law was last updated in 2001, and the age to receive full retirement benefits will be increasing to age 65 by 2009. The law provides for disability and survivorship benefits as well. Sickness and maternity benefits were originally established in 1894 with mutual benefits societies. There is work accident and occupational disease coverage for all employed persons. Family allowances cover all workers, with special systems for civil servants and the self-employed.

The Belgian government has taken an active stance to protect and promote the rights of women and children. Domestic violence is a problem and in 2004 the government initiated a national plan to increase awareness. Belgium's equal opportunity law includes a sexual harassment provision, giving women a stronger legal basis for complaints. Child protection laws are comprehensive, and governmental programs for child welfare are amply funded. The government also attempts to integrate women at all levels of decision-making and women play an important role in both the public and private sectors.

Legislation prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity or nationality, and penalizes incitement of hate and discrimination. The constitution provides for the freedom of religion. Although minority rights are well protected in Belgium, extreme-right political parties with xenophobic beliefs have gained ground in recent years. In 2004, there were several attacks on Jews and Muslims.


Every city or town in Belgium has a public assistance committee (elected by the city or town council), which is in charge of health and hospital services in its community. These committees organize clinics and visiting nurse services, run public hospitals, and pay for relief patients in private hospitals. There is a national health insurance plan, membership of which covers practically the whole population. A number of private hospitals are run by local communities or mutual aid societies attached to religious organizations. A school health program includes annual medical examinations for all school children. Private and public mental institutions include observation centers, asylums, and colonies where mental patients live in groups and enjoy a limited amount of liberty.

A number of health organizations, begun by private initiative and run under their own charters, now enjoy semiofficial status and receive government subsidies. Among them are the Belgian Red Cross, the National Tuberculosis Society, the League for Mental Hygiene, and the National Children's Fund. The last of these, working through its own facilities and through cooperating agencies, provides prenatal and postnatal consultation clinics for mothers, a visiting nurse service, and other health services. Health expenditures were estimated at 8.8% of total GDP.

Roughly 60% of Belgium's hospitals are privately operated, nonprofit institutions. As of 2004, there were an estimated 418 physicians, 1074 nurses, 70 dentists, and 145 pharmacists per 100,000 people. Nearly 100% of the Belgium population has access to health services. In 1999, the country immunized one-year-old children as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 96%, and measles, 83%. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 5 per 1,000 live births, one of the lowest in the world. Average life expectancy for that year was 79 years. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 10,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 100 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Belgium no longer has a housing shortage. In the mid-1970s, an average of over 60,000 new dwellings were built every year; by the early 1980s, however, the government sought by reducing the value-added tax on residential construction to revitalize the depressed housing market. Public funds have been made available in increasing amounts to support the construction of low-cost housing, with low-interest mortgages granted by the General Savings and Retirement Fund.

The 2001 census reports a total of 4,248,502 private, occupied dwellings in the country. About 82% of the population live in single-family homes. About 14% are apartment dwellers. The average household size is 2.4 persons. About 68% of all units are occupied by owners or crowners.


Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 18. Belgium has two complete school systems operating side by side. One is organized by the state or by local authorities and is known as the official school system. The other, the private school system, is largely Roman Catholic. For a long time, the rivalry between the public and private systems and the question of subsidies to private schools were the main issues in Belgian politics. The controversy was settled in 1958, and both systems are presently financed with government funds along more or less identical lines.

Within the public system, there are also some variations in programming between the French community and the Flemish community. In both, the primary (elementary) school covers six years of study. In the French system, secondary school is divided into three levels, with each level lasting two years. Following this course of study, a student may choose to continue in a one-year program for professional development, technical training, or preparation for university studies. There are also programs for artistic development. In the Flemish system, secondary students may choose between four educational tracks: general, technical, artistic, or vocational. Each track covers a six-year course of study. Most children between the ages of three and five attend some type of preschool program. The academic year runs from September to July.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 100% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 97% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 12:1 in 2003.

Higher education centers on the eight main universities: the state universities of Ghent, Liège, Antwerp, and Mons; the two branches of the Free University of Brussels, which in 1970 became separate private institutions, one Dutch (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and the other French (Université Libre de Bruxelles); the Catholic University of Brussels; and the Catholic University of Louvain, which also split in 1970 into the Katholicke Universiteit Leuven (Dutch) and the Université Catholique de Louvain (French). Total enrollment in tertiary education programs for 2001 was at about 367,000. In 2003, about 61% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate is estimated at about 98%.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.3% of GDP.


There are large libraries, general and specialized, in the principal cities. Brussels has the kingdom's main reference collections, including the Royal Library (founded in 1837), with about four million volumes, as well as the Library of Parliament (1835) with 600,000 volumes, the Library of the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences (681,000 volumes), and the General Archives of the Kingdom, founded in 1794, with 350,000 documents from the 11th to the 20th centuries. Antwerp is the seat of the Archives and the Museum of Flemish Culture, which has an open library of 55,000 volumes. The university libraries of Louvain (1.2 million volumes), Gent (three million volumes), and Liège (1.7 million volumes) date back to 1425, 1797, and 1817, respectively. The library of the Free University of Brussels (1846) has 1.8 million volumes. Also in Brussels is the library of Commission of the European Communities. In addition, there are several hundred private, special, and business libraries, especially in Antwerp and Brussels, including Antwerp's International Peace Information Service (1981) with 25,000 volumes related to disarmament, and the library of the Center for American Studies in Brussels, with 30,000 volumes dealing with American civilization.

Belgium's 200 or more museums, many of them with art and historical treasures dating back to the Middle Ages and earlier, are found in cities and towns throughout the country. Among Antwerp's outstanding institutions are the Open-Air Museum of Sculpture in Middelheim Park, displaying works by Rodin, Maillol, Marini, Moore, and others; the Rubens House, containing 17th-century furnishings and paintings by Peter Paul Rubens; and the Folk Art Museum (1907) featuring popular music and crafts unique to Flemish Culture and mythology. Brussels' museums include the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (founded 1795), which has medieval, Renaissance, and modern collections; Royal Museum of Central Africa (1897), which has rich collections of African arts and crafts, natural history, ethnography, and prehistory; the Royal Museum of Art and History (1835), with its special collections of Chinese porcelain and furniture, Flemish tapestries, and of 18th-and 19th-century applied and decorative art; and the Museum of Modern Art, featuring 20th-century paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Museums in Bruges, Liège, Gent, Malines, and Verviers have important general or local collections.


International and domestic telegraph and telephone service, operated by a government agency, is well developed. In 2003, there were an estimated 489 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were approximately 793 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

National radio and television service is organized into Dutch and French branches. Commercial broadcasting is permitted, hence costs are defrayed through annual license fees on radio and television receivers. There are two national public stations, one broadcasting in French, the other in Dutch. In addition, there are at least two Dutch-language, one French-language, and one German language commercial stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 793 radios and 541 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 377.7 of every 1,000 people are cable subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 318.1 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 386 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 946 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

The Belgian press has full freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of 1831. There are some restrictions on the press regarding slander, libel, and the advocating of racial or ethnic hate, violence, or discrimination. Newspapers are published in French and Dutch, and generally reflect the views of one of the major parties. Agence Belga is the official news agency.

The major daily newspapers published in French, with their 2002 circulations and political affiliation, include Le Soir (Independent), 178,500; La Lanterne (Socialist), 129,800; La Libre Belgique (Catholic-Independent), 80,000; and La Nouvelle Gazette (Liberal), 94,600. Dutch language papers include De Standaard (Flemish-Catholic), 372,000; De Gazet van Antwerpen (Christian Democrat), 148,000; and Het Volk/Nieuwe Gids (Catholic-Labor), 143,300. The Flemish language paper Het Laatste Nieuws (Independent) had a 2002 daily circulation of 308,808. About 500 weeklies appear in Belgium, most of them in French or Dutch and a few in German or English. Their overall weekly circulation is estimated to exceed 6.5 million copies.


Among Belgium's numerous learned societies are the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Fine Arts and the Royal Academy of Medicine; in addition, there are the Royal Academy of French Language and Literature and the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature. There is a cultural council for each of the three official languages. Architects, painters, and sculptors are organized in the Association of Professional Artists of Belgium.

Business and industry are organized in the Belgium Business Federation (1885), the Chambers of Commerce, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Brussels, as well as on the basis of industrial sectors and in local bodies. Among the latter, the Flemish and Walloon economic councils and the nine provincial economic councils are the most important. The ACP Business Forum, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions meet in Brussels. There are a vast number of national professional, trade, and industry associations for a wide variety of occupations and professions.

The many sports societies include the Royal Belgian Athletic League, the Jockey Club Royal de Belgique, and soccer, cycling, archery, homing pigeon, tennis, hunting, boating, camping, and riding clubs. Youth organizations include four branches of the World Organization of Scouting and an organization of Girl Guides.

Veterans' and disabled veterans' associations, voluntary associations to combat the major diseases, and philanthropic societies are all active in Belgium.

There are active chapters of the Red Cross, UNICEF, CARE International, Greenpeace, Caritas, and Amnesty International.


Belgium has three major tourist regions: the seacoast, the old Flemish cities, and the Ardennes Forest in the southeast. Ostend is the largest North Sea resort; others are Blankenberge and Knokke. Among Flemish cities, Brugge, Gent, and Ypres stand out, while Antwerp also has many sightseeing attractions, including the busy port, exhibitions of the diamond industry, and the Antwerp Zoo, an oasis of green in the city center. Brussels, home of the European Community headquarters, is a modern city whose most famous landmark is the Grand Place. The capital is the site of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, with its varied concert and dance programs, and of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, home of the internationally famous Ballet of the 20th Century. St. Michael's Cathedral and Notre Dame du Sablon are the city's best-known churches. The Erasmus House in the suburb of Anderlecht and the Royal Palace and Gardens at nearby Laeken are popular tourist centers. Louvain possesses an architecturally splendid city hall and a renowned university. Malines, seat of the Belgian primate, has a handsome cathedral. Liège, in the eastern industrial heartland, boasts one of the finest Renaissance buildings, the palace of its prince-bishops. Tournai is famous for its Romanesque cathedral. Spa, in the Ardennes, is one of Europe's oldest resorts and gave its name to mineral spring resorts in general. Namur, Dinant, and Huy have impressive fortresses overlooking one of the most important strategic crossroads in Western Europe, the Meuse Valley.

All travelers are required to have a valid passport; visas are issued for stays of up to 30 days. No visa is required for citizens of the United States or Canada.

There were 5.2 million visitor arrivals in 2003, when receipts from tourism amounted to $8.7 billion. In that year, Belgium had 63,220 hotel rooms and 16,368 beds.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Belgium at between $161 and $320.


Belgium has produced many famous figures in the arts. In the 15th century, one of the great periods of European painting culminated in the work of Jan van Eyck (1390?1441) and Hans Memling (1430?94). They were followed by Hugo van der Goes (1440?82), and Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525?69), the ancestor of a long line of painters. Generally considered the greatest of Flemish painters are Peter Paul Rubens (15771640) and Anthony Van Dyck (15991641). In the 19th century, Henri Evenepoel (187299) continued this tradition. The 20th century boasts such names as James Ensor (18601949), Paul Delvaux (18971994), and René Magritte (18981967). Modern Belgian architecture was represented by Victor Horta (18611947) and Henry van de Velde (18631957).

Belgium made substantial contributions to the development of music through the works of such outstanding 15th- and 16th-century composers as Johannes Ockeghem (1430?95), Josquin des Prés (1450?1521), Heinrich Isaac (1450?1517), Adrian Willaert (1480?1562), Nicolas Gombert (1490?1556), Cipriano de Rore (151665), Philippe de Monte (15211603), and Roland de Lassus (known originally as Roland de Latre and later called Orlando di Lasso, 153294), the "Prince of Music." Later Belgian composers of renown include François-Joseph Gossec (17341829), Peter Van Maldere (172968), André Ernest Modeste Grétry (17411813), César Franck (182290), and Joseph Jongen (18731953). Among famous interpreters are the violinists Eugène Ysaye (18581931) and Arthur Grumiaux (192186). André Cluytens (190567) was the conductor of the National Orchestra of Belgium. Maurice Béjart (Maurice Berger, b.1927), an internationally famous choreographer, was the director of the Ballet of the 20th Century from 1959 until 1999.

Outstanding Belgian names in French historical literature are Jean Froissart (1333?1405?) and Philippe de Commynes (1447?1511?), whereas early Dutch literature boasts the mystical writing of Jan van Ruysbroeck (12931381). The 19th century was marked by such important writers as Charles de Coster (182779), Camille Lemonnier (18441913), Georges Eeckhoud (18541927), and Emile Verhaeren (18551916) in French; and by Hendrik Conscience (181283) and Guido Gezelle (183099) in Flemish. Among contemporary authors writing in French, Michel de Ghelderode (18981962), Suzanne Lilar (19011992), Georges Simenon (19031989), and Françoise Mallet-Joris (b.1930) have been translated into English. Translations of Belgian authors writing in Dutch include works by Johan Daisne (191278) and Hugo Claus (b.1929).

Eight Belgians have won the Nobel Prize in various fields. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck (18621949), whose symbolist dramas have been performed in many countries, received the prize for literature in 1911. Jules Bordet (18701961) received the physiology or medicine award in 1919 for his contributions to immunology. The same award went to Corneille J. F. Heymans (18921968) in 1938 and was shared by Albert Claude (18981983) and Christian de Duve (b.1917) in 1974. Russian-born Ilya Prigogine (19172003) won the chemistry prize in 1977. Three Belgians have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Auguste Beernaert (18291912) in 1909, Henri Lafontaine (18541943) in 1913, and Father Dominique Pire (191069) in 1958.

Belgium's chief of state since 1951 had been King Baudouin I (193093), the son of Leopold III (190183), who reigned from 1934 until his abdication in 1951. Baudouin was succeeded by his younger brother Albert II (b.1934) in 1993.


Belgium has no territories or colonies.


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Kingdom of Belgium

Royaume de Belgique

Koninkrijk België



Belgium is a nation located in Western Europe. It is between the Netherlands to the north, Germany and Luxembourg to the east, France to the south, and the North Sea to the west. Belgium is about the size of Maryland, has an area of 30,510 square kilometers (11,780 square miles) and includes 280 square kilometers (108 square miles) of inland waterways. It has 66 kilometers (41 miles) of coastline and its borders total 1,385 kilometers (861 miles). Belgium shares 620 kilometers (385 miles) with France, 167 kilometers (103 miles) with Germany, 148 kilometers (92 miles) with Luxembourg, and 450 kilometers (280 miles) with the Netherlands. The nation also claims an exclusive fishing zone that extends 68 kilometers (42 miles) into the North Sea. Belgium is the traditional crossroads of Europe and its capital, Brussels, also serves as the capital of the European Union (EU). Brussels also serves as the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Western European Union (WEU). Brussels is located in the middle of the country and has a population of 954,460. It is one of the largest cities in Belgium. In contrast, Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city has a population of 447,632 and is located in the northern area of the nation. Lastly, Ghent, Belgium's third largest city has a population of 224,074 and is in the northwest.


In July 2000, it was estimated that Belgium had a population of 10,241,506. The population growth rate is estimated at a low 0.18 percent. The fertility rate is estimated at 1.61 children born per woman and the birth rate consists of 10.91 births per 1,000 people. The death rate is 10.13 deaths per 1,000.

Like many advanced industrialized countries, Belgium's population is aging and 16 percent of the inhabitants are over the age of 65, while only 18 percent are between the ages of 0 and 14. The life expectancy for men is 74.47 years and 81.3 years for women. A majority of Belgians now live in urban areas and, as people from both the rural areas and immigrants settle in the cities, this trend is growing rapidly. The population density of Belgium is second only to the Netherlands in Europe.

The nation has 3 major ethnic communities: the Flemish, the Walloons, and the German-speakers. The Flemish make up about 58 percent of the population and speak a form of Dutch known as Flemish. The Flemish are concentrated in the northern regions of the nation. The Walloons speak French and mainly live in the southern areas of Belgium. About 31 percent of Belgians are Walloons. German-speakers are the third major group and they mainly reside in the east around the city of Liege. German-speakers comprise about 1 percent of the population. There are also numerous other ethnic minority groups in the country. Brussels alone has 19 different bilingual communities. Many of these other groups are from North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Turkey. There is also a significant Italian population. Since World War II, higher birth rates among the nation's foreign-born population have increased faster than that of native Belgians. The majority of new immigrants from the Mediterranean region tend to settle in the industrial areas of the WalloonsBrussels and Antwerp. There is a low migration rate of 0.98 per 1,000. Although a small number of recent Belgium immigrants return to their countries of origin each year, most emigrants go to nations within the EU or the United States.

Conflicts between the Flemish and the Walloons have traditionally divided Belgian society. Throughout most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the French-speaking population dominated the region. However, the Flemish eventually gained reform, obtained regional autonomy, and then established Flanders as a unilingual region. The 1970 constitution created 3 autonomous political regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. In 1984, the German community of Liege was also granted its own legislative assembly and began controlling its own educational and cultural matters. Disputes between the 2 groups continue and have led to numerous political compromises, including a new constitution in 1993, which changed Belgium from a unitary state (a country in which the central government has the most political power) to a federal system (a country in which the central government and regional governments collaboratively share power to a certain degree).


Belgium has a well-developed free market economy, based on both industrial and service sectors. It is heavily dependent on international trade and most of its economic sectors are geared toward exporting products. The nation's exports are equivalent to almost two-thirds of its GNP. On a per capita basis, Belgium exports twice as much as Germany and 5 times as much as Japan. In 1999, the nation ranked number 11 among the world's top exporters. In spite of its small size, Belgium's economy has consistently placed among the top 20 economies of the world and remains strong. The kingdom's exports have given it an account surplus that is the sixth largest among the highly developed economies of the world.

For most of its history, Belgium's economy was based on the nation's manufacturing capabilities. The country was the first in continental Europe to undergo the Industrial Revolution, and through the 19th century it was a major steel producer. Large coal deposits helped fuel the industrialization. At the same time, agriculture began to decline. This decline was even more pronounced after World War II, and by 2000, agriculture only accounted for a small percentage of the economy. Currently, agriculture is concentrated in West Flanders, Liege, and Eastern Namur. In the post-World War II era, heavy manufacturing and mining declined. However, there was significant growth in the service sector, and the country switched from heavy production to light manufacturing and began producing finished products instead of steel, textiles, and raw materials. Belgium imports basic or intermediary goods, adds value to them through advanced manufacturing and then exports the finished products. With the exception of its remaining coal resources, Belgium has no significant natural resources.

Belgium's economic strength is based on its geographic position at the crossroads of Western Europe, its highly skilled and educated workforce, and its participation in the EU. During its industrial period, Belgium developed a highly efficient and capable transportation infrastructure that included roads, ports, canals, and rail links. The multilingual nature of the workforce and its industriousness has made the workforce one of the most productive in the world.

The oil crisis of the 1970s and economic restructuring led to a series of prolonged recessions . The 1980-82 recession was particularly severe and resulted in massive unemployment. Personal and consumer debt soared, as did the nation's deficit. Meanwhile, the king-dom's main economic activity shifted northward into Flanders. In 1990, the government linked the Belgian franc to the German mark through interest rates. This spurred a period of economic growth. In 1992-93, another recession plagued Belgian history. During this period, the kingdom's real GDP declined by 1.7 percent. Foreign investments have provided new capital and funds for businesses and have consistently helped maintain the economy. Consequently, the government has consistently implemented programs to encourage foreign investment. Since Brussels is the capital of the EU, many multinational firms have relocated to the city so they can be near the bureaucracy and regional body's government seat.

There are major regional differences in the king-dom's economy. In the former industrial and agricultural areas of the countryside, unemployment rates tend to be higher. However, in the newer urban centers (where the service economy is dominant), unemployment rates are lower. For instance, in Wallonia and Brussels, unemployment rates are 2 to 3 times higher than in Flanders. Nevertheless, overall national unemployment rates continue to be lower than the EU average. In addition, wage levels are among the highest in Europe. In 1993, in an effort to give the regions greater flexibility to deal with economic problems, each region was given broad economic powers to control trade, industrial development, and environmental regulation. Each region has also endeavored to attract foreign investment, often to the detriment of other regions.

The government has also engaged in initiatives to privatize many companies that were formally owned by the state. Ongoing efforts are underway to privatize 2 of the largest remaining companies: Sabena (the national airline) and Belgacom (the main communications company). Since 1993, successive governments have privatized some 280 billion Belgian francs worth of business.

The kingdom has few energy sources. Consequently, it must import a substantial amount of fossil fuel (which provides 42.48 percent of Belgium's total energy needs). The country has a well-developed nuclear industry that provides more than half of Belgium's energy needs (in 1998, some 55.72 percent of total energy usage). The remaining energy needs are met by a limited number of hydroelectric and coal plants.

As the profitability of many industries declined in the post-World War II era, the government attempted to support them in order to maintain employment. Among the strategies used were subsidizing certain industries, mainly steel and textile companies. In addition, the government reduced interest rates and offered tax incentives and bonuses to attract foreign businesses. All of these measures helped maintain the economy by preventing massive unemployment, but they also led to drastic government deficits in the 1970s and 1980s. The government was then forced to borrow funds from international sources in order to maintain their imports and to continue social welfare programs. By the 1990s, successive governments diligently worked to reduce the debt. In fact, they even shifted from foreign to domestic sources in underwriting their debts. In 1999, Belgium's external debt was $28.3 billion or about 10 percent of the nation's total debt. Belgium is a net contributor of foreign aid. In 1997, the kingdom provided $764 million in foreign assistance.

Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Community (later the EU), and has been one of the foremost proponents of regional economic integration. In 2000, 80 percent of Belgium's trade was with other members of the EU. Membership in the EU was the culmination of longstanding national support for economic cooperation. For instance, in 1921, Belgium joined with Luxembourg to form the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU). This economic union provides for an interchangeable currency and it established a joint customs union. Belgium and Luxembourg have also joined with the Netherlands to form the BENELUX customs union. This organization oversaw cross-border trade between the 3 nations. Belgium is also a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization of the world's most highly developed industrialized democracies.

Belgium has supported the main economic initiatives of the EU, including the elimination of trade barriers, such as tariffs , between the organization's 15 member states. The EU also coordinates the external trade of its member states. In 1999, Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Monetary Union (EMU). EMU will replace the national currencies of its members with a single currency, the euro. This is designed to further ease trade among the nations that adopt the euro by eliminating currency fluctuations.


Belgium is a constitutional monarchy based on heredity. After political reforms in the 20th century, the monarch's role is now largely ceremonial and symbolic. The monarch's main political function is to appoint the prime minister following elections or the resignation of the government. In this often-divided country, the sovereign is a unifying symbol and plays an important role. The current king, Albert II, succeeded his brother Baudouin who died in 1993.

The executive branch of the Belgian government consists of the king, prime minister and cabinet. The number of cabinet ministers is limited to 15. By an unwritten rule, there is usually a rough balance between Flemish and French-speaking ministers in the cabinet. The kingdom's parliament is bicameral (it consists of 2 chambers). The upper house is the Senate and consists of 71 members40 of whom are elected directly by the people; the 3 linguistic communities indirectly elect the other 31. The lower house is the Chamber of Deputies and has 150 directly elected members. Representatives in both houses serve 4-year terms. Citizens are required to vote in national elections. Elections are relatively short, usually with only a month of campaigning.

There are no national parties in Belgium. Instead the political parties are divided among the major linguistic groups. As a result, governments are usually by coalition (a government composed of members of several different political parties).

As a result of the 1993 constitutional revisions, Belgium changed from a unitary government into a federal system. There are now 3 levels of government: national, regional, and linguistic community. Including the national government in Brussels, there are now 6 different authoritative bodies. Flanders has a single 124-member assembly which represents the region and Flemish-language speakers. Wallonia has 2 assemblies, one 75-member chamber for the region and a 94-member chamber for all French-speakers. Finally, the Brussels region has a 75-member body and the German-speakers have a 25-member assembly.

The government's multi-layered structure means that each governmental body has considerable freedom over their region's economic activities. The regions and communities have jurisdiction over transportation, public works, education, housing, zoning, and industrial and economic policy. Regional governments also coordinate foreign trade with the national government. Of the total government spending, 40 percent is controlled by regional and community governments. These funds are provided through a system of revenue sharing with the national government. These governments also have the ability to levy additional taxes and borrow money.

Following the economic recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, the government attempted to stimulate the economy by implementing various programs. Initially, they tried to protect declining industries by subsidizing them. For those workers that lost their jobs because of cutbacks, generous social benefits were maintained. They also tried to attract foreign businesses and capital. However, in 1994, these efforts led to a massive national debt that exceeded the kingdom's GDP by over 137 percent. In 1992, the government attempted to reduce its debt by implementing various economic policies. Unfortunately, this task proved to be quite difficult because they did not meet EMU's official requirements (which called for a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent). Nevertheless, Belgium was admitted in the first round of the monetary union. Its 2000 budget projected a deficit of 1.1 percent and a reduction of the national debt so that it equaled 112 percent of the kingdom's GDP.

In order to reduce this debt, the national government implemented various strategies. First, it privatized a number of industries. Since 1993, the government has privatized 280 billion Belgian francs worth of companies, and is expanding this process. For instance, in 1997, it privatized some 35 billion francs worth of assets, but in 1998, it increased its privatization campaign to 45 billion francs. Second, it has cut government spending. Some programs have been shifted to the regional governments, while others have been scaled-back. Third, the government has reformed the tax structure. The top rate on individuals is 55 percent, but companies, including foreign corporations, pay only 39 percent. However, small companies only pay between 29 and 37 percent. There are no taxes on capital gains and taxes on interest income are 15 percent. Foreign companies are attracted to special corporate tax breaks on corporate centers, such as call centers. Still, Belgium has the third highest taxes among the OECD nations.

The government utilizes various tactics to promote certain consumer behaviors and economic activities. For example, they utilize government-guaranteed mortgage loans to encourage home construction and building. They have projects that help immigrant workers build low-income housing. They have implemented special taxes, known as ecotaxes, designed to encourage consumers to purchase environmentally friendly products. In addition, they have implemented a number of programs to enhance foreign trade and also offer companies direct subsidies . Lastly, they provide funds for participation in trade fairs and the development of market research.

The government maintains price controls on products and services such as energy, rents, and pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical price restrictions have hurt competition and prevented foreign companies from entering the Belgian market. In addition, some U.S. firms such as Toys 'R' Us and McDonald's have had considerable problems in obtaining permits and licenses for new operations. Furthermore, the government-owned telecommunications company, Belgacom, requires new companies to pay relatively high fees in order to offer services to Belgian consumers. In spite of problems in the telecommunications sector, it is one of the fastest growing components of the Belgian economy. In order to promote the sector, the government continues to auction licenses for new mobile phone providers and to promote the use of the wireless Internet.

One of the more significant problems with the economy is that of procurement . Foreign companies have had difficulties competing with Belgian firms that are often given preferential treatment. Specific complaints include the failure of the government to issue public notification when it calls for bids on procurement and poor enforcement of rules.

Continuing government support for economic integration with the EU will further spur Belgian's economy. As trade barriers continue to be dismantled among members of the EU, Belgium should be able to expand its exports and enhance its role as a port of entry for goods coming into the region. Although the majority of Belgium's trade is with its EU partners, the kingdom conducts a significant amount of trade with the United States. In 1999, it was the ninth largest trading partner of the United States and imported some $11.9 billion in American services and goods.

Of special concern to the Belgian government are environmental problems. Centuries of industrialization have resulted in widespread pollution. Soil contamination and groundwater pollution exist at many former industrial sites. Steel production wastes have contaminated the Meuse River, a major source of drinking water. Other rivers are contaminated by pollution from agricultural practices, mainly fertilizers. Industrial air pollution has created significant amounts of acid rain, both within Belgium and in neighboring countries. There has been a steady increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including coal, natural gas, and petroleum emissions. From 1995 to 1999, there was a 12 percent increase in these pollutants.


Belgium has an excellent infrastructure of roads, waterways, ports, and airports. The kingdom has 145,850 kilometers (90,631 miles) of roads that includes 117,701 kilometers (10,999 miles) of paved highways and 1,682 kilometers (1,045 miles) of expressways. In 1997, some 395,505,000 tons of goods were transported across Belgium's roads. The kingdom is the only nation in Western Europe that has an average of 50 km (31 miles) of roadways for every 1,000 square kilometers (386 miles). Brussels is the heart of a dense highway network that extends beyond the borders of the kingdom to major destinations such as Paris, Amsterdam, and London (via the tunnel under the English Channel). There are 3,437 kilometers (2,136 miles) of rail lines, the majority of which are electrified. In 1997, the railways transported approximately 60,696,000 tons of products. There are 2,043

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Belgium 160 793 510 367.3 173 18.7 286.0 266.90 1,400
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Germany 311 948 580 214.5 170 73.1 304.7 173.96 14,400
France 218 937 601 27.5 188 47.4 207.8 110.64 5,370
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

kilometers (1,270 miles) of waterways, of which 1,528 kilometers (950 miles) are in regular commercial use for the transport of goods. In 1997, there were some 106,978,000 tons of goods shipped across the nation's inland waterways. Finally, there is an extensive network of pipelines. There are 161 kilometers (100 miles) of crude oil pipelines, 1,167 kilometers (725 miles) of lines for petroleum products, and over 3,300 kilometers (2,051 miles) of natural gas pipelines. These pipelines transported 96,540,000 tons of fossil fuels in 1993.

Belgium's extensive transportation network and geographic position have enhanced its role as the major point of destination for goods entering Western Europe. The kingdom has 42 airports and a heliport. In 1995, 535,000 tons of goods were shipped via air. The government and the private carrier, SwissAir, jointly own Sabena, the national airline. There is also a low-cost air carrier, Citybird, which provides no-frills inexpensive fares. The international airport at Brussels has become the hub for several major U.S. air carriers. Antwerp is Europe's second largest port facility and is the center of the international diamond trade. The seaports handled some 157,413,000 tons of products in 1995. Ghent and Zeebrugge are also major seaports. Meanwhile, Brussels and Liege are major river ports. In fact, Liege is the third busiest river port in Europe. The Albert Canal can handle river barges of up to 2,000 tons, while other canals easily accommoda te barges of up to 1,350 tons. The kingdom has 22 medium to large merchant marine fleets that include 7 cargo ships, 7 petroleum tankers, and 8 chemical tankers. Combined, these fleets have a combined gross tonnage of 35,075 tons.

Belgians have an average of 427 automobiles per 1,000 inhabitants. The telephone system is highly developed and advanced. There is also an extensive nationwide system of cellular phones and 3.7 million mobile phones currently in use. Mobile phone usage is increasing at a rate of 20 percent per year. The kingdom also has 3 earth satellite stations. The Internet has gained in popularity and there are 51 Internet service providers in the nation. Approximately 1 million families use the Internet and 30 percent frequently purchase goods and services online. By 2004, e-commerce is expected to exceed $13.8 billion per year. In relation to the telecommunications industry, the government is in the third year of a privatization plan. Currently, there are 41 telecom operators besides the national carrier, Belgacom.

Electrical power production exceeds 78.7 billion kilowatts. Nuclear plants supply the majority of power (some 55 percent). Coal provides 12 percent of the king-dom's energy needs. Most of this coal is mined within the country. The nation meets 42 percent of its electrical needs through imported fossil fuels. Some 26.7 percent of these imports are natural gas. The majority of these natural gas supplies are imported from Algeria, the Netherlands, and Norway. The government has adopted a $9 billion program to provide for the modernization and maintenance of the nation's power system. Deregulation is also a priority of this program. Since Electrabel controls 84 percent of the energy market, new companies face significant obstacles while trying to enter this market. Although renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, currently only contribute about 0.17 percent of the nation's energy needs, the government continues to promote them.


Belgium is located in one of the most industrialized areas of the world. Its unique geographic location and port structure make it ideally suited as a point for goods to enter Western Europe. The economy remains dependent on trade and any global market disruptions impact Belgium. Nonetheless, the nation's foreign trade bolsters its economy and helps it rank among the world's top economies. Unemployment remains a problem for the economy. The nation has made significant progress in unemployment. In 1984, it declined from a high of 14.3 percent. In the 1990s, the nationwide unemployment rate averaged between 8 and 9 percent, with the lowest rate, 4 percent, in Flanders, and the highest rate, 16 percent, in Wallonia.

Since the last century, Belgium's agriculture has been in decline and currently only accounts for around 2 percent of the kingdom's GDP. Agriculture is concentrated in the northern areas of Flanders. The nation is self-sufficient in a variety of farm products, including various dairy goods, and exports some vegetables and meats. Fishing has also declined over the past decades and currently most of the catch is consumed within the kingdom.

In the post-World War II era, industry has become less important for the national economy. In contrast, the service sector continues to gain in prominence. Most of the kingdom's natural mineral resources have been exhausted. Steel and textile production have significantly declined. The remaining industry produces finished products from reprocessed materials. After the industrial transformation during the 1970s, a number of new industries emerged, including chemicals, refining, metals and machinery, food processing, and pharmaceuticals. Even newer industries such as automobile manufacturing have faced significant obstacles. Belgium has emerged as the center of the international diamond trade. Traditional manufacturing remains concentrated in Wallonia, while the newer industries tend to be located in Flanders.

As with most of the OECD nations, the service sector dominates the Belgian economy. In fact, service sector jobs now account for 73 percent of the nation's employment. In addition, the service sector is also the main area of growth for the kingdom. Retail businesses and tourism increasingly account for a larger percentage of the nation's GDP, while financial services continue to expand and attract foreign investment.

Belgium is the home to a number of international corporations and has outlets or subsidiaries of many multinational companies such as Ford, Volvo, and Renault. In fact, some sectors of the Belgian economy have come to be dominated by foreign firms. For instance, U.S. software manufacturers now control some 40 percent of the Belgian market while companies such as Compaq, Dell, and IBM dominate the personal computer market.


The kingdom's agricultural sector has been declining for some time. Currently, only about 2 percent of the population is employed in agriculture and it accounts for just under the same percentage of the nation's GDP. The main areas of the country under cultivation are in the northern region of Flanders; however, small farms exist throughout Belgium. Some 39 percent of the nation's territory is used for some type of agriculture, including the production of forest products. Approximately 1 percent of the land is used for permanent crops.

There are 2 main trends in Belgian agriculture. The first is the disappearance of the small family farm. Farming is increasingly dominated by large agribusinesses . Over the past 3 decades, the number of small farms has decreased by 80 percent. The second major trend is the expanding output of the sector. New technologies and scientific crop research have combined to produce greater yields. Therefore, even if farmers' total acreage declines, they are still producing more. Between 1995 and 1999, crop production increased by 9 percent.

Agriculture in Belgium is mainly divided between crop production and raising livestock. The nation's main crops include barley, corn, potatoes, sugar beets, wheat, and assorted fruits and vegetables. Sugar beets, potatoes, and barley are the main staples. In 1999, the country produced 6.15 million metric tons of sugar beets, 2.7 million metric tons of potatoes, and 1.63 million tons of wheat. The country is self-sufficient in sugar, and exports certain vegetables and fruits. About 35 percent of Belgium's farms are engaged in crop production. Belgium also re-exports a number of fruits. For instance, bananas are imported into Belgium from the Caribbean and then exported throughout Europe. The nation also imports raw crops, processes them, and then exports them as prepared foods.

Stock farming or livestock production dominates Belgian agriculture. It accounts for 65 percent of the nation's farms. A variety of livestock is raised, including beef, veal, poultry, lamb, pork, and turkey. In 1997, there were 3.1 million head of cattle and 7.3 million pigs on Belgian farms. The beef industry is still recovering from a dioxin scare in 1999. Cattle were accidentally given feed that was contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical dioxin. This led to numerous recalls and various countries around the world banned the import of Belgian beef.

There is also a significant dairy industry and Belgium is self-sufficient in eggs, butter, and milk. In 1997, the nation produced 3.2 million tons of milk, 3.97 million eggs, and 175,000 tons of butter. Belgium also produces a variety of specialty cheeses. Currently, fishing is mainly done for domestic consumption. In 2000, the nation exported $193 million worth of fish, but it imported $833 million worth. The majority of imported fish came from the United States and included lobster, salmon, and prepared seafood meals.

While the nation is a net importer of wood products, it does have a significant timber industry. In 2000, the timber industry was worth $9.9 billion. Total exports were $991 million while imports were $3.5 billion. The United States supplied some 50 percent of Belgium's softwood and plywood needs.


Belgium's traditional industries face a number of challenges. Historically, the main industries were concentrated in the French-speaking areas of Wallonia. However, since the 1970s, the principal areas of industrial growth have been in Flanders. Newer light industries and more sophisticated technologies have replaced the older and labor-intensive manufacturing systems. Between Antwerp and Brussels, a new corridor of industries emerged. The majority of these were less labor-intensive and required more skilled workers. The principal industries that have fueled this growth have been the petro-chemical and refining sectors. Nonetheless, the remaining industries tend to be highly advanced and technologically sophisticated. Light manufacturing and refining increasingly dominate the industrial sector. The entire industrial sector accounted for 26 percent of GDP in 2000.


From the 1800s through the 1960s, steel making was the heart of the nation's industry. By the end of the 1960s, Belgian steel manufacturers became less competitive when foreign companies began producing steel for less by using cheap labor and less expensive resources. The twin oil crises of the 1970s further undermined the industry by reducing the worldwide demand for steel. In order to preserve jobs, the government tried to protect steel manufacturers by subsidizing the industry.

The high cost of labor continued to impair the competitiveness of these and other industries. Industry also suffers from excess capacity and continued high fuel prices. These factors have led car manufacturers such as Ford and Renault to cut production in Belgium and shift factories elsewhere. The government has also made considerable attempts to restructure its remaining industrial base. The main thrusts of these efforts have been tax incentives for both domestic and foreign companies in exchange for industry investments. It has also offered incentives for investments in new technologies and the creation of new manufacturing methods.

The steel and plastics industries continue to decline. Since 1990, steel, iron, and coke production has declined by 20 percent. Nonetheless, about 1,000 companies remain in this industry that employs 52,000 people. Belgium remains the eighteenth largest steel producer in the world. In 1999, the sector produced 11 million tons of crude steel and had revenues of 260 billion Belgian francs of which 45 percent came from exports. This was a 4 percent decline from the previous year. The primary plastic products include parts for automobile construction and for engineering projects.

Europe's largest electrolyte copper, zinc, and lead refineries are located in Belgium. The nonferrous metals industry includes: base metals such as aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, and tin; precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum; and rare or special metals such as germanium, cobalt, and indium. The metals industry employs some 8,600 people. Its exports were worth 127 billion Belgian francs in 1999. New industrial investments totaled 2.6 billion Belgian francs in 1999 and attempted to reduce production costs. The kingdom is also a major producer of limestone, dolomite, various synthetic materials, and construction materials such as marble and concrete. There is also a significant mineral sector that is focused on the refining of imported minerals such as copper, zinc, and diamonds.

Antwerp is the center of the world's diamond trade. The diamond industry employs some 30,000 people and represents 6.4 percent of the nation's exports. In total, 9 out of 10 rough diamonds and 1 out of 2 cut diamonds pass through Antwerp. The diamond sector represents one area of industrial growth. The sector experienced an average growth rate of 6 percent in the 1990s. There are 400 companies engaged in trading rough-cut diamonds, and 700 companies engaged in trading cut diamonds. In 1998, the industry's exports were worth 369 billion Belgian francs.

Glassmaking remains a profitable and expanding industry. It employs some 12,000 people and in 1998, its output was 1.5 million tons of glass. This generated revenues of 100 billion Belgian francs. The industry's exports go mainly to other European countries (some 85 percent of glass exports). In Belgium, glass production was 3 times that of consumption and Belgian workers have among the highest levels of productivity. In 1980, Belgian glass workers produced 55 kg (lbs) of glass per hour; by 1999 that output had increased to 109 kg (lbs) per hour.


Belgium's chemical industry is highly diverse and efficient. From 1985 to 1999, the sector has grown by an average of 3.5 percent per year. It is the second largest industrial sector in the nation. The industry is geared for foreign trade and some 80 percent of its products are exported (75 percent of these exports went to EU nations). In 1999, chemicals accounted for 23.5 percent of the kingdom's total exports and were worth 1.574 trillion Belgian francs. In an effort to remain competitive, the chemical industry invested approximately 50 percent of its profits in research and the development of new products and manufacturing techniques. In 1999, there were 97,167 people employed by chemical companies, which represents an 8.4 percent increase since 1985. Chemicals and pharmaceutical products are now Belgium's top exports.


Transport equipment is one of the strongest remaining industrial sectors in Belgium. This sector includes the automotive industry, shipbuilding, railway and tram construction, bicycles, and the aeronautical and aerospace industry. Although Belgium does not have its own national automotive manufacturers, it has a large number of international companies. Ford, General Motors, Opel, Renault, Volkswagen, and Volvo have plants in Belgium. In 1999, the nation produced 1.3 million cars. It also produces specialty vehicles including vans, trucks, buses, and minibuses. Of the vehicles manufactured in Belgium, 95 percent are exported. The main markets are France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The automotive industry also produces a variety of specialty parts for cars. The industry specializes in "just in time" (JIT) manufacturing which involves producing products to be used immediately upon receipt. This process eliminates the need to stockpile items in warehouses.

Belgium no longer builds large sea-going vessels, but its shipyards still build smaller coastal and river craft. In addition, there are a number of firms that are capable of repairing and refitting larger ships. Companies also produce a variety of specialty products for marine use. Belgium invests considerable sums in aerospace. The government works with other European nations such as France and Germany on projects such as Airbus jet aircraft and the Ariane rocket.


The textile sector employs over 42,500 people in 1,320 textile factories. Belgium is now the largest carpet exporter in the world. Textile revenues accounted for 250 billion Belgian francs. Unlike many of the other traditional industries, Belgium's textile manufacturers have been able to adjust to changes in the global market. Belgium is also noted for its quality leather products. There have been widespread consolidations and advancements in manufacturing techniques. As a result, the textile sector remains one of Belgium's largest industrial employers.


Belgium produces a wide range of electronics equipment that includes both consumer and business products. This sector of the economy employs 49,000 people in 300 companies. These businesses produced products worth more than 300 billion Belgian francs. Two-thirds of the kingdom's electronic products are exported. The majority, 75 percent, goes to other members of the EU, while the remaining exports are divided among the United States, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Medical and hospital electronics are a major part of this sector. The electronics sector is the largest investor in the economy's infrastructure and research and development. The sector annually invests some 30 billion Belgian francs of which 60 percent is in research and development.


Furniture manufacturing has a long and distinguished tradition in Belgium. Adaptability and quality reputation are its keys to continued success. Increased mechanization and automation have helped contain costs and kept the industry competitive. It has strong exports to Germany and the United Kingdom and has recently enjoyed dramatic growth in the Netherlands. The sector has also aggressively targeted the markets in Eastern Europe. Belgium furniture exports have increased by 57 percent and have grown by a phenomenal 79 percent to Russia itself. In 1998, the industry had revenues of 1.89 billion euros that included 1.13 billion euros in exports.


The construction industry in Belgium encompasses 2 different broad areas. The majority of activity is centered on the construction of new buildings and homes. There is also a considerable market in the restoration of older dwellings. Brick is the preferred building material and most homes are custom built. On average, only 10 percent of homes built are prefabricated. In 1998, residential construction accounted for 46 percent of new contracts, business construction accounted for 41 percent, and 13 percent of new contracts were in civil engineering. In 1997, Belgium's construction companies had revenues of 1 trillion Belgian francs. Belgian companies also carried out a number of projects abroad, mainly in developing nations. In 1998, total revenues from these projects were 88 billion Belgian francs. Government plans to eliminate slums and provide housing for low-income Belgians have significantly helped the construction industry grow.


The service sector is the largest area of the Belgian economy, accounting for 72.6 percent of GDP in 2000. It is well developed and diversified. Because of its geographic position as the gateway to Europe and the government's efforts to attract foreign banking and financial companies, Belgium is now the eighth-largest financial center in the world. In 1999, there were 130 different banking companies in Belgium. Of these, 81 were Belgian and 39 were foreign-owned. The majority of the foreign-owned banks were from EU nations (23 of the 39). The implementation of EMU will make it even easier for foreign banks to establish a presence in Belgium as the members of the EU begin to use the common currency. The Belgian government encourages foreign banks to establish a presence in the kingdom. For instance, the government allows foreign banks to operate as either subsidiaries under Belgian law or to operate under the laws of the nation in which their parent bank is licensed.


The financial sector has 3 main subdivisions: commercial banks, public credit institutions, and private savings banks. However, the divisions between these 3 types of institutions became less noticeable in the 1990s. There have been a substantial number of mergers across these fields. For instance, in 1999 the international banking corporation Dexia merged its Belgian and French subsidiaries to create a banking group worth $11 billion. Belgium's Banking Commission supervises private banks, finance companies, and the oversight of mutual funds. Investments in the country's financial sector ballooned from $55 billion in 1996 to $300 billion in 1999.

The 3 main trading banks in Belgium are the Fortis Bank, Brussels Bank Lambert, and KBC. Fortis has a workforce of some 40,000 and 3,000 branches. It services some 7 million customers in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, and is one of the leading banks in northwestern Europe. Brussels Bank Lambert has 900 traditional branches and 500 automated teller machines. It is the twelfth largest bank in Europe. KBC is the nation's third largest bank and is also one of the largest insurance companies. It has 1,500 bank employees, 500 insurance brokers, and 8,000 other brokers. This multinational bank has branches in 30 different nations. The fourth and fifth largest banks in Belgium are foreign-owned. Number-four is Dexier, a joint Belgian-French multinational, and number-five is Morgan Guaranty Trust of New York (a subsidiary of J. P. Morgan & Company). Other major international banks in Belgium are Citibank, Bank of America, and Chase Manhattan Bank.

In 2000, the EU enacted new rules that allow insurance brokers to operate in any other EU state as long as they are registered in their home nation. For instance, Belgian insurance companies will be able to set up offices in Germany or France without having to be licensed in that nation. This offers a variety of advantages to Belgian companies. For instance, 60 to 70 percent of the insurance bought by Belgian consumers was non-life (including car or home insurance). In contrast, in other EU states, non-life insurance typically accounts for some 20 percent of the market. Hence, Belgian insurance companies see these new markets as sources of great opportunities.


The main centers of the Belgian tourist industry are the country's coastal region and the Ardennes.

The coastline has 65 resorts and numerous beaches. Most are designed for family-oriented vacations and draw tourists from France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Situated in the southeast of Belgium, the Ardennes forest is one of the few unspoiled natural areas in Western Europe. The area attracts campers and daytrippers. It is known for hiking, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, and mountaineering in the spring and summer months. In the winter, tourists engage in both downhill and cross-country skiing.

The total value of tourism in Belgium is $11.425 billion. Of this total, Belgians traveling within the country spent $4.9 billion. The United States is the number-one destination for Belgians traveling abroad. In 1999, some 257,000 Belgians visited the United States and spent $652 million.


Retailers in Belgium have rebounded from a period of stagnation in the early 1990s. Consumer spending has been increasing at a rate of 2.5 percent over the past few years and is expected to grow in the near future. Unlike many other markets in the EU or North America, independent companies still make up a large proportion of the retail market. For instance, although 78.5 percent of fashion merchandisers are independent, chain outlets control 16.7 percent of the market. The remaining 4.8 percent is in the hands of large department stores and supermarkets.

In 1999, there were 52,807 restaurants in Belgium. The largest chain is the Quick hamburger restaurant group that has 105 shops. The number-two chain is the U.S.-owned McDonald's. Other American chains such as Pizza Hut and Chi Chi's also hold significant market shares. Sales at foreign-owned restaurants were 10.45 billion Belgian francs while sales at locally owned stores were 7.53 billion Belgian francs.


Belgium's economy is dependent on international trade. From year-to-year, foreign trade accounts for approximately 70 percent of the nation's economy. This makes Belgium particularly sensitive to disruptions in global trade. Recessions or other economic problems around the world often cause reciprocal problems in Belgium's economy. Fortunately, the kingdom has a variety of trade partners so that problems in one export market are mitigated by export diversity. For instance, since companies were able to shift exports to other markets, Asia's economic problems in the late 1990s had little significant impact on Belgium.

The nation's main trade partners are in the EU. In fact, in 1998 some 76 percent of Belgium's exports went to nations in the EU. In that year, the main export market for Belgian goods was Germany (19 percent), followed closely by France (18 percent), the Netherlands (12 percent), and the United Kingdom (10 percent). Most of Belgium's imports also came from the EU that provided 71 percent of the kingdom's imported products. Germany was the main exporter to Belgium and provided 18 percent of goods, while the Netherlands provided 17 percent, France 14 percent, and the United Kingdom 9 percent. Total foreign investment in Belgium is $68.1 billion. The Netherlands is the principal source of foreign investment (21.9 percent), followed by Germany (17.1 percent), France (16 percent), and the United States (11 percent).

The United States is a major trading partner of Belgium. The kingdom is the ninth largest trading partner of the United States. In 1999, the United States exported $11.3 billion to Belgium. About half of Belgium's imports from the United States are processed and re-exported to other markets. The kingdom is home to 1,300 U.S. companies. American investment in Belgium totals $18.9 billion. The majority of this investment is concentrated manufacturing ($8.969 billion), services ($5.262 billion), and wholesaling ($2.716 billion). Belgium also has significant investments in the United States that total $6.7 billion. The majority of these investments are in manufacturing ($2.6 billion), petroleum ($1.265 billion), and retail ($882 million).

Goods and products from EU nations enter Belgium without any tariffs or duties . However, goods from nations outside of the EU face import duties and a value-added tax (VAT). Depending on the product, these taxes amount to an average of 5-6 percent of the total value of the product. Consequently, many goods from outside of the EU face a price disadvantage.

Since Belgium is home to the headquarters of the EU and over 100 international organizations, it has a unique perspective on world trade and global markets. It also has significant influence on trade. Since it joined the European Community (now EU), Belgium has supported free trade and advocated measures that lower tariffs and reduce other barriers to the free movement of goods and services, labor, and capital within Europe. Belgium and Luxembourg also continue to be economically linked through BLEU. Despite its membership in the EU and BLEU, Belgium has bilateral trade agreements with 29 different nations. It has separate investment accords with Poland and Russia. It also has treaties with Bulgaria, Cuba, Liberia, Mauritania, and Thailand. Under the auspices of BLEU, it has jointly signed with Luxembourg. Many of these agreements have yet to be fully implemented.

Besides the national trade agreements, each of the 3 regions has the authority to grant financial incentives and other inducements to attract foreign goods and services.

Among the tactics used are loan or interest rebates if the project is financed, financing by the regional government, and tax breaks for foreign companies.


Through BLEU, Belgium and Luxembourg linked their currencies in 1921. Although the Belgian franc has declined in relation to the U.S. dollar, it has maintained its value against major European currencies. In 1995, 1 U.S. dollar was equal to 29.48 francs, but by 1999, 1 dollar equaled 34.77 francs. In 1999, Belgium joined the EMU that created a single currency, the euro, for all of the EU nations. The euro is fixed at a rate of 40.3399 francs per euro. Since its introduction, the euro has been weak against the dollar. In 2000, 1 U.S. dollar equaled 0.9867 euros (when the euro was introduced it was equal to $1.1789). The euro was only used in non-cash forms (such as electronic payments and transfers) until January of 2002, when euro coins and notes were issued and national currencies were phased out.

The Belgian National Bank acts as the state bank. It prints and issues the nation's currency and acts as the lender of last resort in certain credit operations. The bank also manages monetary policy by controlling interest rates. The Banking Commission oversees the operations of the nation's banks while the Finance Ministry regulates credit institutions.

In September of 2000, the Brussels stock exchange merged with the exchanges of Amsterdam and the Paris Bourse exchange to form Euronext. The new stock exchange is the first truly transnational exchange that combines stock, derivative, and commodity trading. The new exchange lists 1,861 different companies and has a value of 1.1 trillion euros. The merger will streamline trading and reduce transaction costs. It will also save approximately 50 million euros per year. The exchange also increases the transparency of stocks and gives investors greater cost comparisons. The stock-trading component of Euronext is divided into 3 broad areas: blue

Exchange rates: Belgium
euros per US$1
Jan 2001 1.0659
2000 1.0854
1999 0.9386
1998 36.229
1997 35.774
1996 30.962
Note: Amounts prior to 1999 are in Belgian francs per US dollar.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Belgium 18,620 21,653 22,417 25,744 28,790
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Germany N/A N/A N/A N/A 31,141
France 18,730 21,374 22,510 25,624 27,975
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

chip traditional industrial companies, high tech stocks, and traditional securities. The new multinational exchange is actively seeking further integration and consolidation and may merge or absorb additional national exchanges.

In order to become a member of EMU, Belgium had to maintain low inflation . The government took steps that kept inflation lowas low as 1 percent in 1999. Low prices on imported goods are likely to aid efforts to keep inflation low for the foreseeable future.


Belgium, like many Western European nations, enjoys a high standard of living and a high per capita income. Each year the United Nations ranks the world's countries in its Human Development Report. Belgium consistently ranks among the top nations in its human development index that measures the quality of life in countries. In the 2000 report, the UN ranked Belgium number-sevenjust behind Switzerland and ahead of the Netherlands. Its per capita income was $28,790. Belgium ranked 8th out of 191 countries in terms of per capita income.

There are extremes of wealth and poverty in Belgium. However, the nation's generous social welfare programs prevent abject poverty. Only 3.7 percent of the population falls into the lowest 10 percent of income levls

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Belgium
Lowest 10% 3.7
Lowest 20% 9.5
Second 20% 14.6
Third 20% 18.4
Fourth 20% 23.0
Highest 20% 34.5
Highest 10% 20.2
Survey year: 1992
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

while 20.2 percent of the households are in the top 10 percentile.

The nation's social welfare programs are extensive. There are 5 main elements to the Belgian social welfare system : family allowance, unemployment insurance, retirement, medical benefits, and a program that provides salary in the event of illness. Employers contribute the equivalent of 35 percent of a worker's pay to the social welfare system and workers contribute 13 percent of their pay. Many companies also offer supplemental retirement and medical programs. Almost all Belgians are covered by medical insurance. Payments to medical providers were $12.97 billion in 1999. Belgium ranked thirteenth among the 24 OECD nations and fifth among the 15 EU nations. Each region has special councils that provide public assistance and aid to the poor. The National Housing Society provides low-income housing for the poor and immigrants. The Society is also in charge of eliminating slums and revitalizing urban neighborhoods.

Belgium's educational system is among the best in Europe. Freedom of education is a constitutional right in Belgium. Both public and private schools exist, but the government subsidizes private schools since the legal system abolished fees in 1958. Children must attend

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All Food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Belgium 17 6 8 3 1 7 57
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Germany 14 6 7 2 10 7 53
France 22 7 9 3 8 12 40
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

school between the ages of 6 and 18. The nation has 7 universities (4 that teach in French and 3 that teach in Flemish). There are also a number of specialized and technical schools.


Belgium's workforce is highly skilled, educated, and productive. Belgian workers are the most productive in the EU. The workforce is well paid and has both generous employer and government benefits. However, there are wide regional differences in wages, unemployment, and quality of life. Generally, conditions are better in Flanders and the German-speaking areas than in the French-speaking areas.

The nation's educational system is designed to prepare workers for entry into the workforce. From the age of 15 onward, children may work part-time while they attend school. In addition, industrial apprenticeship programs are available for students between the ages of 16 and 18. There is also vocational training available for both students and adults. The national government and regional governments offer a variety of incentives for retraining workers. These initiatives are designed to reduce the national social security burden.

There are laws against forced labor. The minimum age for a person to begin working is 15. Since education is mandatory until age 18, students may only work part-time during the school year. Youths may work full-time during school vacation periods. Both the national and regional governments aggressively enforce child labor laws.

In 1999, the government revised its legislation on equal opportunity in the workplace. The new laws outlawed sexual harassment, and continued the ban on gender discrimination in hiring, working conditions, wages, and termination. Equal treatment of men and women is guaranteed by the constitution. In 1999, legislation was passed requiring that women make up one-third of all candidates running for office. Economic inequities between men and women continue. For instance, the female unemployment rate was 10.9 percent in 1998, while the male unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. In addition, women only earn 84 percent of the salary that men earn in the same professions.

The constitution guarantees the right of workers to organize and to collective bargaining. Union membership is high and 63 percent of workers belong to unions. In addition, 90 percent of workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. National laws limit wage increases to 5.9 percent per year. Special labor courts oversee disputes between workers and businesses. Although Belgian unions often have links to political parties, they are independent of the government. While there have been several significant strikes in the past decade, including those by teachers, railway workers and air traffic controllers, these disputes were settled peacefully.

National law sets a 40-hour workweek and mandates overtime pay for work beyond 40 hours per week and for more than 8 hours a day. In addition, each workweek must include a 24-hour rest period. However, many agreements between unions and companies have separate agreements that lower the workweek to either 35 or 38 hours per week. The minimum wage for workers over the age of 21 is $1,228 per month. Workers under the age of 21 are paid on a graduated scale. Workers who are 18 years old must be paid 82 percent of the minimum wage, 19 year olds must be paid 88 percent, and 20 year olds must be paid 94 percent. There are strong safety laws and many of these regulations are supplemented by collective bargaining agreements. Although companies with more than 50 employees must have health and safety committees made up of both management and workers, the Ministry of Labor oversees workplace laws.


500-200 B.C. The area that is now Belgium is settled by a Celtic tribe, the Belgae (who gave their name to the region).

57 B.C. Julius Caesar begins conquering Belgium. The province comes to be known as Gallia Belgae. For the next 400 years, the area prospers under Roman control.

400 A.D. As Rome declines, the Franks gain control of the territory.

431. The Franks establish the Merovingian dynasty in Belgium.

466-511. Reign of Clovis I. During his reign, the last Roman territories in Gaul are captured and the kingdom is expanded to include areas of France and Germany. The Belgian people are converted to Christianity.

751. Pepin III deposes the Merovingians and starts the Carolingian dynasty.

768. Charlemagne succeeds his father, Pepin III. Charlemagne expands the empire to include all of Western Europe, and the king is crowned Emperor of the West by the Pope in 800. During his reign, organized trade begins along Belgium's rivers. After his death, the empire declines.

843. The Treaty of Verdun divides the empire among 3 of Charlemagne's sons. The western areas of Belgium come under France's control, while the eastern territories are controlled under the Middle Kingdom of Lothair. Ultimately, Germans control the eastern territories.

867. In order to protect people from Norse raids, walled cities are created. The first of these is Ghent, followed by Bruges and Ypres.

977. Brussels is founded by Charles, the Duke of Lorraine.

1000. As the Norse raids subside, trade dramatically expands. This period is the golden age of Flanders. Merchants import wool from England that is woven into fine cloths and tapestries. Flemish cities become populous and wealthy.

1300. Because of their wealth, Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres gain virtual independence from the aristocracy. A civic culture flourishes. This independence is confirmed by the defeat of the French nobles in the Battle of the Golden Spurs.

1329. Aristocratic control is re-established and the independence of the Flemish cities is revoked.

1337-1453. There is a Hundred Years War between France and England. The English support their trade allies, the Flemish, in their continuing efforts to gain autonomy from France.

1384. Flanders comes under the control of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

1419-1467. Philip the Good reigns. The Burgundian Empire in Belgium expands and includes the southeastern areas of Brussels, Liege, and Namur. Trade, arts, and culture expand. Prominent artists include Van Eyck, Rubens, and Van Dyck.

1490s. The canals around Bruges fill with silt and trade shifts further north to Antwerp.

1519-1713. Religious conflicts between the Protestant areas of Flanders and Catholics, led by Philip II of Spain, lead to the occupation of Belgium by Spain.

1648. The Protestant United Provinces of the North gain independence from Spain and become the Netherlands. The center of trade shifts from Antwerp and Ghent to Amsterdam. Meanwhile in order to avoid high labor costs and taxation, textile mills increasingly move from the urban areas to the countryside.

1719-1794. Austria occupies Belgium according to the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. A revolt in 1790 leads to the establishment of the United States of Belgium, but Austrian control is soon re-established. During this period, landowners begin to mine various products, mainly coal and iron ore.

1795. France occupies Belgium and institutes a variety of civil reforms that serve as the foundation of the modern Belgian government. Encouraged by the French, industrialization begins during this period. By the turn of the century, factories with more than 100 employees become common. Ghent, home to numerous cotton mills, becomes the textile center of the country. Mining also continues to spread, especially in the French-speaking areas and in Liege.

1815. Belgium becomes part of the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna. Dutch becomes the official language and William I of the Netherlands adopts a variety of programs to encourage industrialization in the south. However, the industrialization exacerbated the regional differences in the nation as the agrarian North sought free trade, while the industrialized South sought tariffs and other trade protections.

1831. Belgium gains independence from the Netherlands. Leopold of Saxe-Coburg becomes the Belgian king. Industrialization continues to sweep across the nation.

1835. The Banque du Belgique is founded. It provides financing for industry and serves as the model for similar banks in Germany, England, and France.

1844-46. Famine in Flanders leads to widespread economic problems and marks the final decline of the traditional linen industry. These combined problems slowed the economic development of the region well into the twentieth century.

1850. The National Bank of Belgium is formed.

1885. Congo becomes a personal possession of Leopold II.

1886. Worker unrest, which began in Liege, spreads throughout the nation. The government harshly suppresses this unrest, but it results in worker housing and wages reform.

1908. The Congo is annexed as a colony of Belgium.

1914. Germany invades Belgium at the start of World War I. During the war, some 20 percent of the nation's wealth is lost or destroyed.

1918. Universal suffrage is enacted.

1921. The Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU) is formed.

1930. Flanders and Wallonia become legally unilingual.

1940. During World War II, Germany invades Belgium and the Netherlands.

1944. Belgium joins the Benelux Economic Union, formed between Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

1949. The nation joins NATO.

1952. Belgium joins the European Coal and Steel Community.

1957. Belgium is one of the founding members of the European Community.

1960. The Congo gains independence.

1961. Massive strikes lead to the creation of a permanent linguistic barrier between Flanders and Wallonia, while the Brussels region is officially bilingual.

1962. Rwanda and Burundi are granted independence.

1971. Flanders and Wallonia are granted cultural autonomy.

1973. The worldwide oil crisis initiates a period of deep industrial decline, which is exacerbated by the second oil crisis in 1979.

1989. A revised constitution grants greater autonomy to Flanders and Wallonia, and Brussels is granted the status of a region.

1993. King Baudouin dies and is succeeded by his brother, King Albert II.

1999. The kingdom joins EMU.


Belgium is well positioned to continue its economic growth well into the 21st century. Its export-driven economy has created a trade surplus that will continue for the foreseeable future. In addition, Belgium's geographic position and its infrastructure indicate that the country will continuously serve as a point of entry for goods and services going into Europe. The introduction of the single European currency in 1999 will continue to make it easier for Belgian firms to trade within the EU.

While the 370 million people of the EU create one of the biggest commercial markets in the world, Belgium's dependence on intra-EU trade makes it vulnerable to economic slowdowns in the region. However, Belgium's trade with North America, namely the United States, continues to grow and may serve as a means to partially offset economic downturns in the EU.

Domestically, Belgium faces a variety of problems. Continuing tension between the Dutch-and French-speaking populations has led to the division of the nation into semi-autonomous regions that compete with one another for economic growth and investment. In addition, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, although it is lower than the EU average. Because of the high unemployment rate, the government is forced to maintain a high level of social welfare programs.


Belgium has no territories or colonies.


Belgian Foreign Trade Board. "The Belgian Assets: AnIntroduction." <>. Accessed September 2001.

Hermans, Theo, editor. The Flemish Movement: A Documentary History, 1780-1990. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Athlone, 1992.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). OECD economic surveys: Belgium-Luxembourg, 1998/99. Paris: OECD, 1999.

Stallaerts, Robert. Historical Dictionary of Belgium. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Belgium: 1998. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Belgium. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Belgium. <>. Accessed August 2001.

Van Meerhaeghe, M.A.G., editor. Belgium and EC Membership Evaluated. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Tom Lansford




Belgian franc (BEF). One franc is equal to 100 centimes. However, the centimes denominations are no longer used. The Belgian franc is exchangeable on an equal basis with the Luxembourg franc. In 1999, Belgium began using the euro, the common currency of the European Union. The franc is set at a fixed exchange rate of 40.3399 per euro. The euro will replace all local currencies within the EU in 2002.


Machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products.


Machinery and equipment, chemicals, metals and metal products.


US$259.2 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$181.4 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$166 billion (c.i.f., 2000).

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Kingdom of Belgium

Major Cities:
Brussels, Antwerp, Liège, Ghent, Bruges

Other Cities:
Aalst, Anderlecht, Charleroi, Geel, Kortrijk, Louvain, Mechlin, Mons, Namur, Ostend, Tournai, Verviers, Waterloo


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated July 1996. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


BELGIUM , whose name comes from a courageous Celtic tribe, the Belgae, once flourished as a province of ancient Rome. It was successively ruled by the Franks, the dukes of Burgundy, the Hapsburgs, and the Spanish; it was annexed by France; it endured an unhappy union with the Netherlands through the Congress of Vienna; and finally, in 1830, it achieved independence. In spite of proclaimed neutrality, Belgium was twice occupied by the Germans, in 1914 and again in 1940. Its own colonial empire in Africa collapsed in the postwar era, yet this small kingdom astonished the world with its resiliency and enterprise.

Through the centuries, Belgium has witnessed an ebb and flow of cultures, and an appealing blend of these diverse elements are found here today. The picturesque cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp are renowned for their medieval architecture and splendid Flemish art collections; theater-goers, music lovers, gourmets, and sports fans find ample occasion to pursue their interests; outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the wooded countryside of the Ardennes and the charming beach resorts on the North Seaand, adding their own special color to this tableau, are the profusion of flowers, the open-air markets, and the ubiquitous festivals.



The origins of Brussels date back to the first centuries of the Christian era. On the banks of the Senne, a small stream long since covered and lost from view, Brussels grew as a crossroads and trading center. By the 10th century, Brussels was a principal stop en route from Cologne through France to the Channel ports. In 1402, the cornerstone of the Hotel de Ville, the central building of Brussels ' magnificent Grand Place, was laid. During the next five centuries Brussels experienced Burgundian, Spanish, Austrian, French, and Dutch foreign rule. In 1830, Belgium won its independence from the Dutch, the Belgian monarchy was founded, and Brussels became the capital of the new Kingdom of the Belgians.

Though retaining vivid architectural and cultural traces of its deep involvement in European history, Brussels today has all the excitement, activity, and comfort of a modern European capital. It is headquarters for the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as the European home for many leading multinational businesses. Brussels is legally bilingual in French and Dutch. English also is widely known and used, particularly in business circles.


Generally, food prices in Belgian stores are higher than in the U.S. Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant locally year round, with seasonal selections and variations. In winter, potatoes, carrots, brussels sprouts, endives, celery, turnips, cabbages, cauliflower, beets, apples, oranges, and grapefruit are in particularly ample supply. Many other choices are available in the large supermarkets.

Supermarkets and many smaller stores carry a wide selection of frozen fruits and vegetables at prices usually higher than those in the U.S. Local foods are safe, raw as well as cooked. All kinds of fresh fish and a variety of meats are available. Pasteurized milk is standard. An incredible variety of delicious breads and bakery items are sold at local bakeries and supermarkets. American brands of baby food are available at larger supermarkets.


Clothing and shoe requirements in Belgium are similar to those for New England, the Middle Atlantic States, and the Pacific Northwest. In Belgium, however, more raincoats, umbrellas, and low-heeled, thick-soled walking shoes are needed. Winters, as a rule, are less severe than in Washington, D.C., with little or no snow. On the other hand, summers are not as warm. Lightweight summer clothing is not usually necessary, but at times can be useful for vacationing or on the rare occasion when the weather in Brussels is unseasonably hot. Summer clothing sold locally is usually of a heavier weight, often fully lined, and relatively expensive.

Men: The local market offers a wide choice of both ready-made and tailored clothing, but prices are often high.

Women: Women wear warm, often wool or wool-blend, dresses and suits most of the year. In July and August cotton or silk dresses are appropriate, but a sweater, blazer, or light wrap is often required. Lightweight suits are ideal for the changeable summer weather. An adequate wardrobe for Brussels includes sweaters, scarves, gloves, raincoats, rain boots, umbrellas, and good walking shoes. Women planning to attend private parties, theatrical and musical events, and other social events will occasionally need cocktail and short evening dresses, and less frequently, long evening dresses or skirts.

Ready-made suits and dresses sold in Brussels are more expensive than garments of similar quality in the United States and may require alterations to fit properly. The semi-annual sales provide an opportunity to purchase items at less than normal prices, but often more expensive than comparable U.S. purchases. Tall women sometimes have difficulty finding suits and dresses in their sizes. Half-sizes do not exist in Belgium.

Excellent Belgian, French, Italian, Swiss, and English fabrics can be purchased. Good dressmakers are available. Custom-made suits and dresses compare in price and quality to American equivalents. Clothing shops in London, Amsterdam, Cologne, and Paris offer alternative shopping options within a reasonable distance from Brussels.

Women are advised to bring at least one warm winter coat. Fur coats and jackets can be worn comfortably, but are not essential for warmth during the mild Belgian winters. Raincoats in varying weights are strongly recommended.

Children: For children, warm comfortable clothing or layered outfits are advisable. Sweatshirts or sweaters in natural fabrics, tights for girls, warm pajamas, turtlenecks, hooded coats, and jackets are needed. Both boys and girls will want warm coats, scarves, gloves and mittens, sturdy shoes with rubber or composition soles, rain boots, raincoats, and hats.

Uniforms are worn in grades 1-5 at St. John's International School. For teenagers, the fashion trend is definitely American. American professional and collegiate sports logo items are the European fashion trend and are available in local shops at highly inflated prices. Baseball caps are very popular. Jeans are the norm for both girls and boys at all of the local schools. Children's clothing purchased here costs much more than in the U.S., but quality is good. Infant and baby clothing available locally is of German, English, French, and Belgian manufacture and is expensive.

Many styles of rain boots and shoes are found in Brussels shops. Warm fleece-lined boots are recommended for raw winter days. Many of the sidewalks and streets are cobblestone, which is slippery when wet and a menace to high heels. Belgian shoes are stylish, but are not always comfortable for American women. Small sizes and shoes narrower than "B" width are hard to find. French, Italian, and Swiss shoes are popular but expensive; they are normally unavailable in narrow widths.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Both American and foreign toiletries and cosmetics are available locally at prices higher than those in the U.S. Since the local water is hard, water softeners are often required for bathing and laundry.

Basic Services: Laundry, shoe repair, and dry-cleaning services are satisfactory and fast. One-day service is available. Laundromats can be found throughout Brussels and its suburbs. Coin-operated dry-cleaning shops are also available. Local dry-cleaning is more expensive than in the U.S.

Beauty shops abound, from reasonably priced neighborhood shops to "name" salons with accompanying high prices.

Religious Activities

Many religious denominations are represented in Brussels. The following English-language services are available:


Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Rue Capitaine Crespel 29, 1050 Brussels.

All Saints' Church, Centre Notre Dame d'Argenteuil, Chaussee de Louvain 563, 1380 Ohain.

St. Paul's English Speaking Church-Tervuren, Saint Paulus Church, Dorpsplein, 3080 Vossem.

Assembly of God:
Christian Center, Chaussèe de Waterloo 47, 1640 Rhode St. Genese.

International Baptist Church, Lange Eikstraat 76-78, 1970 Wezembeek-Oppem.

Christian Scientist:
First Church of Christ Scientist, Chaussèe de Vleurgat 96, 1050 Brussels.

Church of Christ:
Church of Christ, Rue de la Brasserie 78, 1050 Brussels.

Synagogue Beth Hillel and Religious School (reform), Avenue Kersbeek 96, 1190 Brussels.

Jewish Synagogue of Brussels, (orthodox) Rue de la Règence 32, 1000 Brussels.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Strombeeklinde 110, 1820 Grimbergen.

St. Andrew's Church of Scotland, Chaussèe de Vleurgat 181, 1050 Brussels.

The International Protestant Church, Kattenberg 19, Boitsfort, 1170 Brussels.

Religious Society of Friends:
Quaker House, Square Ambiorix 50, 1040 Brussels.

Roman Catholic:
Our Lady of Mercy, Place de la Sainte Alliance 10, 1180 Brussels.

Parish of St. Anthony, Avenue des Anciens Combattants 23-25, 1950 Kraainem.

Church of St. Nicolas (Bourse), Rue du Tabora 6, 1000 Brussels.


English-language schools in the Brussels area offer comprehensive educational programs for school-age children according to the American or British systems.

Belgian public schools offer viable educational programs and provide an opportunity for American children to learn French and Dutch. The 1993 Schools in Brussels: A Guide for U.S. Government Families contains detailed information on the educational options available in Brussels.

Brussels American School (BAS)
12 John F. Kennedylaan, 1960
Tel: 32 (2) 731-5626
FAX: 32 (2) 782-0230

BAS is a Department of Defense Dependents School (DODDS) sponsored institution serving the families of U.S. Government personnel, NATO personnel, embassies of NATO countries, and, on a space-available basis, American citizens working for private firms. It is located on the same campus as the NATO Health Clinic, in the commune of Sterrebeek, 5 miles east of central Brussels. Several AP programs are offered in the high school.

The school complex, constructed in 1967, is situated on 17 acres. It includes an administrative building, an elementary and middle school building, a high school building, a gymnasium, playing fields and tennis courts. BAS is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA). There is a full-time guidance counselor at the school as well as a Parent-Teacher-Student Organization. Free bus service is available for students who live within the BAS bus routes.

International School of Brussels (ISB)
Kattenberg 19, 1170 Brussels
Tel: 32 (2) 672-2788
FAX: 32 (2) 675-1178

ISB, a private school on 40 acres of woodland, is located in the commune of Watermael-Boitsfort, just within Brussels city limits. The students and faculty are international. The school is divided into an early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school, each with its own library. There is a full-day kindergarten program as well as a nursery school for 3-to 4-year-old children. An International Baccalaureate (IB) program is available at the high school. A few AP courses also are offered. Bus service is available throughout greater Brussels for an annual fee.

ISB is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in the U.S., and the European Council of International Schools (ECIS).

St. John's International School
Drève Richelle 146, 1410 Waterloo
Tel: 32 (2) 354-1138
FAX: 32 (2) 353-0495

St. John's is situated near the famous Waterloo battlefield, 30 minutes from the center of Brussels by car. It is an ecumenical Catholic institution with students of all faiths. St. John's offers programs to 900 students from preschool to high school. Basically the curriculum is American, but the British General Certificate of Secondary Education and the International Baccalaureate are also offered. A limited number of AP courses are taught. Bus service is available throughout greater Brussels and is covered by the educational allowance.

There is a one-time registration fee for new students.

The British School of Brussels (BSB)
19 Leuvensesteenweg, 3080 Tervuren
Tel: 32 (2) 767-4700
FAX: 32 (2) 767-8070

BSB follows the British national curriculum leading to the General Certificate of Secondary Education. The school is located 6 miles east of the city center. It has strong programs in the sciences, languages and arts, and offers a wide range of science and technology programs. Students from preschool to Form 13 are on one campus.

The European School I
46 Vert Chasseur
1180 Brussels
Tel: 32 (2) 373-8611

The European School II
75 Avenue Oscar Jespers
1200 Brussels
Tel: 32 (2) 774-2211

The European Schools serve families of the European Union. There are two locations in Brussels and one in Mol, north of Brussels. The same curriculum is taught in six language sections. Some subjects are taught to composite classes of the same level. The school considers languages and its international character its biggest advantages. Primary school is a 5-year program and secondary school is 7. The European Schools charge fees to all non-EU employees. In recent years, because of severe overcrowding, the European Schools have been unable to accommodate applicants from non-EU countries.

The British Primary School
6 Stationstraat, 1981
Tervuren Tel: 32 (2) 767-3098

The school is located in the rural suburb of Vossem, near Tervuren, about 20 minutes from central Brussels by car. It is housed in a contemporary brick building and has a large garden with playground equipment and a closed veranda for the nursery classes. Play, music, and art go hand-in-hand with organized free play.

Brussels English Primary School (BEPS)
23 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt
1050 Brussels
Tel: 32 (2) 648-4311
FAX: 32 (2) 687-2968

Brussels English Primary School (BEPS II)
Rue L. Deladriere 13
1300 Limal
Tel: 32 (10) 417-227
FAX: Same as BEPS I

BEPS provides education according to the traditional British primary school structure. The school is located in Ixelles near the Bois de la Cambre, 15 minutes from the center of Brussels by car. The Nursery School provides a full range of pre-school activities and the children have access to a garden at the rear of the school.

BEPS II is located in Limal, about 20 miles southeast of Brussels, near the city of Wavre.

Other national groups operating schools in Brussels include the French, Germans, Scandinavians, and Japanese. Older students whose French or Dutch capability permits may attend many Belgian schools of high academic standing. Whether supported by private, city, state, or religious funds, nearly all receive state subsidies and follow a standard curriculum. People enrolling their children in neighborhood schools pay either nominal tuition or none at all.

No documents or certificates are required to enroll a child in a Belgian primary school (grades 1 to 6). Enrollment in secondary education (grades 7 to 12) requires an "Attestation d'Etudes." This document, which must be signed by the principal of the American school the student last attended, should indicate the grade level completed and subjects taken during the last 3 years. The last report card is also required. The application for a statement of academic course equivalence is normally made by the parents, who may apply directly to the following address: Administration de l'Enseignement Secondaire, Service des Equivalences, Cite Administrative de l'Etat (Arcades), Bloc D, 5 ème ètage, bureau 55222, 1010 Brussels.

Adjustment to a European school varies with the individual student's aptitude, personality, and previous educational background. To obtain a resume of Belgian curricula, write:

The Office des Publications
Administration des Etudes
Ministere de l'Education Nationale Cite Administrative de l'Etat (Arcades)
1010 Brussels.

Brussels has good preschool facilities. Most communes have nursery school programs for which there is little or no tuition. Excellent private nursery schools charge a nominal tuition. All programs provide excellent opportunities for children to enjoy supervised play and exposure to French or Dutch.

Special Educational Opportunities

There are a number of university level programs available in Belgium. Those who are interested in pursuing studies should write directly to the educational institution to request information.

Vesalius College of the Free University of Brussels (VUB) offers an English-language curriculum leading to the B.A. degree, with 15 majors offered. Vesalius College is located at:

2 Pleinlaan
1050 Brussels
tel: 32 (2) 629-3626
FAX: 32 (2) 629-3627

The historic Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, founded in 1425, has a wide choice of courses taught in English in several fields leading to B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. Specialized programs for post law degree candidates are also available. Write or call:

KU Leuven
Dienst Internationale Relaties
Naamsestraat 22
3000 Leuven
tel: 32 (16) 284-025 or
32 (16) 284-027

Boston University Brussels is an integral part of Boston University and offers academic programs of the Metropolitan College and Graduate School. An M.A. in International Relations and an M.S. in Management are currently offered in English. Established in 1972, the school shares the facilities of the Dutch-speaking Free University, Brussels (VUB). Write or call:

Boston University Brussels
Font St. Landry 6
1120 Brussels
tel: 32 (2) 268-0037

Local communal art and music schools offer instruction for adults and children. Advanced students might enroll at the Royal Conservatory of Music or at the High School for Architecture and Decorative Arts. Private instruction in music and art also is available in Brussels.


Americans play golf at: Royal Waterloo Golf Club in Ohain; the Royal Golf Club of Belgium in Tervuren; the Golf and Business Club at Kampenhout; and the Keerbergen Golf Course at Keerbergen. Fees and dues are expensive at the first two; Kampenhout and Keer-bergen are less expensive. Many golf courses in Europe restrict play to those who have a Golf Federation Card, which reflects current membership in a European golf club. If one does not have membership in a golf club, it is usually possible to play as a guest of a member. Most courses are not generally open to the public, but golf has become very popular and several new courses have opened in recent years, some with more liberal playing policies.

Soccer, field hockey, basketball, and horse racing are popular Belgian sports. But game shooting remains the traditional sport, with boar, deer, pheasant, partridge, duck, and other small game hunted. Hunting areas are strictly controlled, either by individuals or by clubs, and shooting is by invitation or by membership. Opportunities exist for camping, boating and sailing, fishing, and skiing in the Ardennes.

Brussels has many indoor and outdoor tennis clubs; fees and dues vary according to the facilities. Handball courts, indoor swimming pools, new indoor rock climbing walls, and modern bowling alleys are all available and enjoy considerable popularity with Americans. For horseback riders, there are bridle paths in the Bois de la Cambre and nearby forests.

The Brussels Sports Association, an English-speaking organization operated by parent volunteers, offers soccer, basketball, softball, and sanctioned Little League baseball for girls and boys, ages 6 through 15.

The Brussels American School (BAS), International School of Brussels (ISB), and St. John's International School provide junior varsity and varsity interscholastic sports programs. American football is offered only at BAS and ISB. St. John's and ISB offer baseball. All schools have basketball and soccer programs.

Skating enthusiasts enjoy roller skating in the Bois de la Cambre and ice skating at Foret National and Poseidon indoor ice rinks. Skates may be rented.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Many fine parks in Brussels offer a variety of outdoor activities. The Bois de la Cambre, a large green haven, features pleasant vistas for strolling, rowing, bicycling, horseback riding, roller skating, and miniature golf. The Parc de Tervuren has beautiful walks around lovely lakes, boating, and play areas for children.

A pleasant spring and summer pastime in Belgium is "petanque" or "boule," an outdoor game played with weighted balls in a marked-off court. It originated in the south of France and reminds Americans of a mixture of bowling and horseshoes.

Swimming in indoor pools is a year-round activity in Brussels. The cool summers encourage only the hardy to venture into outdoor swimming areas. But beachcombers find the North Sea coast with its wide, sandy beaches well worth the 2-hour drive from Brussels. There are many resort areas; Ostend and Het Zoute are probably the best known and the most expensive. The season at the seashore is usually short and the water temperatures compare with those along the northern New England coast. Modern, comfortable summer cottages and apartments, as well as many reasonably priced pensions, are available in seacoast towns.

In addition to the many museums and attractions found in Brussels, its central location offers unlimited sight-seeing and travel opportunities, not only in Belgium but throughout Europe.


Brussels offers a full spectrum of entertainment. Opera, concerts, ballets, stage presentations (in French or Dutch), and visiting international performers provide an interesting range of cultural activities. British and American theater clubs present several productions yearly. Numerous movie theaters show films in French, English, Italian, and other languages. Usually a dozen or more American films are playing in Brussels at any one time. Most films are shown in the original language with subtitles.

Inexpensive discotheques with dancing and recorded music abound in the city. The few nightclubs offering floor shows are expensive.

Brussels' many good restaurants offer Belgian cooking (based on French cuisine), as well as Italian, Chinese, Serbian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, African, and other specialties. Prices range from very expensive at some outstanding restaurants to reasonable at smaller establishments. Dining out is a Belgian national pastime. Numerous small cafes do a brisk beer business day and night, and sidewalk cafes flourish in good weather. Belgian folk festival traditions with celebrations of every kind are some of Europe's richest. Especially colorful and exciting are those of the pre-Lenten season. The Carnival of the Gilles in Binche, a Shrove Tuesday event, dates from the 16th century when Spain ruled Belgium. It features the Gilles, those men and boys of the town entitled to wear the brilliant costumes topped with towering Incainspired feathered hats. With carnival enthusiasm, the Gilles dance through the town in Indian rhythm, beating drums, shaking bells, and tossing fresh oranges to the spectators. The Ommegang in Brussels and the Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges are other internationally famous Belgian festivals.

Certain Brussels communes have public lending libraries, some of which carry a few books in English. Brussels also has excellent research and professional libraries. The Royal Library, in particular, has some valuable possessions, including manuscripts, prints, and miniatures. The British Council Library is a good source for English-language fiction and non-fiction. There is also a well-stocked library at the NATO Support Activity. There are several English-language bookstores. There are many other bookstores which carry some English-language materials. Books can be checked out from most libraries.

Social Activities

Among Americans: Organizations within the American community include the American Club of Brussels, the American Women's Club, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, and Girl Scouts.

All women are invited to join the American Women's Club of Brussels (AWCB). In addition to charitable work and other community services, the AWCB organizes excursions, lectures, luncheons, and activities classes, including bridge, yoga, and Japanese flower arranging. Participating in the club and its activities provides an opportunity to meet members of the expatriate American community. Within the AWCB are international members who have been sponsored by an American. There is also an active international group within the club which meets for various activities and for cultural exchange.

International Contacts: The Association Belgo-Americaine offers Americans a chance to meet Belgians interested in America and in knowing Americans through luncheons, lectures, and film showings. It promotes understanding and good will.

The Cercle Gaulois is a pleasant and sociable men's club with a good restaurant. Another club is De Warande.

Other organizations that welcome Americans include the Red Cross, Toastmasters, the American Theater Company, local scouting, sports and musical groups. Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, and other service clubs are also active. Brussels has an extraordinary range of clubs and organizations, both American and international, which afford individuals an opportunity to pursue almost any type of interest during their tour here.

Special Information

Belgian Telephone Numbers: The telephone numbers assigned to subscribers in Belgium by the servicing telecommunications companies consist of either a 6-or 7-digit configuration. Larger metropolitan areas normally issue 7-digit numbers; many rural and suburban areas utilize phone numbers consisting of 6 digits.

Exchanges with 7-digit phone numbers use a single digit city/local code; localities with 6-digit phone numbers have a 2-digit city/local code. The country code for all of Belgium is 32.

The phone/fax numbers listed are configured to reflect the following pattern:

country code (city/local code) local number

For 7 digit numbers, the configuration is:

32 (##) ###-####

For 6 digit numbers, the configuration is:

32 (##) ###-###


The European Logistical Support Office personnel (ELSO) is located in the Flemish speaking city of Antwerp in the Flanders region. Antwerp is known for both its historic and artistic legacy (the home of Rubens) as well as for its large, modern seaport. It is about 45 minutes north of Brussels by car or train, and the climate is about the same.

Religious Activities

Catholic and Protestant religious services are held in English in Antwerp. Although no Jewish services are held in English in Antwerp, they are available in Brussels.


The Antwerp International School is located 10 km north of Antwerp in the suburb of Ekeren. It offers an American program pre-kindergarten through grade 12 culminating in either a U.S. High School accredited diploma or the International Baccalaureate diploma.

The EEC International School offers an English-language program from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 culminating in an American high school diploma of the University of Cambridge IGCSE and advanced level examinations.

Recreation and Social Life

A variety of recreational opportunities exist on the local economy. A limited number of social and recreational opportunities also exist with English speaking organizations such as the American Women's Club of Antwerp, the British Theater Arts Society, the Belgian-American Association, the international schools, and the churches.


Liège, whose Flemish name is Luik and German name Lüttich, is situated in eastern Belgium at the confluence of the Meuse and Ourthe Rivers, near the borders of both the Netherlands and Germany. Close to the Ardennes Plateau region, and 54 miles southwest of Brussels, Liège is the largest French-speaking city in Belgium. The city proper has about 185,000 residents. A major commercial, industrial, and transportation hub, Liège manufactures chemicals, textiles, furniture, motor vehicles, electrical and electronic equipment, and armaments.

Liège was established as a bishopric in the eighth century and, by the 10th century, it was the capital of an extensive ecclesiastical state, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1792. During the Middle Ages, it was an important cultural city, as well as a center for the textile and metal industries. Liège was seized by Napoleon in 1794 and was a part of France until 1815, when it was assigned to the Netherlands by the Congress of Vienna. In the 19th century, the city was the center of Walloon culture and development, which included rapid industrial growth and social unrest.

The fortifications of Liège were reportedly among the strongest in Europe, but the city fell to the Germans after a 12-day siege in 1914. It suffered defeat again in World War II (May 1940). Although it was liberated by U.S. forces four years later, it had suffered extensive damage from German rockets during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 to January 1945.

Today, Liège is, for the most part, a modern city with some splendid historic churches, houses, and museums which contribute to its popularity as a tourist spot. The Walloon Museum depicts everyday life in the 19th century, and is housed in a 17th-century convent. Among the city's ancient buildings are two 10th-century churches and a cathedral, also built in that period. The Palais de Justice is the 16th-century palace of the bishop-princes, and has magnificent interior decorations. Liège has a university (founded in 1816), concert halls, theaters, and an opera house where productions are presented from September to May.

Twenty-five miles northwest of Liège is the secluded reserve, Bokrijk, which has a park, arboretum, rose garden, several lakes, and an open-air museum. Here at the museum is a re-creation of a typical Kempen village, with farms, stables, and one of Belgium's oldest windmills. There are also a 12th-century church, and 17th-century thatched-roofed homes that contain period furnishings. The Ardennes Cemetery is 11 miles southwest of Liège, near the village of Neuvilleen-Condroz. Thousands of Americans killed in the Battle of the Bulge are buried here.

Schools for Foreigners

The International School of Liège is a coeducational school covering kindergarten through ninth grade. It was founded in 1967.

Aspects of the U.S. and U.K. curricula are combined at International School. French is offered as a foreign language. The school year extends from September through June, with vacations at Christmas, Easter, and midterm. Currently, there are six teachers and 17 students (capacity is between 40 and 60).

International School is located north of central Liège. It has five classrooms, a gymnasium, playing fields, swimming pool, and a 5,000-volume library. The mailing address is boulevard Leon Philippet 7, Xhovemont, 4000 Liège, Belgium.


Ghent (Gent in Flemish, Gand in French) is the capital of East Flanders Province. It is situated at the confluence of the Schelde and Lys Rivers, about 35 miles northwest of Brussels. Connected with the North Sea by the Gent-Terneuzen Canal and a network of other canals, Ghent is a major port as well as the chief textile, clothing, and steel manufacturing center of Belgium. Called the "city of flowers," it is also the trade center of a bulb producing region. With a current population of 224,000, Ghent is Belgium's third largest city.

First mentioned in the seventh century, Ghent is one of the country's oldest cities, developing around a fortress built by the first count of Flanders on a small island early in the 10th century. The town spread to nearby islets and today is still connected by many bridges. In medieval times, the city was a major commercial center and the seat of the counts of Flanders. Ghent had become one of Europe's largest cities and a major wool-producing center by the 13th century; the work force was comprised primarily of weavers, fullers, shearers, and dyers at that time. Social conflicts between the workers and the upper classes were frequent. The city was the site on November 8, 1576, of the Pacification of Gent which was an alliance of the provinces of the Netherlands to drive the Spanish from the area. The modern industrialization of Ghent began with the development of its port and the establishment of textile factories early in the 19th century. The city was also the site of a treaty signed December 24, 1814, marking the end of the War of 1812. German forces occupied Ghent in both World Wars.

Ghent has more historic buildings than any other city in Belgium. The landmark is the famous belfry, erected in 1300 as a symbol of freedom. Standing about 300 feet tall, the tower also has an equally famous 52-bell carillon. Despite the symbolic nature of the belfry, more travelers visit St. Bavo's Cathedral. Built sometime between the 10th and 16th centuries, the cathedral's architecture has both Romanesque and Gothic additions. St. Bavo's houses several art treasures, including Hubert and Jan van Eyck's polyptych "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," in a side chapel. The painting, which dates from the 15th century, is an extraordinary example of Renaissance-style use of detail and vivid color. The masterpiece is also one of the great mysteries of the art world, as experts cannot differentiate between the various parts painted by each of the brothers. Other works of art found in the cathedral are Rubens' "Conversion of St. Bavo" and various crowns and jewels. St. Bavo's is open daily.

The architecture of Ghent blends the medieval and Renaissance styles. Narrow streets and houses built close together make the city very picturesque. Famous structures include the ruins of the Abbey of St. Bavo, dating to the seventh century; and the guild houses, located on the Graslei, built between the 12th and 16th centuries, and reflecting Gothic, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles. The city's town hall was so long under construction that it combines Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Ghent has several other cathedrals (St. Nicholas, St. James), parks (Citadel Park), palaces (Floralia), and castles (Kasteel D'Ooidonk, castle of Laarne) of interest. St. Jorishof, built in the 15th century, is Europe's oldest hotel; today it is widely known for its restaurant. All historic buildings are illuminated nightly from May through October.

Ghent has an opera company and many fine museums. The city can be toured by boat, leaving from Vleeshuisbridge and Korenlei, and by horse-drawn cart, leaving from Korenlei and St. Baafsplein. Ghent is surrounded by begonia fields, in bloom from late July through late September.


Bruges (Brugge), situated in northwest Belgium, is the capital of West Flanders Province. Located nine miles inland, it is connected by canals to Zeebrugge and Ostend, outer ports on the North Sea. A commercial, industrial, and tourist center as well as a rail junction, Bruges manufactures textiles, lace, ships, railroad cars, electronic equipment, chemicals, and processed food. With a population of about 116,000, Bruges, known as the "city of bridges," is 55 miles northwest of Brussels.

The town was founded in the ninth century on an inlet of the North Sea and, by the 11th century, it had become a major trading center with England. In the 13th century, Bruges was one of the chief wool-producing centers in Flanders. One hundred years later, at its peak of prosperity, it was among the great commercial and financial cities of Europe, as well as the residence of the dukes of Burgundy.

The decline of Bruges began when the Flemish wool industry faltered because of foreign competition early in the 15th century. In 1490, the inlet on which the city is located became clogged with silt, and Bruges lost its access to the sea and its outer ports. Also contributing to what would be a 300-year decline was Antwerp's rise to prominence as a major port. The revival of Bruges began in 1895 when repairs to the port were begun; in 1907, the canal to Zeebrugge (or Brugge-on-the-Sea) was completed.

Bruges was occupied by the Germans during both World Wars. Today, although its chief income comes from tourism, lace making, and horticulture, it has regained importance as a port, and new prospects in industry, technology, and commerce are now underway.

A visitor to Bruges may absorb the medieval aura of the city by various modes of transportation. The sights may be viewed from a boat on one of the many canals, from a horse-drawn carriage, or from walking the ancient cobblestone streets. Most of the interesting sites are clustered around the city's main square, the Markt. Noted structures here reflect a variety of architectural styles and include the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the town hall (Europe's oldest, 1376), the old recorder's house, and the baroque provost's house. The Romanesque architecture found in the Basilica of the Holy Blood is evident in the chapel's crypt; built between 1139 and 1149, its upper chapel was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century. What are claimed to be a few drops of Christ's blood, enclosed in a gold reliquary, were presented to the city by Derek of Alsace, count of Flanders, in 1150. On Ascension Day in Bruges, there is a procession of the Holy Blood through the city streets, along with characters and scenes from the Bible. The Church of Our Lady, although primarily Gothic, actually combines several different architectural styles. Paintings by Gérard David and a white Carrara marble statue by Michelangelo entitled "Mother and Child" are displayed. The sculpture was purchased from the artist by a wealthy Flemish burglar and is the only statue of Michelangelo's to remain permanently outside of Italy. The 16th-century mausoleums of Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy are also found in this church.

Bruges offers other interesting buildings, museums, and art galleries: Belfort en Hall, the market hall or clothworkers hall, was active from the 13th through the 15th centuries. Its belfry offers visitors an excellent view of the city. A 49-bell carillon entertains here with concerts on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings and on Sunday morning from mid-June through September. At the Groeningemuseum, paintings by artists of the Flemish primitive school, accounting for about 30 masterworks, as well as collections of later and contemporary art, are displayed. The Gruuthusemuseum, housed in a 15th-century palace, has interesting exhibits of Flemish lace, pottery, and furniture. The Hans Memling Museum was the medieval St. John's Hospital, which accommodated travellers beginning in the 12th Century. Memling (1435-1494) was a painter who studied under Rogier Van der Weyden and lived in Bruges from 1465 until his death. His works exhibited at the museum include the triptych altarpiece, "The Marriage of St. Catherine" and "Shrine of St. Ursula," which is considered one of the seven marvels of Belgium. Beautiful handmade lace is a centuries-old industry in Bruges; the intricacies of creating this openwork can be studied here, and it is possible to watch the students at work with their bobbins. A profusion of small shops cater to the ever-increasing tourist demand for lace made in Bruges.

From June to September, the canals and buildings in Bruges are flooded with light at night, reminding the visitor of Venice, Italy.

Just seven miles beyond the city is the North Sea port of Zeebrugge, which offers lovely beaches and water sports activities. Zeebrugge, where the ferry crosses to and from England, drew international attention in March 1987 with the tragic sinking of a passenger vessel less than a mile from the harbor. A valiant rescue effort saved many lives, but 185 are known dead, either in the frigid waters of the North Sea or trapped in the overturned boat.

In the same area is the picturesque village of Lissewege. Medieval culture has been preserved here; there are windmills, a canal, low houses, a 13th-century church, and a 12th-century abbey.


AALST , with a population of about 76,000, is situated on the Dender River, 15 miles northwest of Brussels, in western Belgium. Founded in the ninth century, the city has been occupied by the Spanish, Germans, French, and Dutch from 1056 until Belgium's independence in 1830. Historical sites in town include the unfinished, Gothic style, 14th-century St. Martin Church and a statue of Thierry Martens, who established the first Belgian printing press here in 1473.

ANDERLECHT , with a population of 93,000, is a residential and industrial suburb of Brussels. Situated on the Charleroi-Brussels Canal, Anderlecht was the home of Erasmus, philosopher and scholar, from 1517 to 1521. His house is now a museum.

CHARLEROI is Belgium's fifth city in size, with a population of 208,000 (greater area). It is located in southern Belgium, on the Sambre River and Charleroi-Brussels Canal. Founded in 1666 and named for Charles II of Spain, it is the center of an area that produces iron and coal. Metal, glass, and other industries are also present. An important strategic position during the 17th-and 18th-century wars, Charleroi was the site of a victorious German battle in World War I. Today, the city has modern buildings and a technical university. Places of interest include the Industrial Exhibition Halls and the Palace of Fine Arts. Eleven miles southwest of Charleroi is the medieval village of Thuin, featuring old abbeys, hanging gardens, and a thousand-year-old tower. Six miles west of Thuin is Binche, known for its pre-Lenten Carnival and museum of carnival masks.

GEEL , located about 35 miles north of the capital, is known for its home-care system for the mentally ill. It has been a treatment center for the mentally impaired since the Middle Ages. When the tomb of St. Dympna became associated with the cure of insanity, people came to Geel in large numbers. The townspeople began to board the pilgrims in their houses. In 1850, the government assumed responsibility for the system. Industries in Geel include textile and cigar factories and breweries. The city's population is approximately 33,000.

KORTRIJK (in French, Courtrai) lies on the Leie (Lys) River, about 47 miles southwest of Brussels. By the 14th century, Kortrijk was the most important cloth manufacturing town in medieval Flanders. Today, with a population of close to 76,000, Kortrijk is an important linen and textile manufacturing center. The Church of Notre Dame here contains Rubens' "Elevation of the Cross." The Gothic town hall dates from 1526 and currently houses the tourist office. Ten miles northeast of Kortrijk, near the town of Waregem, is Flanders Field, the cemetery where Americans killed in World War I are buriedand touchingly remembered by grateful Belgians who still honor them with floral tributes and prayers.

LOUVAIN (in Flemish, Leuven), 17 miles east of Brussels on the Dijle River, was an important center of wool trade and of the cloth industry during the Middle Ages. It was the seat of the dukes of Brabant for centuries, but is best known for its university. Founded in 1425 by Pope Martin V, the university rapidly became renowned as a center for Catholic learning. Its 800,000-volume library is considered one of the finest in the world; it was destroyed in both World Wars, and restored twice. A long-standing dispute between Belgium's Flemish and French-speaking (Walloon) sectors resulted in the division of the university into two separate units in 1968. The Flemish-speaking University of Leuven is in the city; the French-speaking Université Catholique de Louvain is at Ottignies. Noted churches in Louvain are the 15th-century Gothic St. Pierre's and the baroque St. Michel's. The town hall, built in 1459 in flamboyant Gothic style, is one of the most attractive buildings in Belgium; it houses the local tourist office. Louvain's population is about 75,000.

MECHLIN (Mechelen in Flemish, Malines in French) is located on the Dijle River in north-central Belgium, about 12 miles south of Brussels. Once a center of Flemish cloth-weaving and known for its lace, Mechlin today is a commercial, industrial, and transportation center, manufacturing textiles, steel, and motor vehicles. It has 77,000 residents. The city was founded early in the Middle Ages, and was a fief for the prince-bishops of Liège until 1356. Although it has been damaged several times in wars, Mechlin retains many noteworthy buildings. The Gothic cathedral of St. Rombaut is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Belgium; built in the 13th century, it has a 319-foot tower and a 49-bell carillon. Concerts are performed on Sunday, Monday, and Saturday. A bell-ringing school attracts carillonneurs from all over the world. The cathedral houses Van Dyke's painting, "Crucifixion," and paintings by Rubens. The tourist office is located in the town hall, built in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 18th century.

MONS (also called Bergen) is located in southwest Belgium near the French border. With a population of 94,000, it is the capital of Hainaut Province and the processing and shipping center of the Borinage coal mining district, as well as a manufacturing center. Charlemagne made Mons the capital of Hainaut in 840; in 1295, it was the seat of the counts of Hainaut. Mons was occupied by Dutch, Spanish, and French forces in wars of the 16th through the 18th centuries, and was the site of several battles in both World Wars. A visitor today finds winding streets, quaint buildings, and magnificent mansions, remnants of the city's long history. The castle of the counts of Hainaut is mostly in ruins, except for some subterranean passages and the chapel of St. Calixte, whose belfry contains a 47-bell carillon. Collegiate Church of St. Waudru, a late Gothic structure, has 28 chapels, 16th-century stained glass windows, and the alabaster "Annunciation" by Dubrecq. Mons is the site of an annual pageant and festival of St. George. During winter, about three or four visiting ballet and opera companies and symphony orchestras perform monthly. Excellent shopping facilities, especially food stores, are available here. The town of Casteau, near Mons, is the site of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE).

NAMUR , or Namen, the capital of the eponymous province, is situated at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers in south-central Belgium. About 35 miles southeast of Brussels, and with a population of 106,000, Namur is a rail junction as well as a commercial and industrial center, producing leather goods and porcelain. Pink brick houses, baroque churches, and lovely gardens add charm to the city. The 11th-century citadel and castle of the counts of Namur overlooks the town and may be reached by road or cable car. Other nearby castles include Corroy-le-Château, a military fortress; Mielmont (16th century); and Franc-Waret (18th century). The baroque St. Aubin Cathedral, built in the 18th century, contains paintings by Van Dyke and Jordaens and has copies of Rubens' work. Namur's archaeological museum is considered one of the richest in Belgium. During summer, boat excursions may be made to Dinant in the Ardennes. The tourist office is located on Leopold Square.

OSTEND (Oostende) is the largest and oldest of the Belgian cities on the North Sea coast. With a population of about 69,000, it is a major commercial and fishing port, industrial center, and seaside resort, connected by canals with Bruges and Ghent. Ostend was a port as early as the 11th century and played an important role in the Dutch struggle for independence. From May to October, it is the country's most popular seaside resort, with a three-mile beach, race track, casino, golf course, and facilities for other sports. Concerts, ballet, and other entertainment are presented at the casino during summer. Steamer trips across the channel to Dover, England, leave from Ostend's harbor.

TOURNAI (also called Doornik, in Flemish, and Tournay) is located in southwest Belgium on the Schelde River, nine miles from the French border and 43 miles from Brussels. A commercial and industrial center with a population of 68,000, Tournai manufactures textiles, carpets, and cement. One of the oldest cities in Belgium, Tournai was founded by the Romans in the third century and was destroyed in 881 by the Normans. It was part of France from 1187 to 1521, part of the Spanish Netherlands until 1714, and then was under Austrian rule. A cultural center since the 12th century, Tournai is also noted for its tapestries, china, and earthenware. The Museum of Fine Arts here displays works by Rubens, Brueghel, Manet, and others. The 13th-century belfry is the oldest in Belgium, and offers a fine view of the city. The Romanesque Cathedral of Notre Dame was built in 1171, and contains many sculptures, murals, and paintings. Château de Beloeil, 17 miles southeast of Tournai, is one of the finest castles in the province. It is complete with a moat and a garden-park. The Tournai tourist office is located at 14 rue du Vieux Marchéaux Poteries, opposite the belfry.

VERVIERS , located east of Liège at the foot of the Ardennes, is an industrial center manufacturing textiles and machinery. Its population is about 54,000. Surrounded by lush countryside, Verviers has an 18th-century town hall and Church of Our Lady. The castle of Franchimont, in nearby Theux, is said to be one of the oldest in Belgium. Henri-Chapelle Cemetery is about 12 miles north, and here, over 8,000 American military personnel killed in World War II are buried.

WATERLOO , situated south of Brussels in central Belgium, is important historically. The Battle of Waterloo, fought just to the south on June 18, 1815, was where Napoleon was defeated. Visitors may explore the battlefield; there are also several monuments and memorials to those killed in this battle. The headquarters of the duke of Wellington, who led the British forces against Napoleon, may be visited by the public. The current population of this Brabant provincial city is close to 29,000.


Geography and Climate

Belgium is small, about the size of Maryland, with an area of 11,799 square miles. Thirty-nine miles of Belgian seacoast line the North Sea, and 896 miles of frontier border the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, and France. The Meuse River and its tributary, the Sambre, divide the country into two distinct geographic regions: a level, fertile area to the north and west, and the hilly, wooded region, the Ardennes, to the south and east. The capital, Brussels, is in the center of the Kingdom. With Ghent and Antwerp, it forms a triangle enclosing the most heavily built-up and densely populated area of Belgium. More than 50 percent (4 million acres) of Belgium is still farmland; forest covers another 18 percent.

Belgium's climate is characterized by moderate temperatures, prevailing westerly winds, cloudy skies, regular but not abundant rainfall, and little snow. The weather is variable. Summer temperatures average 60°F (16°C). Rare annual extremes are 10°F (-12°C) and 90°F (33°C).


Belgium has 10.3 million inhabitants. The principal cities are Brussels (population about 959,000 for the 19 municipalities of the capital region), Antwerp (447,000), Ghent (224,000), Charleroi (201,000), Liège (186,000), Bruges (116,000), and Namur (105,000). Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at the crossroads of Europe. During the past 2,000 years, it has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different peoples and cultures. As a result, Belgium has people of Celtic, Roman, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian origins.

Public Institutions

Belgium is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch. Although the King, Albert II, is technically the executive authority, the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) makes governmental decisions. The Council of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, holds office as long as it retains parliamentary confidence. Elections are held at least every 4 years by universal suffrage with obligatory voting and a form of proportional representation.

The bicameral Parliament consists of a Chamber of Representatives and a Senate. The 150-member Chamber of Representatives is elected directly. The government ministers are responsible before the Chamber of Representatives. The Senate consists of 71 members; 40 are directly elected, 21 are appointed by the regional legislatures and 10 by fellow senators. The Senate has the right to review draft bills of the Chamber.

The 1993 amended Constitution and Devolution Acts have turned Belgium into a federal state composed of three economic regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels) and three cultural communities (Flemish, French, and German-language). The present government consists of a coalition of Flemish and Francophone Social Christians (CVP/PSC) and Socialists.

The judiciary is modeled after the French system. The King appoints court magistrates and court judges. The highest court is the "Cour de Cassation." There are 5 courts of appeal and 27 district courts. Courts do not pass on the constitutionality of legislation, but a special body, the Arbitration Court, rules in jurisdictional disputes opposing federal and regional legislatures.

Belgium is divided into 10 provinces, with executive power in each exercised by a Governor appointed by the King.

Arts, Science, and Education

Belgium is justly proud of its centuries-old artistic tradition. The country's past is studded with the names of mastersRubens, Brueghel, Hieronymous Bosch, Van Eyckwhose works are displayed in museums and churches throughout the country. Equally famous are such Belgian art cities as Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, and Leuven. Belgium's art tradition does not end with the masters. James Ensor, Permeke, surrealists Rene Magritte, and Paul Delvaux are among the many considered to be outstanding 20th-century artists.

Brussels is a major center for the performing arts. Its Palais des Beaux-Arts offers a wide range of dance and music programs each season. The Theater Royal de la Monnaie is home of the opera. The Festival of Flanders, organized every summer in various Belgian cities, features concerts, theater, and dance performances. Brussels also hosts the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition. Begun in 1951, it offers material and moral support to talented young artists: pianists, violinists, and composers.

Since the Middle Ages, Belgian educational institutions have been famous centers of learning. The Belgian Constitution guarantees absolute freedom of choice of education. Most schooling is state-financed from primary school to the university level. Belgian universities attract large numbers of foreign students, including many Americans. However, since 1977 foreign students must pay higher tuition than Belgian students.

The cost of this tuition varies according to the type of education (university or non-university) and even within these two subdivisions. Some exemptions from tuition exist: for the student whose parents work in Belgium and pay taxes, for the student whose parents work in an Embassy or with the European Union, for example. For those students who do have to pay, the fee varies. One should contact the educational institution to determine the charges applicable to the course of study one wishes to pursue.

Also well known are Belgium's cultural and scientific institutions, such as the Royal Observatory, the Royal Library, and the Institute of Tropical Medicine. Their valuable collections range from precious medieval manuscripts to specialized scientific collections.

Commerce and Industry

Belgium is the one of the largest trading nations in the world and belongs to the G-10 group of leading financial powers. Because of the long-standing importance of trade to its economic prosperity, Belgium has been a strong supporter of liberal trade policies and participates actively in international cooperation through the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization (successor to the GATT). Exports are equivalent to about two-thirds percent of gross national product (GNP) making Belgium not only one of the highest per capita exporters in the world, but also highly dependent on the economic health of its trading partners. Belgium imports many basic or intermediate goods, adds value, and then exports final products. Most of Belgium's foreign trade is with other EU countries, pointing up the country's importance as a commercial axis in Europe. Lying in the heart of the European Union, Belgium stands to benefit greatly from the developing single market.

Belgium and the U.S. have strong reciprocal trade relations.

Belgium is blessed with an excellent transportation network of ports, railroads, and highways. Major U.S. air cargo carriers have created one of the first and perhaps only European hub operation. Belgium has three linguistic communities: French, Dutch, and German. This diversity, combined with its history, location, and small, manageable size, makes the country an excellent test market and subsequent launching pad for the European operations of U.S. businesses. The Belgian market is highly competitive. Generous social payments help maintain a high standard of living but contribute to an unemployment level stuck at about 8 percent for several years.

The Belgian Government believes that the country's future economic prosperity is tied closely to the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Belgium became a first-tier member of the EMU on May 1, 1998. It introduced the euro as common currency in 1999. First used mainly by financial institutions, the euro became the country's only currency in 2002.



Brussels has an extensive public transportation network comprised of buses, trams (streetcars), and an underground rapid transit (metro) system. Special 10-ride and monthly or yearly tickets for combined Brussels transport facilities are available and afford great savings over the cost of one-ride tickets. Trains run frequently and on schedule. Taxis are fairly expensive, but the service charge or tip is included in the metered fare.


Brussels National Airport (in Zaventem) is a major international air terminal. American carriers and Sabena fly between Brussels and several major U.S. cities. Additional air connections to anywhere in the world can be made through London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Paris, which are all less than an hour's flight from Brussels.

Excellent rail and highway systems link Belgium to adjoining countries and provide direct routes to major European cities. There are numerous "auto routes" (limited-access divided highways) which cross Belgium, connecting it to the main cities of Europe. There are no toll roads in Belgium and it is particularly easy to drive after dark because all major highways are illuminated at night, in part because of frequent fog.


Telephone and Telegraph

Telephone and telegraph services to and from Belgium are comparable to those in the U.S. Direct-dial service is available to the U.S. and most European countries. All Tri-Mission leased housing is equipped with one telephone. Additional extensions are at personal expense. Portable phones can be used but U.S. models require a transformer, which can be purchased locally. Monthly costs and long-distance rates are generally more expensive than in the U.S., as are charges for trans-Atlantic calls. Rates through U.S.-based telephone companies and call-back services may be cheaper than local carrier rates. Competition among carriers and services is driving prices downward.

Radio and TV

Belgian radio and TV systems are government-owned with a few commercial channels. French-and Dutch-language stations are separate. Dutch-language TV often carries American and British programs in English with Dutch subtitles. Most American and British programs on French TV are dubbed. BBC has two channels available on most cable systems.

Cable TV provides a variety of programs in French, Dutch, German, Italian, and English.

The Armed Forces Network (AFN) broadcasts television and radio programs 24 hours a day in Belgium. Stations are located in Everberg (near NATO headquarters) and at SHAPE. Transmitted live by satellite, AFN television features popular sporting events and current American TV programs. A special antenna, which can be purchased locally, is required to receive AFN.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

La Libre Belgique, Le Soir, and La Derniere Heure are the most widely read French-language dailies published in Brussels. Het Laatste Nieuws and De Standaard are the most popular Dutch-language newspapers published in Brussels.

London and Paris papers, including The Times, Daily Telegraph, Le Monde, and Le Figaro, are sold in Brussels on the day of publication. The Bulletin, an English-language magazine catering to the substantial Anglophone community, appears every Thursday. Prospects is a monthly English magazine covering Belgian business topics.

The International Herald Tribune and the European editions of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are sold the day of publication at Brussels newsstands or by subscription.

Several American periodicals, many of them European editions, are available on Brussels newsstands.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Many Belgian hospitals compare very favorably with good American hospitals. They are well-equipped to handle emergency situations, as well as long-term care.

Community Health

Public health standards are equal to those in the U.S. Brussels has modern sewage and refuse disposal systems and water purification facilities. Tap water has a high calcium content, but is safe to drink. Dairy, meat, and other food products are safe.

Preventive Measures

Individuals should keep their immunizations current against typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, and polio.

The climate is sometimes uncomfortable for those who suffer from sinus conditions or respiratory ailments. Colds are common in winter. Epidemic diseases are rare and are treated efficiently by Belgian public health authorities.


Most travelers from the U.S. arrive at the Brussels National Airport at Zaventem.

Visas are not required for Americans transiting or visiting Belgium, as long as the stay is less than 3 months. Travelers who will remain in Belgium more than 3 months must obtain a visa from a Belgian consulate in the country in which they reside prior to entering Belgium.

Dogs or cats entering Belgium from the U.S. are not quarantined. Belgian law requires a certificate of good health and a valid rabies certificate dated not less than 1 month and not more than 12 months before departure from the U.S. Transportation of pets, including birds of the parrot order, from other geographical areas is subject to various frequently changing regulations.

Belgium's currency is the euro. No currency restrictions affect the import, export, purchase, sale, or use of American or European currencies. Purchases on the local economy are made with the euro. VISA and Mastercard are accepted by many local businesses, and ATM's are found throughout Belgium.

Belgium uses the metric system.


Jan. 1New Year's Day

Mar/Apr.Good Friday*


Mar/Apr.Easter Monday*

May 1Belgium Labor Day

May 24Ascension Day



July 23Belgium Independence Day

Aug. 15Assumption Day

Nov. 1All Saints' Day

Dec. 25Christmas Day

Dec. 26Boxing Day



These titles are provided to give a general idea of the material published on Belgium. The Department of State does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of any information in the following publications.

Baedeker's Brussels. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, latest edition.

Belgium and EC Membership Evaluated. London: Pinter, 1992.

Belgium in Pictures. Minneapolis:Lerner Publications, 1991.

Carson, Patricia. Flanders in Creative Contrasts. Leuven, Belgium: Davidsfonds, 1990. An in-depth look at the Flemish: their roots, history, culture, values, evolution and contributions within Belgium and beyond its borders. Beautiful pictorial presentation accompanies the text.

Flynn, G. NATO's Northern Allies: The National Security Policies of Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark. Totowa, NJ: Rowman, 1985.

Fodor's Belgium & Luxembourg. New York: McKay, 1991.

Hazlewood, Carole. Long Stays in Belgium-Luxembourg. United Kingdom: David & Charles (dist. in U.S. by Hippocrene Books), 1987.

Hill, H. Constance. Fielding's Benelux 1992: Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg. New York: Fielding Travel Books, 1991.

Keyes, Roger. Outrageous Fortune: The Tragedy of Leopold III of the Belgians, 1901-1941. London: Secker & Warburg, 1984. Historical biography of King Leopold and an examination of the social and political conditions in Belgium during World War II (1939-1945).

MacRae, Kenneth Douglas. Conflict and Compromise in Multilingual Societies: Belgium. Waterloo, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University, 1986. Discusses multilingualism in Belgium and its effects on politics, government, and social conditions.

Matthijs, Koen. The Belgians. Tielt:Lannoo, 1992. This book examines the history of Belgian civilization.

Neuburg, Victor. A Guide to the Western Front: A Companion for Travelers. New York: Viking Penguin, 1989.

Simonet, Henri. Belgium in the Postwar Period: Partner and Ally. Washington: Georgetown University, 1981. Examines Belgium's role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and in national security matters.

Stein, George J. Benelux Security Cooperation: A New European Defense Community? Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1990. Military relations, military policy and national security in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

Wickman, Stephen B. Belgium: A Country Study. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985.

1951-1991: Image of an Age. Brussels: Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1991. A close look at Belgium under Baudouin I, King of the Belgians.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Kingdom of Belgium
Region: Europe
Population: 10,241,506
Language(s): Dutch, French, German
Literacy Rate: 98%
Academic Year: September-August
Number of Primary Schools: 4,493
Public Expenditure on Education: 3.1%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 34,966
Libraries: 1,490
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 736,782
  Secondary: 1,053,445
  Higher: 358,214
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 103%
  Secondary: 146%
  Higher: 56%
Teachers: Primary: 60,738
  Secondary: 126,977
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 12:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 102%
  Secondary: 151%
  Higher: 57%

History & Background

Belgium covers a small geographic area of 32,547 square kilometers and has a population slightly greater than 10 million (10,239,085 in the year 2000). The country is often described as being situated at the "center" of Europe, since the exact geographic center of the 15 member countries of the European Union is located in the Belgian province of Namur and the political seat of the European Union is located in Brussels, the nation's capital.

Belgium's history of numerous conquests by neighboring powers has given rise to strong cultural pluralism. Celts populated the area until the Roman conquest under Julius Caesar in 57 B.C.E. The ensuing period of Pax Romana was characterized by a blending of Germanic and Latin cultural influences and economic progress in the form of improved trade and the rudiments of an education system.

Christianity entered Belgium in the fourth century A.D., but receded temporarily with the conquests of the Franks one century later. Linguistic and cultural pluralism characterized the northern part of what is now Belgium. The establishment of a proto-Dutch language, a Germanic and Latin influenced language, was evidence of the variety in culture and language. Under the powerful leadership of emperor Charlemagne of the Carolingian dynasty, school education received its second rudimentary movement.

The Middle Ages saw the development of textile and metallurgy industries, and the lower southern countries became the crossroads of trade. In the fifteenth century various parts of the lower southern countries were united by the Dukes of Burgundy. Under their rule Belgium became a center of intellectual and artistic endeavors. Austrian rule began in 1500, under Emperor Charles V, and was followed by Spanish rule and the imposition of Catholicism. Belgium became part of the French empire when Napoleon rose to power in 1794 and the Code Napoléon became the basis of the country's civil law. After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo (in Belgium), the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) united the southern (Belgium) and northern (Holland) regions of the Netherlands, to establish a barrier against future French aggression. The forced union led to protests by Catholics against the influence of a protestant Dutch King in clerical matters, and by Belgian liberals who demanded more political freedom.

Revolution against Dutch rule led to Belgium's independence in 1830 and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, with an administrative division of the country into nine provinces (West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp, Brabant, Limburg, Hainaut, Namur, Liége, and Luxembourg) and more than 500 municipalities. Belgium's independence imposed its role as a buffer zone during the Congress of Vienna, and proved to be a political complication. The surrounding major national powers accordingly imposed neutrality on the newly independent state. Belgium nevertheless became involved in international conflict on several occasions, first as it established colonial rule in central Africa's Congo region under Leopold II, and subsequently during the two world wars.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Education in Belgium is regulated by the first Constitution of 1831, by the constitutional reform establishing cultural and linguistic communities (completed in 1993), and by several school laws. Article 17 of the Constitution of 1831 set "freedom of education," prohibiting efforts to hinder said freedom, and that the state would legislate publicly funded education. Article 17 has been consistently interpreted as meaning that the state must fund education but could not hold a monopoly in it, and that free institutionsin particular the Catholic Churchmay provide public education parallel to the state. Accordingly, Belgium has several education systems, and the understandably numerous disputes between these systems have been settled primarily by means of supplemental legislation.

Legislative action of May 1914 instituted compulsory education, to begin in the fall of the year during which the child reached age six. Initially, education was compulsory for eight years. The legislative action also stated that a Belgian could become a primary school teacher having completed only two years of education beyond primary school. In 1983, however, Belgium initiated 12 years of compulsory education, from age 6 to age 18. However, children as young as two and a half years old can attend preprimary education. Of the 12 required years, 9 must be full-time, and the last 3 years (ages 15 through 18) may be spent going to school part-time.

The School Pact of 1958 (made into law in 1959) recognized two basic types of schools in the provision of primary and secondary education, official schools organized by state bodies, and free schools, most of which are Catholic. Parents were given complete freedom to select the type of school attended by their children. Moreover, the state was required to provide sufficient numbers of schools of both types within commuting distance, by direct provision of official schools, subsidies to free schools, or provision of school buses. Free schools that receive a state subsidy could not charge tuition or require fees for textbooks. The 1959 law also required official primary and secondary schools to provide two hours of instruction per week in religion or morals. While almost uniquely Catholic in 1959, religious instruction gradually came to be offered in other faiths, as well. Regardless of their religious beliefs, many parents elect to enroll their children in nondenominational moral instruction.

An immediate political problem generated by independence and affecting education policy was the selection of French as the national language, thereby essentially requiring bilingualism on the part of the Flemish population without parallel imposition on francophones. Throughout Belgium, all administrative offices, courts, hospitals, and other institutions functioned using French as their language. In the Flemish provinces, secondary and university education could only be obtained in French, while primary education was available in Flemish, taught in one of the dialects of the region. By the mid-nineteenth century, a Flemish political movement had developed under the leadership of Flemish intellectuals, who adopted the Dutch language spoken by their northern neighbor as a unifying language for the Flemish people, pushing the diverse multitude of local dialects into the background (a move that has come to be criticized by scholars who see in it the deepening marginalization and even disappearance of local culture and folklore). Legislation passed in 1898 recognized Dutch alongside French as an official language. However, the Flemish population continued to be treated as second best. While a 1932 law required that the language of instruction in primary and secondary education be that of the region (Dutch in Flanders, French in Wallonia and German in the municipalities of the eastern part of Belgium), the law also provided too many loopholes for the Flemish to give up demands for cultural equality.

After the Second World War, relations between the language and cultural communities of Belgium became increasingly strained, as the Flemish northern part of the country realized more rapid economic growth and had a larger population than the French speaking southern part. By the beginning of the 1960s several radical political parties gained popular power, notably the Volksunie and the Front des Francophones. A number of new laws, passed in 1962 and 1963, attempted to settle the language wars by establishing a linguistic frontier that ran horizontally through the middle of the country and requiring the language of instruction for primary and secondary schools to be that of the region. In the bilingual area of Brussels, children were to receive instruction in their "mother tongue," which was determined on the basis of a written declaration by the head of the family. The 1963 law further allowed teaching of a second language to be initiated in third grade, in primary schools that were located in the Brussels region, while primary schools located in Flanders and Wallonia were required to do so only in fifth grade. As a result, "frenchification" of the Brussels capital region, geographically located to the north of the language border continued, fueling the frustration of the Flemish population.

Continued demands for cultural self-determination led to a revision of the constitution and Belgium was transformed into a federal state through four stages of constitutional reforms, which were effected in 1970, 1980, 1988-89, and 1993. Belgian education policies are intertwined with its political progress towards federalism. An important step towards constitutional reform was the passage of language laws from 1873 to 1963, which ultimately recognized French, Dutch, and German as the three official languages of the Belgian state. In response to continuing Flemish demands for cultural autonomy, constitutional reforms of 1970 and 1980 established three geographic regions: the Flemish Region (Vlaams Gewest ), the Walloon Region (Région Wallonne ) and the bilingual capital region of Brussels (Région Capitale/Hoofstedelijk Gewest ), as well as three cultural/linguistic communities (Dutch, French, and German). Each cultural/linguistic community obtained its own parliamentary government. While the Flemish and Walloon geographic regions would also have their own government, the government of the Flemish region coincides with that of the Flemish community. The French language community does not coincide easily with the French region (Wallonia), since the French speaking population of the capital region of Brussels is large in comparison with that of Wallonia, while the Dutch speaking population of Brussels is small compared with that of the Flemish region. Complicating matters even more, the German cultural/linguistic community comprises the population living in the eastern portion of the Walloon geographic region.

The third phase of constitutional reform, initiated in 1989, operationalized the previously established Brussels capital region (Région Capitale/Hoofstedelijk Gewest ). It, too, was endowed its own parliamentary government. On July 14, 1993, the new Constitution was voted into law, with as its first sentence "Belgium is a federal state, constituted of several cultural/linguistic communities and geographic regions." Approximately 58 percent of the population lives in the Flemish region, 33 percent in Wallonia, and 9 percent in Brussels. Of those living in Wallonia, 70,000, or 2.1 percent are German and constitute the German community. Article 24 of the new Constitution decentralized educational authority and transferred it to the communities. Three types of schools coexist within each of the three communities: secular schools administered directly by the communities, grant-aided schools administered by provinces and local communes, and grant-aided free schools with or without religious denomination.

Education policy also is becoming more and more influenced by the needs imposed by Belgium's membership in the European Union (EU). The influence of the EU is especially evident in the teaching and utilization of technology in schools, provision of equal opportunity to children of immigrants, the equivalency ratings of diplomas obtained in other EU member countries, and access to educational exchange programs such as ERASMUS, LINGUA, and SOCRATES.

The linguistic configuration of Belgium is more intricate than evidenced by the three language communities, each of which oversees its own unilingual cultural institutions, since in each of these communities there are significant groups of "foreign" people whose mother tongue is different from that of the language community. These groups, constituting 11.3 percent of Wallonia, 4.2 percent of Flanders, and 27.2 percent of Brussels (Swing 1991/92), comprise educated European Community members as well as second and third generation immigrant workers whose origins are from Italy, Turkey, Morocco, and other countries. While direct immigration to Belgium has virtually come to a standstill, children and grandchildren of migrant workers continue to crowd Belgian schools and will comprise increasing percentages of the school age population. While close to 15 percent of the Belgian population is age 15 or younger, the percentages are the same, or are much higher among Belgians whose ethnicity is Italian (15 percent), Spanish (22 percent), Turkish (43 percent) or Moroccan (48 percent). While Dutch-language schools tend to attract relatively fewer "foreign" children, because children have been socialized in the French language, Belgian francophone children are increasing their participation in these schools owing to favorable student-teacher ratios, the recognition of the need for fluency in the Dutch language for economic advancement, and because of racist sentiments on the part of some parents. To deal with these realities of trilingualism, the European Community funded the experimental Foyer Project in 1981. The program recruited immigrant children into Dutch-language schools, where speaking and writing of both the native language and Dutch are stressed, and French is taught as a second language, even though many children are familiar with a street language version of French. The Dutch language is introduced gradually, for a few hours each week, until the child is literate in the home community language. Stressing the importance of the mother tongue is rooted in the belief that it provides the cognitive base for learning, together with Dutch, which eventually becomes the language of instruction for children enrolled in the program.

The approximately 850 square kilometer German-speaking area of eastern Belgium (Eupen-Malmédy) has seen substantial progress towards autonomy in the Belgian federal state. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, the two German regions became part of Prussia, remaining so until the end of World War I when the 1919 Treaty of Versailles granted it to the Belgian state. Education policy relating to the language of instruction has varied substantially in the schools of this region, including a period of German unilingualism during the annexation of the region by Germany, followed by a period of imposition of the French language in education and government between 1945 and 1963. The year 1963 was a turning point, marking a move toward decentralization and regionalization and emergence of a new generation of German-speaking intellectuals. The nation's constitutional changes, leading to the four-stage reform of Belgium into a federal state, provided important additional stepping stones in the region's move towards educational autonomy.

Linguistic legislation of 1963 provided that German would be the language of instruction in all classes. A survey of parents, teachers and school principals, conducted in 1976, showed that extreme positions relative to the use of French (no teaching in French or all teaching in French) were those of a minority. Schools in the region range from those in which all classes are taught in German to those where German and French languages exist side by side to schools in which all classes are taught in French. The third stage of the completion of the Belgian federal state, completed in 1989, gave near complete independence in education matters to the three language communities from the central government, including the small German-speaking language community. Today, the people of this region are no longer Walloons or even Germans-they have evolved into German-speaking Belgians.

Educational SystemOverview

Of the total population of 10.2 million, 2.4 million are 19 years or younger, roughly evenly divided by sex. The school population was 2,254,000 in the year 2000, with 399,000 children enrolled in preschool, 778,000 in primary school, 779,000 in secondary school, and 298,000 in higher education, of whom 128,000 were in universities and 170,000 in non-university institutions. The rapid aging of the Belgian population is evident in the numbers of school age children. In only five years, compared with the 1995-1996 school year, enrollments have declined from 428,000 to 399,000 in preschool, although higher education enrollments are still rising somewhat. In the following two decades, the pupil-teacher ratio will likely decrease in primary and secondary schools.

The education system is divided in four general parts: preschool education for ages 21/2 to 6, primary education for ages 6 to 12, secondary education for ages 12 to 18, and tertiary education in both university and nonuniversity format averaging four years. The general school year starts in September for preprimary through secondary education and in the second week of October at universities. School holidays and vacations include Christmas and Easter vacations, several single-day holidays, such as Armistice and Labor Days (November 11 and May 1, respectively), and summer vacation starting on July 1.

Owing originally to Article 17 of the Constitution of 1831 (which was retained as Article 24 in the new constitution), Belgium has more private than public schools, and almost all private schools are government subsidized. Federalization of education in 1989 gave the communities authority to organize education with federally provided financial resources and gave them very few areas of decision-making under federal control. The federal government determines the length of compulsory education, the minimum requirements for obtaining diplomas, and pensions and other benefits of teachers. Although at the community level the education authorities can set their own time tables, curriculum, and teaching methods, education has remained fairly comparable across the three communities. Belgian educators are well aware of the need to retain high standards in education, and to maintain its strong position among the world's 15 main trading nations.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preprimary or preschool education (Enseignement préscolaire/Voorschool onderwijs ) is separate and not compulsory and is provided free of charge at three levels, covering the age groups of two and a half to four years old, four to five years old, and five to six years old. Parents may have to provide assistance in the form of meals, transportation, and activities outside the classroom. More than 90 percent of Belgian children are enrolled in the first level. The number of pupils in preprimary education runs at roughly more than 120,000 for ages three, four, and five. At age five, the number is only half as much, since children who are six years old before September enter primary school. Primary education comprises six years of instruction, divided in three cycles of two years each. The school week has 28 periods of instruction, consisting of 50 minutes each. With five days of instruction per week and 182 school days per year, annual instruction is 849 hours.

Upon satisfactory completion of the sixth grade, pupils receive a Certificate of Primary Education, which guarantees acceptance into secondary education. Primary schools are generally coeducational, with the exception of some denominational private schools. Subjects taught include the mother tongue, a second language, history, mathematics, music, physical education, science, social education, artistic activities, and geography. While compulsory subjects are determined by the community governments, they are very similar. For children 10 years of age in the third cycle of primary education, the number of hours of compulsory subjects totals 848-850 hours for the school year, distributed in the three communities. The time table for the German community closely emulates that of the French community, with the main difference in its 90 hours of compulsory foreign language instruction instead of a flexible time table, which is explained by the fact that the German speaking part of Belgium lies within Wallonia and familiarity with French is emphasized as early as preschool.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in Belgium covers a six-year period, divided in three cycles of two years each, named the observation, orientation, and determination cycles. While a number of subjects are compulsory, students must make curricular choices beginning in the first year of study, ultimately leading to a variety of specializations that generally combine two lines of study. Compulsory subjects for students of ages 13 and 16, at the end of the observation and orientation cycles, generally include mathematics, natural sciences, human sciences, foreign languages, mother tongue, physical education, and artistic activities. The scheduling of compulsory subjects is identical in the French and German communities. While secondary schools in the Flemish community also require the same number of overall hours per year (849 at age 13 and 850 at age 16), they differ from secondary schools in the French and German communities by requiring fewer hours of instruction in the mother tongue, in physical education, and in the natural and human sciences, while requiring more hours in artistic activities, optional compulsory subjects, and other subjects.

A 1971 law drastically reformed the structure of secondary education that had been established during the school wars of the 1950s. It set up a Type I education track that paralleled the traditional educationcalled Type IIwhich provided students with very little curricular choice once they had entered lower secondary education in a particular subject area. The traditional education track was heavily influenced by classical languages (Greek and Latin), which could be pursued in their own right or in combination with sciences and mathematics. Type I is a modern education track, divided in three cycles of two years each (observation, orientation, and determination cycles), with a choice of orientation at the end of the first cycle. Although the allocation of school resources varies according to type of education, a single school may offer different orientations or streams. Type I coexists with Type II, and has become more common since its introduction. Of the 18 specialties that can be selected by pupils, eight are combinations with mathematics, six require Latin, and four require Greek. However, modern fields of study have been introduced, such as combinations involving physical education (tracks 7 and 8), economics (tracks 9, 16, and 17), modern languages (tracks 14, 15, 16, and 17), and tourism. Since the number of options and streams available to students has greatly increased with Type I education, so have public expenditures on education. Availability of the two types of secondary education has helped equalize opportunities for pupils from different cultural backgrounds and social classes, an important goal of education reform.

In lower secondary education, students follow a fairly common curriculum during the observation cycle, and then make a choice between general education leading to a university track, vocational education, technical, or artistic education. The option to transfer from one type of education to the other is used more frequently by students wishing to move from general to vocational education. Students in the vocational stream receive the same certificate as those in other streams, although they sometimes have to spend more than six years to obtain the secondary education certificate.

Students can obtain a general lower secondary education certificate after three years, a general upper secondary education diploma after six years in the general, technical, or artistic education streams, and after seven years in vocational education. There are no common examinations and inspectors are utilized to validate adherence to educational standards. The completion rate for the secondary education certificate is 65 percent and approximately one in three adolescents leave compulsory education without having obtained any qualifying certificate at the age of 18.

Education & Technology: Education authorities have begun to promote the inclusion of information and communication technology (ICT) in schools, especially within a national five-year initiative started in 1997-1998. Efforts are not equally aggressive at all levels of education, however. The French and Flemish communities have incorporated ICT in the primary education curriculum since 1997, but with a somewhat different perspective. In the French community, a 1997 decree on missions of the school system stipulated that ICT would be mainstreamed into education using skills platforms, which were introduced in 1999. The most common emphasis by the various education authorities in the French community is to promote ICT as a learning tool. Financing has focused on purchases of equipment, training by pupils and teachers, and use of the Internet. Computer hardware was distributed to all primary and secondary schools over a period of three years. Programming skills do not constitute a curricular objective at the primary level. In the Flemish community, the initiative focuses on acquisition and distribution of software by the Ministry of Education. The ministry also provides the planning framework and time schedule for introduction of ICT, and all pupils are expected to be proficient in the use of ICT and in data processing by the end of primary school.

The German community emphasizes introduction of ICT beginning at the lower secondary level and continuing through the upper level, giving attention to all areas except for computer programming. One hundred hours of compulsory instruction in ICT is incorporated in the curriculum of secondary schools in this community. In both the French and the German community, ICT subject competency must be demonstrated for students to progress to the next year. At the upper secondary level, the Flemish community is the only one of the three that has not yet included ICT in the curriculum, although it is in the process of formulating requirements that students should master by the end of the sixth year. In the German community, ICT is an optional subject at this level of study.

In the French and Flemish communities, basic ICT competency training is a compulsory component of the initial training of general class teachers and for those specialized in certain subjects such as mathematics. In the German community, in-service training is relied upon to achieve teacher ITC competency.

Higher Education

Tertiary or higher education is offered in universities, settings in which teaching and research are combined, and at other institutions of higher learning and training. The typical route into the university track is via the diploma of secondary high school education. Until 1965, higher education followed the traditional French system and was confined largely to four universities, of which two were run by the state (Gent and Liége), two used Dutch as the language of instruction (Gent and Brussels), and two used French (Brussels and Liége). Laws of 1965 and 1970 made possible the creation of new universities and other institutions providing higher education, and divided higher education into long-type and short-type. As a result of these reforms, Belgium obtained a total of 17 university institutions and 407 institutions for higher education. These institutions reflect its multifaceted pluralism in culture, religion, language of instruction, philosophy, and political leanings.

There are six long-standing major universities, of which two (Liége and Gent) are state universities, two are catholic (Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve), and two are free universities (the Université Libre de Bruxelles or ULB and the Vrije Universiteit van Brussel or VUB). The Catholic University of Leuven was founded in 1425 by papal decree and is one of the oldest in Europe. In 1968 the Flemish university elected to remain in the Flemish city of Leuven, banishing the university's French component to a new location at Louvain-la-Neuve, a town in the middle of the Walloon countryside. Thence, the Katholieke Universiteit and the Université Catholique became two separate institutions. The medical faculty moved to the Brussels suburb of Woluwe. About half of the universities offer comprehensive programs, including philosophy, letters, social sciences, economics, law, natural sciences, and medicine. Including the Royal Military School and the joint research institute of the Free University of Brussels, there are a total of 19 universities in Belgium.

All universities offer two levels (called cycles) of university education. Students obtain the Candidature (Kandidaat ) after two years and the Licence (Licentiaat ) after four years. Universities in the French community offer a third cycle leading to the diploma of specialized studies (DES, diplôme d'études spécialisées ), the diploma of advanced studies (DEA, diplôme d'études approfondies ), teaching qualification (agrégation ), or the doctorate degree for which a thesis must be completed. The third cycle requires a minimum of one and up to three additional years of study. The university curriculum in the French community is organized in three sectors (human and social sciences; sciences; health sciences), containing 22 different fields of study overall. Professional and technical higher education pursued at nonuniversity institutions of higher learning (Hautes écoles ) comprises the long type (four to five years) or the short type (two to three years), and prepares students entering professions in industry, commerce, arts, and the fields of paramedical maritime studies.

In the Flemish community, non-university higher education in hogescholen and other institutions was reorganized in 1995-96 to make the curricular requirements similar to those in universities. Short-type and long-type tertiary education in those institutions was replaced by first-cycle and second-cycle coursework. The reforms caused the merger of 163 institutions of higher learning into 29 additional hogescholen. Students in hogescholen make up 60 percent of all higher education students in the community. Since Belgian universities have an open admissions policy, increasing numbers of Dutch students study at Flemish universities and other institutions of higher learning. Some observers believe that this open admissions policy contributes to the high dropout rate of nearly 50 percent in the Community. Flemish universities also have begun to collaborate with the universities of the Netherlands in the "open university" model, a distance education environment, serving a student body that includes many part-time and older students, and making use of modern technologies to deliver instruction. Multimedia technology is being widely applied to innovate and redesign curricula, to deliver instruction, and to enhance student learning. In the 1990s, cooperation between universities in the Flemish community with those in the Netherlands led to stringent quality control in the form of self-assessment by institutions and peer evaluation.

In June 1987 the council of the European Communities initiated the ERASMUS higher education program (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students), designed to foster:

  • students incorporating study in another member country, contributing to direct experience in social and economic life of members of the labor force;
  • cooperation between universities and other institutions of higher learning of the member states;
  • inter-university mobility of faculty;
  • citizen interaction;
  • development of a pool of university graduates experienced in inter-community cooperation.

Success of this ambitious program would require establishment of a European cooperative university network, thus far nonexistent, grant funding for both students and faculty, enhanced recognition of diplomas, length of study, and increased reliance on conferences and similar academic activities. The commission provides financial support to universities in the member states for the establishment of Inter-University Cooperation Programs (ICPs) that tie in with the five stated goals.

During the adoption of the second phase of ERASMUS, in the 1988-89 academic year, Belgian universities were involved in 191, or 17.5 percent, of the 1,091 funded ICPs from the twelve member countries, and Belgian ICPs provided grants to 219 university students, or 3.1 percent of the 7,031 total in the European Community. While European students entering the program in Belgium encountered a number of academic problems, particularly in relation to foreign language courses and examinations being administered in a foreign language, Belgian students experienced relatively few academic difficulties, with only 11 percent performing at a level below that of domestic students in the member countries' institutions of higher learning. Participation by Belgian students in ERASMUS had increased steadily from 1,385 students in 1989-1990, to a high of 8,111 in 1995-1996.

In the 1990s two new programs have been introduced in the European Union: SOCRATES and LEONARDO DA VINCI. While the latter supplants earlier vocational training programs, SOCRATES has replaced the community programs of ERASMUS and LINGUA (a community language teaching program) and is intended to provide a European dimension in education at all levels.

University Research: Basic research has been part of university activities and education since 1874, and several university institutes connected with Belgian universities have achieved international reputations in scientific research. The Center for Human Heredity at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven has achieved international recognition in gene technology research, and the Inter-University Microelectronics Center in Leuven, established in 1984, is a leader in computer chip technology. The Rijksuniversiteit Gent maintains a very large bacteria bank and its Plant Genetic Systems, established in 1982, is renowned for its research in developing insect-resistant plants. Several scientific research projects at Belgian universities have also become part of larger EU and international programs. The AIDS epidemic in Africa was first documented by Belgian epidemiologists and the European network for AIDS treatment is coordinated by a faculty member from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Moreover, the faculty of agronomic sciences at Gembloux is a participant in the European program Biotech, and the Université de Liége has a space research department that collaborates closely with the European Space Agency.

Teaching Profession

Formal education requirements for teachers increase according to the level of education in which they are expected to teach. Initial teacher training for the preprimary and primary levels (21/2 to 12 years of age) requires three years of concurrent academic/teaching training and teaching observation at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique (French) or the Pedagogische Hogeschool (Flemish). Prospective teachers graduate with a teaching diploma that details a specialty in either preschool or primary school. They are expected to teach all subjects. The initial training for teachers in lower secondary education (12 to 15 years of age) also takes place at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique or the Pedagogische Hogeschool, where students pursue three years of course work in a specific and an optional subject and increasingly intensive training and practice in teaching, receiving a teaching diploma at the end of three years. Teaching in the upper secondary level (15 to 18 years of age) requires four to five years of university education. The requisite teacher training courses and practice can be taken alongside with the other courses during the last two years or the final year of university study. Alternatively, students may take a two-year part time course in teacher training upon graduation. Teachers at this level have the Licence or Licentie degree as well as a separate teaching diploma. A doctorate degree is generally required to teach in tertiary education, especially at the university level. It is not unusual for teachers with a doctorate degree in upper secondary education and who also are productive scholars to become university professors when they have matured. All teachers are employees of the respective community's administrative education authority and must go through a period of probation before obtaining a permanent appointment.

Belgian teachers have the right to pursue limited in-service training. Each of the communities make available noncompulsory continuing training for teachers, and certificates are awarded accordingly, making it possible to apply for higher level positions. In-service training covers a variety of subjects, including additional education in the sciences, development of communication skills, provision of pluralist education for immigrants and, above all, introduction of new computer technologies.

In the 25 years following the School Pact of 1958, the teaching profession was held in high regard, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels. Teachers in the upper secondary education level enjoyed an elite social status and enjoyed relatively high salaries. In the 1980s and 1990s, it had been suggested that the profession may be losing status, while at the same time demands on teachers were increasing due to curricular reform and the requirements of delivering pluralist education. However, surveys of teachers seemed to indicate continued high levels of job satisfaction. For example, a teacher survey on satisfaction levels in French-speaking Belgian schools in the Free Catholic System (Meuris 1993), revealed that teachers in nursery schools were more satisfied with their profession than were those in primary education, while those in the first cycle of secondary education conformed with the satisfaction levels of teachers in primary education. Generally, the experience of teachers was a positive one.

Belgian educators were faced with new challenges from the European Union. During the July through December period of the Dutch presidency of the European Community, teacher training received special attention. The Treaty on European Union (The Maastricht Treaty of 1992) made up for a shortcoming of the original Treaty of Rome (1957), which incorporated a specific provision for a common policy on vocational training (Article 128), but was silent on the overall area of formal education. The Maastricht Treaty began its Article 127 with the statement "The Community shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organization of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity" (Rudden and Wyatt 1994). Teachers were mentioned in Articles 126 and 127. Article 126 aimed community action at "encouraging mobility of students and teachers, . . . the development of youth exchanges and of exchanges of socio-educational instructors, . . . and development of distance education," while Article 127 aimed action at encouraging "mobility of instructors and trainees." Educators were facing the challenge of providing access to the wealth of diversity of knowledge that comprised the people of the union.


Following independence in 1830, provision of education in Belgium has gone through several phases. Nearly a century and a half of cultural and language strife has ended with constitutional reform and the formation of a federal state. The concomitant introduction of reforms in education have progressively decentralized decision making from the federal government and towards the communities. Throughout the reform, Belgium has maintained the spirit of Article 17 of the Constitution of 1930, now Article 24 of the new Constitution, which guarantees that parents can choose the type of school (secular or denominational) they wish their children to attend, and that education will be financed by government funding. Compulsory education has progressively been extended to 18 years of age, with students given the option of going to school part time after their fifteenth birthday. Traditional secondary education, modeled on the French system and basically providing a transition to universities, has been reformed into Type I (modern) and Type II (traditional) education, greatly increasing curricular specialties ranging from general to vocational and artistic education, and providing opportunity to students to change direction after the observation stage and even between Type I and Type II education. However, completion rates are still only around 65 percent, leaving many young people without a secondary education diploma.

In universities and other institutions of higher learning, curricula and study cycles are becoming increasingly comparable across institutions and across national boundaries. Belgian students show significant participation in the programs organized by the European Commission; the pluralist cultural background and extensive language skills acquired in diverse Belgium helps them succeed in such programs. Belgium must continue to meet the challenge of providing high quality education to its people, as they are the primary resource for a nation of this small size. Despite the fact that education is organized by many different authorities, quality has remained high, and the required courses in the different communities are not diverging drastically over time.

The future holds a number of challenges. Financing a pluralist education system as diverse as that of Belgium leads to high costs per pupil. Although the population is aging, it does not mean that education costs are predicted to decline in the future, since adult life long education is becoming more important and the demands of technology and multimedia education drive up costs. Teachers requiring in-service training also contribute to cost increases. Belgium must continue to facilitate the recognition of diplomas and credentials across its own internal community borders as well as vis-à-vis present and prospective members of the European Union.


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Brigitte H. Bechtold

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Kingdom of Belgium
Region (Map name): Europe
Population: 10,252,762
Language(s): Dutch, French, German, legally bilingual (Dutch and French)
Literacy rate: 98.0%
Area: 30,510 sq km
GDP: 226,648 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 28
Total Circulation: 1,568,000
Circulation per 1,000: 187
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 423 (Euro millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 22.80
Number of Television Stations: 25
Number of Television Sets: 4,720,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 460.4
Number of Cable Subscribers: 3,840,870
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 372.9
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 220,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 21.5
Number of Radio Stations: 87
Number of Radio Receivers: 8,075,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 787.6
Number of Individuals with Computers: 3,500,000
Computers per 1,000: 341.4
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 2,326,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 226.9

Background & General Characteristics

Belgium's media landscapeand position in European leadershipis not described by its small land mass of over 30 thousand square kilometers. Nor do its dense population of 336 people per square kilometers and its economic viability explain its lively and diverse press. To understand its press, one must understand Belgium's historical resilience as a nation often subjected to invasion and occupation, and its status as a multilingual but linguistically segmented country.

Before housing the leadership of the European Union (EU), Belgium, which derives its name from the Belgae Celtic tribe, was a province of Rome. When Attila the Hun invaded what is now Germany, Germanic tribes pushed into what is now Belgium. Next the Franks took control of Belgium. Oversight of Belgium next passed to the Spanish (1519-1713) and then to the Austrians (1713-1794). After the French Revolution, Belgium was annexed by Napoleon. It was made a part of the Netherlands in 1815. In 1830, after a revolution, Belgium declared its independence and established a constitutional monarchy. The result of a coalition of the intellectual and financial elite, Catholic leadership, and the nobility, the new nation's Constitution "may be considered a balanced compromise of the sometimes divergent interests of these social groups" (Lamberts 314). While Belgium was occupied by the Germans during both world wars, it survived and thrived when it was liberated in 1944 by Allied forces. The early and late occupations created a nation indebted to German, French, and Dutch influences. The nation has incorporated these languages and cultural elements into different parts of its geographic and cultural landscape. Belgium's characteristic compromise may be what makes it a desirable location for EU leadership despite its lack of central proximity.

The sustained balance of three diverse regions and language communities largely explains the development and fragmented organization of the press that serves its 10 million people. The Flemish, French, and German cultural communities were granted official autonomy with a 1970 revision of the Constitution that also established three separate economic regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. Today, after a 1993 Constitutional revision, Belgium is a federal state with three distinct regions, each with its own prime minister, council of ministers, and regional council. In the north, Flanders largely sustains a Dutch speaking community, previously referred to as Flemish, represented by a Flemish community council. In the south, Wallonia is the home of a largely French speaking community who are represented by a French community council; eastern Wallonia, however, houses a significant German speaking population who are represented by a German community council. Brussels, the capital, is a multilingual community; the French speaking people are represented by a French community council who also represent Wallonia, while the Dutch speaking members of Brussels are represented with the Dutch speakers of Flanders in a Flemish community council. While there are numerous political parties on the Belgian scene, the three major political groupsSocialists, Liberal, and Christian Socialhave French-and Dutch-language parties, respectively, and are largely organized along linguistic lines. The Flemings make up 60 percent of the population (Flanders 55 percent), and the Walloons make up about 30 percent (Wallonia 35 percent). About 1 percent of the remaining Belgians are German speakers who live in Eastern Wallonia on the German border.

Literacy in Belgium is reportedly 98 percent or better. Preschool education, which begins at two and one-half years of age, is very popular and successful; more than 90 percent of Belgian youngsters attend. Education is compulsory from 6 to 18 years of age. During comprehensive education, all students specialize in technical, vocational, or college preparatory curriculum. Its oldest university, established in 1425, is the Catholic University of Louvain. In 1834 the Free Masons established the Free University of Brussels. Because of the legally bilingual nature of Belgium, both universities operate separate French and Dutch speaking campuses. A state university system was also established in Ghent and Liege in the early 1800s; other schools have followed in the 1900s. The government subsidizes 95 percent of student expenses. All these factors contribute to a highly educated and skilled workforce.

While the Belgian people are highly literate, most do not subscribe to a daily newspaper. Increasing pressure to maintain or enlarge circulation has encouraged many dailies to adopt a "tabloid" style to their presentation. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) reports that many newspapers have also decreased the number of pages in their daily publications, making the texts more compact. In 1995 "the overall circulation of the Belgian press amounted to 1,543,623, the Flemish press taking 993,229 or 64.3 per cent of sales, and the French-language press 550.394 or 35.6 per cent of sales" (de Bens 2). Only about 36 percent of Belgians were reported to subscribe to a newspaper in 1995 (2). While circulation figures have declined in the latter part of the 1990s, tabloid strategies have reportedly been adopted by many dailies to enhance their market share. From 1996 to 2000 circulation declined 3.3 percent overall in Belgium. While WAN further reports that Belgian daily circulation increased slightly, 0.2 percent in 2000, overall newspaper sales in the European Union have fallen 2.5 percent from 1996. A May 2002 conference hosted by WAN examined strategies to revamp Web sites and enlarge circulation in uncertain times. Overall, television and Internet expansion offer preferred choices to print media, especially in light of the consolidation of papers into major publishing groups with similar content.

Of the 41 newspapers published in Belgium, most are dailies. Belgians additionally have ready access to both EU and non-European publications. Circulation figures gathered within the 135th Edition of the Gale Directory of Publication and Broadcast Media (2001) indicate that 14 newspapers have a circulation of 100,000 to 500,000. About six publications have circulation figures in the range from 50,000 to 100,000, an additional six have circulation figures from 25,000 to 50,000, and five have circulation figures of 10,000 to 25,000. The rest have circulation rates of less than 10,000 copies. Of the 11 largest daily Belgian newspapers by circulation, 8 serve the Dutch speaking community; 3 are published in French. Note that these figures may vary from source to source. Of the Dutch publications, De Standaard/Het Nieuwsblad/De Dentenaar, established in 1914, has a circulation of 372,410; De Gentenaar, established in 1879, has a circulation of 372,410; Het Laatste Nieuws, established in 1888, has a circulation of 308,808; De Nieuwe Gazet, established in 1897, has a circulation of 306,240; Gazet Van Mechelen, established in 1896, has a circulation of 177,898; De Nieuwe Gids, established in 1955, has a circulation of 171,350; Gazet Van Antwerpen, established in 1891, has a circulation of 148,095; and Het Volk, established in 1891, has a circulation of 143,330. The French publications with large circulation figures are: Le Soir, established in 1887, which circulates 178,569 copies; L'Avenir Du Luxembourg, established in 1897, which circulates 139,960 copies; and Vers L'Avenir, established in 1918, which circulates 139,960 copies. The only German daily, Grenz Echo, a Catholic publication founded in 1927, has a circulation of 12,040.

The many newspapers vary not only in their language of publication but also in their coverage and target audience. De Standaard, one of two dailies that share the largest circulation status, is decidedly the most strident Flemish nationalist newspaper. Het Laatste Nieuws, which shares De Standaard's circulation breadth, De Morgen, La Derniere Heure are less nationalistic, characterized as progressive-liberal newspapers, with a "relatively lowbrow populist tone" (Elliott 187). Le Soir is a respected French daily; La Libre Belgique sports a "perceived upper-class readership and a firmly 'keep-Belgium-united' stance" (187). Business coverage comes in the form of L'Echo, French, and De Financieel-Ekonomische Tidj, Dutch. English favorites such as The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Times and the Herald Tribune are all reprinted for a Belgian audience.

Economic Framework

Initially most newspapers were offshoots or instruments of a political party, union, or pillar, such as the Catholic Church, the liberals, and the socialists (Witte 290; Lamberts 328). While the Catholic Church and the liberals still hold a strong representation in newspapers, papers today are increasingly held by large conglomerates, thus making the papers a little more ideologically independent. Financial constraints have virtually eliminated small party representation in the press, and as such Socialist Party coverage was diminished entirely (the Volksgazet and Le Peuple ) or was redirected toward a more general public (De Morgen ), thereby obscuring party affiliation (Lamberts 291). Starting in the 1960s, newspapers have been increasingly absorbed by these large conglomerates, thereby decreasing competition. Of the cities with circulation statistics available, 29 appear to have competition, whereas 9 (roughly 25 percent) do not. Only about 10 newspapers are truly autonomous; the remaining publications vary only slightly in coverage and format from the market leaders (de Bens 1).

In Flanders three conglomerates dominate the newspaper business. Vlaamse Uitgeversmaatschappij (VUM) publishes De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, De Gentenaar, and Het Volk. De Persgroep owns Het Laatste Nieuws, De Nieuwe Gazet, and De Morgen. Regionale Uitgeversmaatschappij (de RUG), an alliance between N.V. De Vlijt and N.V. Concentra, publish Gazet van Antwerpen and Het Belang van Limburg (Witte 290; de Bens 1).

Until 1998 the Francophone press was dominated by three groups: 1) N. V. Rossel, who owns Le Soir, La Meuse, La Lanterne, La Nouvelle Gazette, La Province;2) IPM who owns La Libre Belgique and La Derniere Heure; and 3) Mediabel, who publishes Vers l'Avenir, Le Jour/Le Belgique, La Courrier de l'Escaut, l'Avenir de Luxembourg, and Le Rappel (de Bens 1). The Franco-phone press is nearing duopoly status because Vers l'Avenir acquired 51 percent of IPM in the late 1990s (de Bens 2). As a result, readers of one publication have banded together in a readers' association to demand diversity of the press and editorial staff independence (1998 World Press Freedom Review). Finally, while the German speaking region has Grenz Echo, published by an independent publishing house, Rossel now owns 51 percent of Grenz Echo shares.

In 1995 Belgian press circulation was 1,543,623; the Flemish press accounted for 993,229 or 64.3 percent of sales, while the French-language press accounted for 550.394 or 35.6 per cent of sales (de Bens 2). Only about 36 percent of Belgians are reported to subscribe to a newspaper (2). As circulation figures have declined in the latter part of the 1990s, strategies have reportedly been adopted by many dailies to enhance their market tabloid share (de Bens; Elliott). VUM and Rossel have adapted well and are market leaders in sales and advertising revenue (de Bens 2).

While newspapers are attempting to make an economic comeback, 1999 layoffs in smaller regional papers that regrouped in Sud-Presse and layoffs in the national wire service sorely tested efforts to offer diverse press coverage. It appears that readership in Brussels and the Dutch speaking regions of Belgium is increasing, as it is decreasing in the Francophone region (1999 World Press Freedom Review). The print media is largely free of subsidies that it was granted in 1975; subsidies were found to have little effect on market trends and/or to be too small to make a difference (de Bens 4). In 1999 Flanders eliminated direct subsidies because all of its newspapers had been bought by larger media groups. While direct subsidies are decreasing, indirect assistance remains. The print media continues to operate value added tax (VAT) free today, thereby assisting the struggling newspaper and magazine market.

Press Laws

Title II of the Constitution, "Belgians and Their Rights," includes three articles that have bearing on the press. Article 25 specifically grants Belgians the right to a free press: "censorship can never be established; security from authors, publishers, or printers cannot be demanded." It further states that when the author is a known resident of Belgium, neither the publisher, nor the printer, nor the distributor can be prosecuted" (Adopted 1970, as revised 1993). In addition to establishing a free press, Article 25 also protects Belgian journalists and publishers from prosecutionor, so it would seem. Contemporary cases that challenge this protection include the 1990s Dutroux pedophilia case and the 2002 fining of two De Morgen journalists.

Article 19 [Freedom of Expression] grants Belgians, "freedom of worship, public practice of the latter, as well as freedom to demonstrate one's opinions on all matters." The Constitution also includes a Freedom of Information clause; according to Article 32, "Everyone has the right to consult any administrative document and to have a copy made, except in the cases and conditions stipulated by the laws, decrees, or ruling referred in Article 134." In addition to its own constitutional provisions, as a member of the EU, Belgium is party to a Green Paper that seeks to broaden access to public documents and extend freedom of information across Europe.

The Belgian media is not tightly regulated by extra-constitutional legal provisions; most of the laws and statutes guiding press actions are characterized by insiders as ambiguous. Belgium leadership is therefore often criticized by human rights groups and liberals for pursuing a largely laissez-faire media policy (de Bens 4). To fill this regulation void, the Belgian Association of Newspaper Publishers, the General Association of Professional Journalists of Belgium, and the National Federation of the Information Newsletters came together in the Belgium Press Council and drafted the Belgium Code of Journalistic Principles in 1982. This Code articulates the importance of: 1) a free press; 2) unbiased collecting and reporting of facts; 3) separation of facts reported and commentary on the facts; 4) respect for a diversity of opinions and publishing of different points of view; 5) respect for human dignity and the right to a private life make it necessary to avoid physical and/or moral intrusion; 6) restraint from glorifying violence; 7) commitment to correct previously reported false information; 8) protection of source confidentially ; 9) thwarting efforts to prevent freedom of press in the name of secrecy; 10) editorial judgment when freedom of expression appears to conflict with fundamental human rights; 11) resisting outside pressure on newspapers and journalists; and 12) presenting advertisements in such a way as not to be confused with facts (International Journalists' Network). The Code continues to be the most important regulator of press conduct in Belgium despite efforts to draft laws and statutes that guide the behavior and legal treatment of journalists.

As of result of 1990s scandals, the Minister of Justice convened a hearing for interested parties such as judges, lawyers, politicians, journalists, and academic experts, where issues such as the protection of sources for journalists, treatment of press trials, and the need for an Order of Journalists were discussed. Conflict, particularly about ethical issues, made the implementation of laws too difficult; it was decided that the journalistic codes should continue to handle ethical problems. The Belgian Press continues to be self-regulated by the Federation of Editorsa body to which all newspaper editors belong.

Starting in the late 1990s, there was much discussion of bringing press violations such as advertising, tract distribution, and racism to magistrate courts, whereas "ordinary" violations would still be evaluated by a jury per the Belgian Constitution (1998 World Press Freedom Review). Amendments to the "right of reply" also have been examined but not enacted.

While a 1998 law had mandated speech to the press from the highest public prosecutor, journalists complained that contact was difficult to establish. Minister of Justice Tony Van Parys, therefore, ordered that prosecutors needed to designate spokespeople who could provide journalists with investigation updates in 1999 (World Press Freedom Review). Such a move was welcomed by journalists and press freedom groups.

Prior to 1980 the Belgian press was subject to the following laws: 1979 Press Law, 1987 Belgian Media Law, 1987 Flemish Speaking Law for Commercial Television, and the 1980 Royal Decree on Execution of the 1979 Press Law.


Oversight of the press comes primarily in the form of a Deontological Council of the Belgian Association of Professional Journalists and its Code of Ethics. While Belgium's Constitution encourages an independent media, journalists are increasingly being targeted for lawsuits and/or to divulge confidential sources. Since 1999 journalists and the papers that employ them have increased their insurance policies to cover penalties imposed by Belgian courts (World Press Freedom Review). While the trend is for courts to fine journalists, this trend is often offset in appeal. Cases continue to be brought before Belgian courts, however, and many press freedom groups lament the trend.

In June 2002 Douglas de Conick and Marc Vendemeir, journalists for De Morgen, were fined 25 euros (approximately $23 per day) for failing to reveal their sources for a May 11, 2002, story in which they reported that the Belgian State Railway had overshot its budget for a high-speed train. The case will likely join a similar 1995 case on the docket of the European Court of Human Rights, a Strasbourg court that has often affirmed the right of journalists to keep their sources confidential.

On August 9, 2000, a Belgian court granted an emergency injunction to stop L'Investugatuer editor Jean Nicolas from publishing a list of convicted or suspected pedophiles. The court further ordered that if Nicolas failed to comply, circulation of the list would lead to a fine of about $22,000 per copy (2000 World Press Freedom Review). The court found that publishing the list would violate the rights of the accused. Journalists and Belgian citizens, however, saw this action as another example of court indifference to victims and potential victims.

On November 16, 1999, two Le Soir Illustr journalists were fined 55,000 euros for implying that a police officer had failed to make a proper inquiry into allegations of sex abuse by a minor. Likewise, fines were levied on Michel Bouffioux and Marie-Jeanne Van Heeswyck, Télé Moustique reporters, who labeled the same police officer a "manipulator" in their story (World Press Freedom Review). Reviewers argue that the lower courts are increasingly siding with public officials and law enforcement officers against the press.

In 1997 the police searched the office of Hans Van Scharen, a De Morgen journalist, and confiscated items related to his coverage of a "hormone mafia" case; he was accused of improperly possessing judicial documents (1997 World Press Freedom Review).

The most controversial cases, however, concern the 1996 Marc Dutroux case and a 1997 child custody case. Dutroux, a pedophile, raped and killed young Belgian girls. The press was very active in the investigation, while the government was seen to have foiled the case. The complete transcript of the case was made available to a Web site by a journalist; the Web site was later ordered shutdown. In the custody case, the justice system and judiciary were criticized for potentially favoring a notary who was accused of molesting his two sons. In both cases, the justice system was seen at odds with efforts of the press to secure justice. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that accusations made by the journalists appeared to be justified and awarded them legal costs of 851,697 Belgian francs (about US$24,500) (1997 World Press Freedom Review).

Therefore, while censorship is officially absent, Belgian courts' rulings against journalists in libel and source confidentiality cases, particularly where government or judicial figures are criticized, appear to be growing as of the late 1990s and early twenty-first century. Human rights advocacy groups and press freedom groups continue to watch the situation closely.

State-Press Relations

As the press law and censorships sections suggest, Belgium's print press is not subject to strong state control. Its audiovisual media, however, is primarily state run, but commercial and foreign expansion efforts have met a favorable climate. Telecommunications are over-seen by the Minister of Telecommunications, while the print news media is self-regulated.

All forms of the press can and do criticize the government. Until the mid-1990s, journalists faced few attempts to interfere with their reporting. Recent court cases levied by state officials may indicate a change in practice. A 1996 case particularly concerns international journalists and human rights groups. A licensed Kurdish station, MED-TV, was forced to close when the Belgian police raided its offices and confiscated its archives. The International Centre against Censorship argued that Belgium was bound by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which among other things guarantees freedom of expression and the right to "seek, receive, and impart information."

The Belgian government has also done little to limit the creation of media conglomerates. Broadcast monopolies were legally legitimate until the late 1980s. On the more positive side, increased access to prosecutorial spokespeople has liberated the flow of information from the state to the citizen on important government and criminal matters.

Attitude toward Foreign Media

As the home of EU leadership, Belgium is frequented by and home to many international journalists. If there is a complaint about coverage in Belgium, it is that regional and national coverage of Belgium itself is often diminished in favor of covering EU issues.

According to non-Belgian journalists, it is very expensive to have a full-time correspondent in Brussels because it is at the periphery of Europe. While large agencies and organizations like Reuters and the BBC have people based in Belgium, some smaller countries and networks contract with a freelance journalist who supplies coverage to more than one agency. Belgium's specific coverage in other European countries is often limited because the correspondents largely address their coverage to EU issues.

News Agencies

Belgium has its own press agency, Belga Press Agency, which covers both daily national and international news. It was originally offered as the Belgium Telegraphic Press Agency (Agence Belga ) in 1920. According to its home page timeline, the agency distributed its first press release on January 1, 1921, to 45 newspapers, 16 banks, the government, and 9 commercial companies. In 1925 Belga created its home desk; its editorial structure was split into a French-and Dutch-speaking desk in 1970. Using the Hermes system, Belga computerized its editorials and became the country's first electronic press company in 1981. This was followed in 1984 with real-time dispatches to the government's Bistel information network. A client-specific system was developed in 1986 to provide selective information to interested markets by fax or e-mail. Most recently in 2000 Belga entered a joint venture with news aktuell International, a subsidiary of the German Press Agency, to distribute specialized press releases. Today Belga dispatches information on politics, cultural issues, finance, sports, and public personalities in the public venue to the traditional medianewspapers, radio, and television. It also offers a subscription service for business and government clients. Belga's press releases are distributed to an international market, too, through contracts with the world's largest foreign press agencies. Belga prides itself for autonomy, accuracy, and timeliness

Foreign press agencies offer coverage in Belgium as well. Reuters Belgium is a regional office of Reuters International that supplies news information on business and finance. The BBC offers extensive coverage of Belgium.

Broadcast Media

Like the print media, television and radio are divided primarily along linguistic lines. As a result, many Belgians know their regional news and programs yet face limited access to information and stations of other Belgian regions in favor of programming from the rest of Europe and the United States (Elliott 184). It is quite likely that someone in Wallonia has more access to English and international programs than those from the Dutch regions of Belgium itself.

A number of private radio stations were aired after 1923, including Radio Belgique, which was supported by both the royals and the Belgian business world (Lamberts 359). The National Institute for Radio (NIR), a public radio network, was funded by the Belgian Parliament in 1930. It was modeled on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Unlike the BBC, the NIR, however, was required to allocate air time for party-affiliated organizations, thereby limiting its objectivity and political investigative scope (Lamberts 359). The three main parties demanded broadcasting time; staffing was also influenced by the pillars who sought and gained an employment policy of proportional representation (Witte 291). Thus, the Belgian network, public by statute, was dominated by the country's religious and ideological pillars (Lamberts 359). This public monopoly effectively controlled the radio waves until a 1987 law that allowed for private broadcasting.

Public service programming is supported by an annual licensing fee on automobile radios. Home radios are not subject to licensing (Elliott 185). A ban on radio advertising was revoked in 1985, thus clearing the way for more commercial stations. While the political parties ensured that change was slow to take hold, the public service radio broadcaster currently struggles to survive amid competition from Internet news programming and commercially supported programming in the twenty-first century.

The main radio stations today continue to be state run. RTBF1 and VRT offer mixed programming. Radio 1 is one of the five public radio networks offered by the VRT. Radio Vlaaderen International (RVI) offers programming like "Flanders Today" for the Flemish speaking community as well. Radio 1's news and current affairs programs explore social issues and controversies, economic indicators, and cultural events in depth. Radio 2 is Flanders' largest radio network. It provides its listeners with local news and popular music. Radio 2 offers regional program coverage in the five Flemish provinces. Radio 3 is a high-brow station, targeted to the more liberal, intellectual listener. Radio 21 plays current releases and news to the Francophone population, whereas StuBru offers such tunes and coverage to the Dutch speaking community. The BBC World Service is offered in both English and German. There are over 79 FM, 7 AM, and 1 short-wave stations as of 1998. There are over 8.075 million radios in the country; access to radio coverage and alternative programming, however, has broadened substantially with Internet radio coverage.

Belgian television began in 1953 and has become an important information and leisure tool. Like Belgian radio, television was initially dominated by a public monopoly. By the 1980s, however, these monopolies were challenged by commercial stations that were allowed to broadcast their own programs. Since the introduction of audiovisual media, the print media has lost subscriptions, leading to the many mergers. For a time before the mergers, starting in 1975, subsidies were used to sustain the print media (Lamberts 376). These were largely found to be unsuccessful in the face of competition from radio and television.

The main government TV networks are VRT in Dutch and RTBF in French. The Belgian Dutch are also served by VTM, a private station that developed after the implementation of a 1987 decree that allowed for one private station to be created (Witte 291). The Francophone region is also served by RTL.

Ninety-four percent of Belgian households with televisions are equipped with cable, making it the most densely cabled country in the world. When cable programming first became available, it primarily distributed national programming. In fact, only foreign public service stations were allowed cable access in the Belgian market initially (de Bens 3). Today viewers can access over 30 national and foreign channels. International news programming includes CNN, BBXI, and CNBC.

The Belgian market includes pay channels like Canal Plus and satellite dishes. While there is strong support for expanded television options in Belgian policy, pay television has not become as popular in Belgium as in the United States. For example, after 10 years of operation in Flanders, one such pay venture, Filmnet, only had about 120,000 subscribers. It merged with Canal Plus, but still has not attracted a significant number of subscribers (de Bens 4). Some locations in Belgium also have statutes that limit or prohibit such access.

As of 1997 data, there were over 4.72 million televisions for Belgium's 10 million people (CIA Factbook ). Like car radios, color televisions in Belgium must be licensed. There are additional fees for cable access (Elliott 185).

While public corporations still own and operate most radio and television systems, private ownership is growing. The public corporations that support public broadcasting receive most of their financial support from the annual licensing fees paid by owners of automobile radios and color television sets. As the economic market continues to influence the media, it is likely that commercial and alternative programming will grow to meet the needs of very specific audiences, while public sponsored media will diminish. In addition, the journalists themselves are occupying more presence in political and social debates.

Electronic News Media

Because Belgium is the most cabled country in the world, the Internet is easily accessible. All agencies, organizations, and government documents are accessible via the World Wide Web. Belgium has several Internet access providers. Belgacom is Belgium's telephone and Internet service provider. Belgium's country code is BE. Skynet is the nation's largest provider because it has a special relationship with Belgacom. Other providers include Aleph-1, Be On, and BIP. The list of providers and free providers is growing in the country daily.

Most large circulation national and regional print newspapers are available online. A survey of web news information sources reveals that the sites are very attractive with lots of color, photography, and links to additional information and news archives. Some publications, such as E-Sports (French), MSR (Dutch), Politics Info (French and Dutch), and Vlaamse Volksbeweging (German, French, Dutch, and Spanish) exist solely online as national publications. Belgian expatriates have several choices for news from home via the Internet, including and . The Belgium Post, a foreign publication offered by, offers daily coverage of Belgium for an English speaking audience. The trend for electronic news is growing because information can be updated throughout the day, and corrections can be made more efficiently.

The European Union is actively involved in creating policies for the dissemination of information on the Internet, including an Internet Rights Observatory. In 1997 Belgian journalists won a case over reuse of their work against Central Station, who had argued that it could reprint their work without permission or compensation.

Education & TRAINING

There are a number of European news organizations and training institutions available to Belgian journalists and editors; while these associations serve greater Europe and/or the European Union, some are based in Belgium itself.

The European Newspapers' Publishers Association (ENPA), a nonprofit organization, represents some 3,000 daily, weekly, and Sunday titles from 17 European countries. More than 91 million copies are sold each day and read by over 240 million people. Based in Brussels, ENPA works toward ensuring a sympathetic European legislative and economic environment for the independent newspaper industry. Its primary goal is to fortify freedom of both the editorial and commercial press. It lobbies for the inclusion of freedom of the press in a Charter of Fundamental Rights to protect newspaper publishers in the event of cross border disputes. ENPA promotes multimedia access and diversity as foundational structures of a democratic nation. Among its other important causes, ENPA actively promotes discussion of intellectual property rights in a technology transformed world; it fiercely defends author ownership of press content against unauthorized reproduction. Finally ENPA would like the European print press to be covered by a more coherent policy like that being drafted and enacted for the Internet.

The European Journalism Centre (EJC), founded in 1992, is an independent, nonprofit multimedia training support center based in the Netherlands, whose membership and services are widely utilized by Belgian journalists, editors, and educational institutions. EJC offers guidance on how to increase European media presence and thereby gain greater and more accurate coverage of European current issues. It provides an assessment of media developments in several countries, including Belgium, and describes the changing nature of Europe's media overall. It also provides media links and tools to help journalists conduct more effective research and to share their working knowledge.

The European Journalism Training Association and its member schools organize and facilitate conferences and colloquia on academic and pragmatic journalism education. It acts as a resource and information broker for its members and provides essays on educational and social challenges facing European journalism programs. The Institut des Hautes Etudes des Communications Sociales and Katholieke Hogeschool Mechelen/Afdeling Journalistiek-De Ham are Belgium member schools.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), based in Brussels, represents over 450,00 journalists in over 100 countries, including the organization's home country, Belgium. The largest of journalist organizations, the IFJ was initially established in 1926 and was launched again in both 1946 and 1952. IFJ exists to promote and defend freedom of the press, social justice, and independent trade union activities. IFJ is nonpartisan, but instead promotes a global human rights agenda. It opposes the use of media for propaganda and/or to promote hate. The IFJ is called upon to represent journalists within both the United Nations and the international trade union movement. It maintains a safety fund for humanitarian assistance for journalistic endeavors. The IFJ agenda is set by a Congress that meets every three years; its actions are carried out by the Brussels-based secretariat who works under the direction of an elected Executive Committee. In addition, since 1992 the IFJ has awarded the Lorenzo Natali Prize for Journalism, one of the world's most valuable journalistic prizes, awarded to print and/or online journalists who have demonstrated a striking insight and particular dedication to the reporting of human rights issues within the context of the development process.

The Pascal Decroos Fund promotes special journalism in the written and audiovisual press in Flanders by granting working grants to journalists who are willing to work on a special project. New and experienced journalists are encouraged to apply. Pascal Decroos (April 20, 1964 -December 2, 1997) was a prominent producer and journalist who died early in his career. He was known as a passionate journalist who promoted the cause of society's underprivileged and who brought a keen and critical eye to investigative journalism. His creed, "do not let yourself be carried along the stream of superficial news, but submerge. Do not content yourself with drawing the obvious conclusion, but investigate and probe until you find the truth," motivated the development of this scholarship that allows journalists to probe a topic deeper and provide more in-depth coverage than the average news story. This working grant is supported by the Flemish community, but is available to any qualifying journalist.

There are also three important media organizations in Belgium. The Association of Belgian Journalists (AVBB) in Brussels, the Belgian Association of Publishers (BVDU), and Febelma, the association of publishers of magazines.

Belgian and European educational institutions offer undergraduate and graduate courses of study in communication and journalisminstitutions like Universiteit Leiden, which offers baccalaureate degrees in journalism and news media, Universitaire Faculteiten Sint-Ignatusia (UFSIA), which offers graduate degrees, and VLEKHO and Erasmushogeshool, which both offer postacademic training for journalists. Opportunities to study journalism are enhanced by generous course offerings in the use of technology for investigative journalism and online journalism in both the college and journalism organization settings.


On the one hand, Belgian press access is expanding with the daily increase of media outlets on the Internet. On the other hand, the coverage offered in mainstream newsprint is becoming more streamlined with media mergers in both the Dutch and the Francophone press. Barriers between French, Dutch, and German speakers continue to grow in this multilingual nation, as is evidenced by a separate higher education system, regional and national news coverage, and economic growth trends in their respective sectors. Press coverage within each region, however, appears to discourage interregional diversity. Smaller political and social movements find the Internet a friendly option for their ideas and publications, as they increasingly find the print media closed to them. While Belgium has sustained internal conflict throughout its history of occupation by different language speakers who ultimately shaped its regional triad, it remains to be seen if Belgium can continue to placate the various groups, as economic success moves closer to the Dutch population, who were once viewed as the inhabitants of a largely agrarian and recession-prone region. The French and German peoples are more and more overshadowed by Flemish radio, publications, and nationalism, which may lead to further conflict.

Belgium's situation as the economic and leadership center of the EU also influences the development of its press coverage. While its role as an economic leader and exporter grows, we must wait to see if its rich culture will be more visible and known to greater Europe and the rest of the world. Information about Belgium's history and culture is still not well documented in the West and English language publications. To further complicate matters, it appears that its EU membership will increasingly determine its position on such matters as freedom of information and Internet commerce.

While Belgium is not hostile to its journalistsit does not license, torture, or imprison them for their investigative workdocumented cases of censorship and fines are cause for closer attention. It remains to be determined whether or not technological expansion will ultimately sustain or erode press freedom. While more voices are enabled to provide media coveragesome that have been virtually eliminated or never viable in printthe commercial and compact characteristics of most media present journalists and readers in Belgium with a contradiction. It may be that this contradiction will be sustained and absorbed, as has been the case in most of Belgium's political and social history. It may also be that the news media is changing globally to reduce the gap between entertainment, advertising, and investigative reporting. If that is the case, the news media will further become a menu of options for cultural and selective consumption, thus further reducing the importance of the news media, even as it expands.

Significant Dates

  • May 1997: Vers l'Avenir obtains 51 percent of IPM to create near-duopoly situation in the Fracophone press.
  • 1998: Le Matin is taken over by Vers l'Avenir, a Catholic publication, thus placing the nation's only remaining leftist paperwhose sales have not improvedat risk of ceasing publication.
  • Law enacted that limits press prosecution press releases to the highest public prosecutor. Minister of Justice Tony Van Parys later orders (1999) that prosecutors must designate spokespeople to provide journalist with investigative updates after complaints that the highest public prosecutor was too unavailable for comment.
  • 2000: Belga Press Agency enters a joint venture with news aktuell International, a subsidiary of the German Press Agency, to distribute specialized press releases.
  • August 2000: A Belgian court grants an emergency injunction to stop L'Investugatuer editor Jean Nicolas from publishing a list of convicted or suspected pedophiles.
  • June 2002: Two De Morgen journalists are fined for failing to reveal their sources for a May 11, 2002, story in which they reported that the Belgian State Railway had overshot its budget for a high-speed train. The case will likely join a similar 1995 case on the docket of the European Court of Human Rights, a Strasbourg court that has often affirmed the right of journalists to keep their sources confidential.


de Bens, Els. "The Belgian Media Landscape." In European Media Landscape. European Journalism Centre, 2000. Available from

Boudart, Marina, Michel Boudart, and Rene Bryssinck, eds. Modern Belgium. Palo Alto, CA: Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 1990.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook. CIA Publications, 2000. Available from

Elliot, Mark. Culture Shock: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Center Publishing Co., 2001.

Freemedia. "World Press Freedom Review: Belgium." Freemedia Home Page, 2000. Available from

Lamberts, E. "Belgium Since 1830." In History of the Low Countries, Ed. J. C. H. Bloom and E. Lamberts. Trans., James C. Kennedy, 313-386. New York: Berghahan Books, 1999.

Stallaerts, Robert. Historical Dictionary of Belgium. Series: European Historical Dictionaries, No. 35. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999.

Witte, Els, Jan Craeybeckx, and Alain Meynen. Political History of Belgium from 1830 Onwards. Trans. Raf Casert. Brussels: VUB University Press, 2000.

World Association of Newspapers. "World Press Trends: On Circulation." World Association of Newspapers Organization Web site, 2001. Available from

Sherry L. Wynn

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Belgium (bĕl´jəm), Du. België, Fr. La Belgique, officially Kingdom of Belgium, constitutional kingdom (2005 est. pop. 10,364,000), 11,781 sq mi (30,513 sq km), NW Europe. Belgium is bordered on the N by the Netherlands and the North Sea, on the E by Germany and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and on the W and SW by France. Brussels is the capital and Antwerp is the chief commercial center and one of the world's major ports. Other important cities include Ghent and Liège.

Land and People

The terrain, low lying except in the Ardennes Mts. in the south, It is crossed by the Meuse and Scheldt rivers and by a network of canals. Belgium is one of the most densely populated nations in Europe. Historically, the country comprises two ethnic and cultural regions, generally called Flanders and Wallonia—Flanders embracing the northern provinces of East Flanders, West Flanders, Antwerp, Limburg, and part of Brabant, and Wallonia comprising the remainder of Brabant, Hainaut, Liège, Luxembourg, and Namur. The dividing line runs roughly east-west just S of Brussels.

Dutch is the official language in Flanders, while French is official in the south. The French-speaking people are commonly called Walloons, although the term once referred chiefly to those people in the area of the city of Liège who spoke Walloon, a French dialect. Brussels is bilingual, and German is spoken in a small section of Liège province. About three quarters of the population is Roman Catholic; the balance is largely Protestant, although there are Islamic and Jewish minorities in the cities. Many cities (most notably Bruges, Ghent, and Louvain) have preserved their medieval architecture and art, which attract thousands of tourists annually. The North Sea coast is popular in the summer.


Belgium has much fertile and well-watered soil, although agriculture engages only a small percentage of the workforce. The chief crops are wheat, oats, rye, barley, flax, sugar beets, vegetables, fruits, and tobacco. Cattle and pig raising as well as dairying (especially in Flanders) are also important.

Belgium's economy is reliant on services, transportation, trade, and industry. Coal mining, which has declined in recent years, and the production of steel and chemicals are concentrated in the Sambre and Meuse valleys, in the Borinage around Mons, Charleroi, Namur, and Liège, and in the Campine coal basin. Liège is a major steel center. A well-established metal-products industry manufactures bridges, heavy machinery, industrial and surgical equipment, motor vehicles, rolling stock, machine tools, and munitions. Chemical products include fertilizers, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and plastics; the petrochemical industry is concentrated near the oil refineries of Antwerp.

Textile production, which began in the Middle Ages, includes cotton, linen, wool, and synthetic fibers; carpets and blankets are important manufactures. Ghent, Kortrijk, Tournai, and Verviers are all textile centers; Mechelen, Bruges, and Brussels are celebrated for their lace. Other industries include diamond cutting (Antwerp is an important diamond center), glass production, and the processing of leather and wood. Over 75% of Belgium's electricity is produced by nuclear power. Belgian industry is heavily dependent upon imports for its raw materials. Most iron comes from the Lorraine basin in France, while nonferrous metal products made from imported raw materials include zinc, copper, lead, and tin.

Industrial centers are linked with each other and with the main ports of Antwerp and Ghent by the Meuse and Scheldt rivers and their tributaries, by a network of canals (notably the Albert Canal), and by a dense railroad system. Belgium exports machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products, and processed foods. The main imports are machinery, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, and petroleum products. About 75% of trade is with other European Union countries, chiefly Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain.


Belgium is governed under the constitution of 1831 as amended; revisions in 1993 established a federal state. Its government is a federal parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the hereditary monarch; the head of government is the prime minister. There is a bicameral Parliament with a 71-member Senate and a 150-seat Chamber of Representatives (or Chamber of Deputies). Political divisions fall into three main groups—Christian Democrats, Liberals, and Socialists—each of these again divided into political parties constituted along linguistic lines. The country is divided into two regions (Flanders and Wallonia) that each comprise five provinces and the capital region; there are also three linguistic communities (Dutch, French, and German).


The Beginnings of Belgium

Belgium takes its name from the Belgae, a people of ancient Gaul. The Roman province of Belgica was much larger than modern Belgium. There the Franks first appeared in the 3d cent. AD The Carolingian dynasty had its roots at Herstal, in Belgium. After the divisions (9th cent.) of Charlemagne's empire, Belgium became part of Lotharingia and later of the duchy of Lower Lorraine, which occupied all but the western part of the Low Countries.

In the 12th cent., Lower Lorraine disintegrated; the duchies of Brabant (see Brabant, duchy of) and Luxembourg and the bishopric of Liège took its place. The histories of these feudal states and of Flanders and Hainaut constitute the medieval history of Belgium. The salient development was the rise of the cities (e.g., Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres) to virtual independence and economic prosperity through their wool industry and trade. In the 15th cent., all of present Belgium passed to the dukes of Burgundy, who strove to curtail local liberties. Simultaneously the wool industry declined, mainly because of English competition.

With the death (1482) of Mary of Burgundy a period of foreign domination began (see Netherlands, Austrian and Spanish for the period from 1477 to 1794). Belgium was occupied by the French during the French Revolutionary Wars and transferred from Austria to France by the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797). After the defeat (1815) of Napoleon at Waterloo, just S of Brussels, Belgium was given to the newly formed kingdom of the Netherlands (the decision was made at the Congress of Vienna; see Vienna, Congress of).

Under King William I of the Netherlands, the Belgians resented measures that discriminated against them in favor of the Dutch, especially in the areas of language and religion. A rebellion broke out in Brussels in 1830, and Belgian independence was declared. William I invaded Belgium but withdrew when France and England intervened in 1832.

The Kingdom of Belgium

Belgian independence was approved by the European powers at the London Conference of 1830–31 (see under London Conference). In 1831, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was chosen king of the Belgians and became Leopold I. A final Dutch-Belgian peace treaty was signed in 1839, and the "perpetual neutrality" of Belgium was guaranteed by the major powers, including Prussia, at the London Conference of 1838–39.

The new country was among the first in Europe to industrialize and soon led the continent in the development of railways, coal mining, and engineering. Under the rule (1865–1909) of Leopold II rapid industrialization and colonial expansion, notably in the Congo, were accompanied by labor unrest and by the rise of the Socialist party in opposition to the reactionary and clerical groups. Social conditions improved under Albert I (reigned 1909–34), who also granted universal and equal male suffrage (the vote was extended to women in 1948).

After the outbreak of World War I (Aug., 1914), Germany invaded Belgium in order to attack France by the easiest route; this flagrant violation of Belgian neutrality shocked much of the world and brought Great Britain, as one of Belgium's guarantors, into the war. The unexpected resistance of the Belgians against such heavy odds won widespread admiration, and German atrocities in Belgium, publicized by the Allies, played an important part in consolidating U.S. opinion against Germany. All of Belgium except a small strip in West Flanders, which served as a battle front throughout the war (see, e.g., Ypres), was conquered by Oct. 10, 1914, and the people suffered under a harsh occupation regime. The Belgian army, under the personal leadership of Albert I, fought in West Flanders and France throughout the war. Under the Treaty of Versailles after the war, Belgium received the strategically important posts of Eupen, Malmédy, and Moresnet, and a mandate over the northwestern corner of former German East Africa.

In World War II, Germany, which in 1937 had guaranteed Belgian neutrality, attacked and occupied Belgium in May, 1940. King Leopold III (reigned 1934–51) surrendered unconditionally on May 28, but the Belgian cabinet, in exile at London, continued to oppose Germany. German occupation inaugurated a reign of terror. Liberation by British and American troops, aided by a Belgian underground army, came in Sept., 1944. The unsuccessful German counteroffensive of Dec., 1944–Jan., 1945 (see Battle of the Bulge), caused much destruction, adding to damage previously wrought by invasion and by Allied air raids.

Postwar Belgium

Belgium's industrial plant had remained relatively intact despite the war, enabling the economy to recover far more rapidly than those of the other nations of Western Europe. The immediate political issue was the return of Leopold III, who was barred from Belgium until 1950. Popular discontent led to his abdication (1951) in favor of his eldest son, Baudouin. An economic union between Belgium and Luxembourg, formed in 1921 (the first of its kind in 20th-century Europe), was superseded in 1958 by the Benelux Economic Union, which also includes the Netherlands. An early proponent of a united Europe and a firm advocate of collective security, Belgium is the seat of many important European Union functions and the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In 1960 the Belgian Congo was given its independence, with subsequent economic and political turmoil in Belgium, especially after the eruption of violence in the Congo. Belgian forces helped the French in suppressing an indigenous rebellion in Congo (Kinshasa) in 1978. Long-standing tensions between the Dutch- and French-speaking elements flared during the 1960s, toppling several governments and making it increasingly difficult to form new ones. Sweeping constitutional reform begun in the early 1970s created three partially autonomous regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels) and three politically recognized ethnic communities (French, Flemish [Dutch speakers], and German), but ethnic discord continued throughout the 1980s. New reforms passed in 1993 gave the regions additional autonomy and created a federal state.

In Dec., 1981, the Christian Democrat–Liberal coalition, under the leadership of Wilfried Martens, came into power in Belgium. His prime ministership saw unpopular economic reforms, and interparty strife toppled the government in 1987. A year later, however, a new coalition took control of the government, again led by Martens, which was composed of Socialist and Christian Democratic parties and the Flemish Volksunie (nationalist) party. In 1992 a center-left coalition government of Socialists and Christian Democrats led by Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene of the Flemish Christian People's party came to power.

King Baudouin died in 1993 and was succeeded by his brother, Albert II. Following a food scare involving dioxins found in animal and dairy products, Dehaene's government fell in 1999, and Guy Verhofstadt became the new prime minister, leading a coalition of Liberals, Socialists, and Greens. Elections in 2003 resulted in a victory for the Liberals and Socialists, but the Greens lost most of their seats and were excluded from Verhofstadt's new government. In July, 2004, the Flemish Bloc, an anti-immigrant, Flemish separatist party, won nearly a quarter of the vote in regional and European elections in Flanders, but the party was subsequently convicted (Nov., 2004) of being racist and forced to disband and reform.

The parliamentary elections in June, 2007, led to gains for the Christian Democrats, and losses for the Liberals and Socialists. Ethnic and political divisions, particularly the question of increased devolution for Dutch Belgium, stymied the formation of a new government for more than six months. In December the king asked Verhofstadt to lead an interim government for up to three months, and in Mar., 2008, Christian Democrat Yves Leterme became prime minister of a five-party coalition government.

Four months later, Leterme submitted his resignation over the broad-based government's failure to reach an agreement on increased regional autonomy. The king, however, rejected it and called for further negotiations on autonomy. Accusations of government meddling in a court case concerning the sale of the Belgian operations of Fortis, a troubled bank and Belgium's largest private sector employer, led to the government's resignation in December. The same five parties subsequently re-formed a government, with Flemish Christian Democrat Herman Van Rompuy as prime minister. When Van Rompuy resigned (Nov., 2009) to become president of the European Union's European Council, Leterme succeeded him as prime minister.

Language-community-related issues led to the collapse of the coalition in Apr., 2010. The June elections resulted in a narrow victory for the separatist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), but it only won slightly more than one sixth of the lower-house seats. The formation of a new government became an even more prolonged affair than in 2007–8, continuing until Dec., 2011, when Flemish and French Socialist, Christian Democrat, and Liberal parties formed a six-party government with French Socialist Elio Di Rupo as prime minister. In July, 2013, the king abdicated and was succeeded by his son Philippe. The May, 2014, parliamentary elections resulted in win for the N-VA, which increased its share of seats in the lower house to more than a fifth. The subsequent four-party government was formed by the N-VA (for the first time), French and Flemish Liberals, and Flemish Christian Democrats; Charles Michel, leader of the French Liberals, became prime minister.


See H. Pirenne, Early Democracies in the Low Countries (tr. 1963); J. Fitzmaurice, The Politics of Belgium (1983); A. Fletcher, Belgium (1985); E. Witte and H. Beardsmore, The Interdisciplinary Study of Urban Bilingualism in Brussels (1987); T. J. Hermans, ed., The Flemish Movement (1992).

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There were signs of interest in Belgium for Freud and Breuer's research on hysteria as early as 1894. References can be found in Dallemagne's Dégénérés et déséquilibrés (Degeneracy and Mental Imbalance), but this appears to be an isolated case (Berdondini, N., 1987). During the twenties, a few attempts were made to introduce young psychiatrists to psychoanalytic concepts, but there was vehement opposition from the old guard. In literature a special issue of Disque vert appeared in 1924, entirely devoted to Freud. The Belgian authors included Georges Dwelshauwers, André Ombredane, and Henri Michaux. In his later writing, Franz Hellens, director of the publication, was also sympathetic to the work of Carl Gustav Jung. At the University of Louvain, following the initiative of the future cardinal Mercier, several professors took an interest in Freudian theory and established individual critical positions because of the emphasis placed on sexuality. The Jesuit J. Maréchal was also influential in promoting early acceptance of psychoanalysis.

In the midst of these still limited signs of interest, there emerged the figure of an educator from Gand, Julien Varendonck (1879-1924), who had the good fortune to meet Freud and become one of his students. He underwent a training analysis with Theodor Reik and spent 1923 in Vienna to continue his education. Upon his return to Gand, he opened his own office and was made a member of the Dutch Society of Psychoanalysis shortly before his premature death on June 11, 1924. In 1921 he published an important monograph entitled La psychologie des rêves éveillés (The Psychology of Daydreams), with a preface by Freud. Anna Freud translated the first part of the book. Unfortunately, because he was unable to find any students or an analysand with whom he could continue his research, his initiative remained stillborn.

The foundations of psychoanalytic practice were established by two Belgian pioneers, Maurice Dugautiez (1893-1960) and Fernand Lechat (1895-1959). The beginnings of psychoanalysis in Belgium reflect Freud's own solitary struggle during the first decade of the twentieth century. A closed and poorly informed medical establishmentthe organic approach dominated psychiatry at the timeand a public opinion that remained hostile because of sectarian prejudices, explain why Freud's work had to wait for the arrival of two idealists who remained far outside the conventional sphere of training before psychoanalysis could take hold in the country. Both men were self-taught, curious and passionate individuals, who first met in 1933. Their encounter was the prelude to years of fruitful collaboration that enabled a psychoanalytic organization to gain a foothold in Belgium.

In spite of the dramatic context in which it occurred, another fortuitous event took place in 1933 or thereabouts. A Viennese Jew, Dr. Ernst Hoffman, a disciple of Freud and a brilliant student of Sándor Ferenczi, settled in Anvers to escape Nazi persecution. Dugautiez and Lechat, together with Mrs. Lechat, who was primarily interested in working with children, took advantage of Hoffman's providential appearance and began a training analysis with him. Unfortunately, Hoffman was arrested in 1942 and sent to a concentration camp. He never returned, and the nascent Belgian psychoanalytic movement suddenly lost its leader.

Beginning in 1936 Dugautiez and Lechat began undergoing supervised analyses under the supervision of Dr. Leuba and Marie Bonaparte. They were authorized to practice on their own in 1939; Mrs. Lechat began working with children at this time. After the war ended, both of them applied for membership in the Paris Psychoanalytic Society and were authorized, in 1946, to conduct training analyses and supervise their own students' first analyses.

On December 24, 1946, they founded the Association des Psychanalystes de Belgique (Association of Belgian Psychoanalysts) with Dr. Leuba as honorary president. They were sponsored by the Psychoanalytic Society of Paris. Doctor Ernest Jones, president of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), had encouraged this initiative. In 1947 the association, with the sponsorship of Marie Bonaparte, was accepted for membership in the IPA. The standing of the young organization was made more secure in 1948 with the organization, in Brussels, of the eleventh Conférence des Psychanalystes de Langue Française [(Conference of French-speaking Psychoanalysts). During the twelfth conference, in 1954, Fernand Lechat presented a report on "The Principle of Security." There were three further meetings in Brussels: in 1958, in 1972 (when a report was given by Danièle Flagey, entitled "Intellectual Inhibition"), and in Liege, in 1986, with a report by Andrée Bauduin, "On the Preconscious."

In 1953, Dr. Thérèse Jacobs Van Merlen, who had returned from her training in Paris with Sacha Nacht, Serge Lebovici, and René Diatkine, joined Dugautiez and Lechat. A stream of new members joined the association: Flagey, Bourdon, Vannypelseer, Drappier, Luminet, Pierloot, Labbé, Darmstaedter, Duyckaerts, and later, Watillon and Godfrind. The association has continued to grow since then. In 1960 the name was changed to the Société Belge de Psychanalyse (Belgian Psychoanalytic Society), also known as the Belgische Vereniging voor Psychoanalyse.

The society continued to grow, with the addition of a teaching committee, an enlarged administrative office, and an ethics committee. In addition to bimonthly meetings and working groups, the entire society met every two years for a colloquium. The Revue belge de psychanalyse, with Haber as its first director, was founded in 1982. The review made the society's ideas accessible to a much broader public. There was also a members' Bulletin, created in 1977.

Some twenty years after the creation of the current Belgian Psychoanalytic Society, various activities were established by psychoanalysts who had returned home from abroad and who were, for the most part, associated with the University of Louvain. These individuals either could not, or would not, become a part of the existing society. Most of them had met in Paris between 1955-1960, where they followed the activities of the French Psychoanalytic Society, which was then run by Daniel Lagache and Jacques Lacan, with the assistance of Juliette Boutonier, Françoise Dolto, and Georges Favez. Following a break in 1953 with the Paris Psychoanalytic Society, in 1964 the French Psychoanalytic Society experienced new upheavals with the departure of Lacan and the creation of theÉcole Freudienne. Although some activities of the new Belgian group began in 1964, the official foundation of theÉcole Belge de Psychanalyse (Belgische School voor Psychoanalyse) did not take place until 1969, under the impetus of Professors Jacques Schotte and Antoine Vergote.

Lacan's influence was decisive within the school, to the extent that its establishment can be considered an implicit extension of the situation in France. This allegiance to Lacanian positions, at least on the part of some, became problematic when the dissolution of the École Freudienne by Lacan led to divisions that subsequently gave rise to numerous offshoots, including Questionnement Psychanalytique (Psychoanalytic Questioning) and the Association Freudienne de Belgique (The Freudian Association of Belgium). These various groups are the result of the differences encountered concerning the importance of Lacanian ideas, in terms of setting and training, and more generally in terms of the theoretical corpus. Unlike the Belgian Psychoanalytic Society, these associations were not part of the IPA, some even took pride in their separatist stance. In 1984 theÉcole Belge de Psychanalyse began publishing a bilingual review, Psychoanalyse.

There were also Jungian psychoanalysts working in Belgium. The Société Belge de Psychologie Analytique (Belgian Society of Analytic Psychology), or SBPA, was founded in 1975. The majority of its members had been analyzed by Gilberte Aigrisse (1911-1995), who was trained in Geneva by Charles Baudouin. In 1994 some members of the SBPA left the organization to found a new group known as theÉcole Belge de Psychanalyse Jungienne (Belgian School of Jungian Psychoanalysis), or EBPJ.

AndrÉ Alsteens


Bauduin, Andrée. (1987). Du préconscient. Revue française de psychanalyse, 51, 449-538.

Berdondini, Nadine. (1987). L'introduction de la psychanalyse en Belgique: 1900-1947. Louvain-la-Neuve, reprinted 1995.

Flagey, Danièle. (1973). L'inhibition intellectuelle. Revue française de psychanalyse, 36, 717-798.

Lechat, Fernand. (1955). Du principe de sécurité. (rapport). Revue française de psychanalyse, 19 (1-2), 11-101.

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Official name: Kingdom of Belgium

Area: 30,510 square kilometers (11,780 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Botrange (694 meters/2,277 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 280 kilometers (174 miles) from southeast to northwest; 222 kilometers (137 miles) from northeast to southwest

Land boundaries: 1,451 kilometers (902 miles) total boundary length; France, 620 kilometers (385 miles); Germany, 167 kilometers (104 miles); Luxembourg, 148 kilometers (92 miles); Netherlands, 450 kilometers (280 miles)

Coastline: 66 kilometers (41 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Belgium is one of Europe's smallest and most densely populated countries. It is located in a part of northwestern Europe that was once called the Low Countries and today is known as the Benelux region (primarily due to Belgium's economic partnership with its neighbors Luxembourg and the Netherlands). Centrally located in Western Europe with few natural frontiers, Belgium has been called the crossroads of Europe. For much of its history, it was a battleground for the major European powers of France, Britain, and Germany. Today, its capital, Brussels, is the seat of both NATO and the European Union.


Belgium has no territories or dependencies.


Belgium has a temperate maritime climate with moderate temperatures in both summer and winter.

The mean temperature in Brussels ranges from 2.2°C (36°F) in January to 18°C (64°F) in July.

Rainfall averages between 70 and 100 centimeters (28 and 40 inches) per year and is evenly spread out over the twelve months. The elevated Ardennes region can receive as much as 140 centimeters (55 inches) of rain annually.

Season Months Average Temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit)
Summer June to August 18°C (64°F)
Winter December to March 3°C (37°F)


Belgium can be divided into three major geographic regions: the coastal plains to the northwest, a low central plateau region, and the Ardennes highlands to the southeast. The country also has a distinctive ethnic and linguistic division, influenced by its proximity to its Dutch and French neighbors. The Flemish, who speak a form of Dutch, live in the northern part of the country, while the French-speaking Walloons live in the southern part. A small German-speaking minority also lives in the east, near the German border.


Belgium is situated at the southern tip of the North Sea.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The coast of Flanders, a flat fringe of land reaching 8 to 16 kilometers (5 to 10 miles) inland from the sea, is protected from floods and tides by sand dunes and a network of dikes.

Coastal Features

Belgium's coastline is nearly straight, with white-sand beaches. Behind the beaches lie dunes, and behind them are polders (wetlands reclaimed for agricultural use during the Middle Ages).


Belgium has relatively few natural lakes. The largest complex of lakes is located in the southeast in the Ardennes region.


Belgium has two major rivers, the Schelde (Escaut) and the Meuse (Maas), both of which originate in France and flow east across Belgium. They gather numerous tributaries before continuing through the Netherlands and draining into the North Sea. Among the largest tributaries of the Schelde River are the Leie and Dender. In the south, the Sambre, Semois, Ourthe, and Amblève flow into the Meuse.


Belgium has no desert regions.


Belgium's northern lowlands belong to the Great European Plain. The western part of these lowlands is occupied by Flanders. The region northeast of Antwerp, which belongs to the delta of the Meuse and Rhine Rivers, is known as Kempenland, or the Campine.


The heavily forested Ardennes highlands extend south of the Meuse River valley, continuing into France. They range in elevation from 400 meters (1,300 feet) to between 580 to 700 meters (1,900 and 2,300 feet). The Hautes Fagnes near the German border, which are part of the Ardennes, include Belgium's highest peak, Mount Botrange (Signal de Botrange), at 694 meters (2,277 feet) above sea level.


A number of interesting caves may be found in the southeastern corner of the country, especially in the provinces of Namur, Liege, and Luxembourg, between Luxembourg and France.


Between the northern lowlands and the Ardennes highlands to the south lies Belgium's central plateau region. It extends across the middle of the country, from the Borinage area in the west to the Brabant region near the southeastern Dutch border. Elevations range from 20 meters (65 feet) to 200 meters (650 feet). The capital city of Brussels is located in this region.


The coastal area of Flanders includes polders (reclaimed land) that were formerly marsh-land. The salt marshes of the region were transformed into rich farmland behind a barrier of dikes.

An extensive network of canals extends throughout the coastal plains and central plateau region, connecting Belgium's major cities and rivers to the sea. The major arteries are the Brugge-Zeebrugge, Charleroi-Brussels, Willebroek, and Albert Canals.



Blyth, Derek. Belgium. 9th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000.

Fielding's Belgium: The Most In-Depth and Entertaining Guide to the Charms and Pleasures of Belgium. Redondo Beach, CA: Fielding Worldwide, 1994.

Fox, Renie C. In the Belgian Château: The Spirit and Culture of a European Society in an Age of Change. Chicago: I.R. Dee, 1994.

Web Sites

Belgian Federal Govt Online. (accessed February 8, 2003).

Belgium: Overview. (accessed July 17, 2003).

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30,510sq km (11,780sq mi)



capital (population):

Brussels (Brussel, Bruxelles, 959,318)


Federal constitutional monarchy

ethnic groups:

Belgian 91% (Flemish 55%, Walloon 34%), German, Italian, French, Dutch, Turkish, Moroccan


Dutch, French, German (all official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 72%)


Euro = 100 cents

Kingdom in nw Europe. Belgium is a densely populated nation. Behind the North Sea coastline, which extends for c.60km (40mi), lie coastal plains, including some polders – low-lying areas which have been drained and are protected from the sea by dykes. Central Belgium consists of low plateaux – except Ardennes, a hilly region in the se. The chief rivers, which occupy fertile valleys, are the Schelde in the w, and the Sambre and Meuse flowing between the central plateau and the Ardennes. The capital is Brussels. Other major cities include Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Liège.

Climate and Vegetation

Belgium has a cool temperate climate. Moist winds from the Atlantic bring fairly heavy rain, and the Ardennes has heavy winter snowfalls. Brussels has mild winters and warm summers. Farmland and pasture cover c.50% of Belgium. The forests, especially in the Ardennes, contain trees such as beech, birch, elm and oak, but in the n, the birch forests and heathland have largely been replaced by plantations of evergreen trees.

History and Politics

One of the Low Countries, in the Middle Ages Belgium was split into small duchies, such as Brabant. In the 15th century, the country was united by the Dukes of Burgundy. From 1482 to 1794, Belgium was ruled by the Netherlands, Spain, and Austria. Occupied during the French Revolutionary Wars, it passed to France in 1797.

In 1815, Belgium was subsumed into the Netherlands. Dutch discrimination led to rebellion and Belgium declared independence in 1830. Leopold I became king. His successor, Leopold II, encouraged industrialization and colonialism, notably in the Congo. In August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, prompting British entry into World War I. Belgium stoutly resisted German occupation and it formed a major battleground in the war. In May 1940, Germany again invaded Belgium and Leopold III capitulated.

In 1951, Leopold III was forced to abdicate and was succeeded by Baudouin. Despite the damage inflicted during World War II, the economy recovered quickly – helped by the Benelux customs union with Netherlands and Luxembourg (1958), and the formation of the European Common Market. Lying at the heart of Europe, Brussels is the administrative headquarters for the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Belgium's relationship with its former colony, Congo (Zaïre), has been problematic: after granting independence in 1960, it sent troops to deal with coups in 1964 and 1978. A central domestic issue is the tension between Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons. During the 1980s, Belgium had a succession of coalition governments led by Wilfried Martens. In 1993, it adopted a federal system of government with three regional parliaments: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. In the same year, Baudouin died and was succeeded by his brother, Albert II. In 1998, a paedophile murder case revealed corruption among the judiciary and police. After a second scandal, involving the dioxin contamination of food, a centre-right coalition won a landslide victory at elections in 1999, and Guy Verhofstadt replaced Jean-Luc Dehaene as prime minister.


Belgium is a major trading nation (2000 GDP per capita, US$25,300) with a modern transport system. Antwerp is one of the world's largest ports. Belgium's coal industry declined in the late 20th century, and it now imports many raw materials and fuels. The leading activity is manufacturing – products include steel and chemicals. Other industries include oil-refining, textiles, diamond cutting, and glassware. Agriculture employs only 3% of the workforce, but the country is mostly self-sufficient. The most valuable activities are dairy farming and livestock rearing. Belgium adopted the euro in 1999.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name



Identification. Gallia Belgica was the Romans' name for the northern part of Gaul, the northern limit of their empire. In early modern times, the name was used as an erudite synonym for the Low Countries. After the 1830 revolution and the establishment of an independent kingdom, Belgium became the official name of the country.

Location and Geography. The country is located at the western end of the northern European plain, covering an area of 11,780 square miles (30,510 square kilometers); the neighboring states are France, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Netherlands. The two main rivers are the Schelde and the Meuse, both of which begin in France and flow toward the Netherlands. The land rises progressively toward the south. Flanders (northern part of the country) is less hilly than Wallonia (southern part). The German-speaking population lives at the borders with Germany and Luxembourg. Discoveries of coal in the hills of northern Wallonia led to the early industrialization of the area.

Demography. Belgium is one of the most urbanized and densely inhabited countries in the world with about 97 percent of the 10 million inhabitants living in cities in 2000. Brussels, the capital, has approximately 1 million residents, and the second city, Antwerp, has half a million. The central and northern parts of the country are covered by a dense network of medium-size and small cities, and people may live in one city and work in another. Around 55 percent of the population lives in Flanders, 35 percent in Wallonia, and 10 percent in Brussels.

The nation's cultural diversity has been enriched by international and local immigration. The high numbers of Flemish names in the south and Walloon names in the north indicate long time internal mobility. In the last hundred years the most important immigrant groups were Jews who form a sizable community in Antwerp; Poles, who came in the early 1930s and after the fall of communism; Italians (in the 1930s and 1950s); and North Africans and Turks, who arrived in the 1960s. There are many recent immigrants from other countries in the European Union as well as many expatriates working in or around European Union institutions and NATO headquarters. The percentage of noncitizens in the population is high at 15 percent nationally and 28 percent in Brussels.

Linguistic Affiliation. The main languages are Dutch and French; they are also the joint official languages. Although German is also recognized as the third national language, it is not used frequently in the national administration. French was introduced as the language of the political elite by feudal lords of French origin, particularly the dukes of Burgundy, who choose Brussels as their main city of residence. In the eighteenth century, French was widely adopted by the bourgeoisie, and in 1830, it was adopted as the official language. Through education and social promotion, French replaced the local dialects in Wallonia and Brussels, but it was not as widely adopted in Flanders.

In Wallonia, a series of Romance dialects rather than a single language were widely spoken but never had official status. Brussels was originally a Flemish city, but the influence of French has always been strongest here, and only a tenth of the population speak Dutch.

The language spoken in Flanders is Dutch, which is commonly called Flemish. The Taalunie, an official institution, guarantees the international unity of the Dutch language. There is a great diversity of Flemish dialects which differ in vocabulary and pronunciation. French is still spoken in Flanders by some people in the upper and upper middle classes as well as along the linguistic border and around Brussels. The presence of important Francophone minorities in some parts of Flanders has been the source of political conflicts and led in the 1980s to the resignation of several central governments.

Symbolism. Political symbolism differs with the region and the sociopolitical environment. The strongest national symbols are the Monarchy and the national soccer team. The national anthem, the Brabançonne, is not taught in schools and not widely known. The original song, written during the revolution of 1830, exalted the revolt against the "arbitrary" power of the Dutch king. It was later changed to a milder version that placed obedience to king and law on the same footing as liberty. Symbols are more numerous and more powerful in the Flemish political culture than in the other parts of the country or the nation as a whole.

Much of the mythology in Flanders involves the Lion of Flanders. The lion has been the symbol of the counts of Flanders since the Crusades, and became the symbol of Flemish emancipation since independence.

The oldest elements of Flemish symbolism were developed as Belgian "myths" before the emergence of the Flemish movement. A successful fourteenth-century revolt of cities in the former county of Flanders against a count from the French royal family became an expression of early Flemish/Belgian nationalism. The Flemish national day celebrates the victory of the Flemish militias over the royal French army at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, named after the trophies collected from slain French knights. The Flemish national anthem (the Vlaamse leeuw ) was composed in 1847. It was adopted as the Flemish movement's anthem in 1900 and became the official anthem of the Flemish community in 1973. Other strong Flemish symbols are the National Song Feast (ANZ) held annually in Antwerp since the early 1930s, in which Flemish songs are mixed with modern expressions of culture.

On the last Sunday of August, the Flemish movement gathers in a pilgrimage at World War I battlefields. Because of the Christian roots of the Flemish movement, the main slogan associated with this has a strong religious connotation. The Walloon movement borrowed the rooster from France as a cultural symbol. The Francophone community celebrates its national day on 21 September, but it is not emphasized heavily, and an anthem was not adopted until 1999.

In the Middle Ages, Brussels adopted Saint Michael killing the dragon as its patron saint and coat of arms. However, when Brussels became a separate region, its leaders felt they had to find symbols to support the separate identity of the region. They chose the iris and set the regional celebration day in the period in which that flower blossoms.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Although the name of the modern state refers to the original Celtic inhabitants after the Roman conquest in 44 b.c.e., the population was Romanized and adopted the Latin language. Latin gave rise to a series of dialects including, in the southern part of the country, the Walloon dialects. The name "Walloon" derives from a Germanic word meaning "foreign," and refers to the Roman Empire.

Flemish culture came to northern Belgium as a consequence of the Germanic invasions of the fourth century. In the central and southern regions, the Germanic invaders formed small kingdoms and adopted their subjects' culture.

Until the eighth century, conquests and divisions modified the borders of these kingdoms. The last division took place at the treaty of Verdun (843) between the grandsons of Charlemagne, who divided the Holy Roman Empire into three parts, of which the central part, Lotharingia, encompassed the territories between the Netherlands and Italy, including present-day Belgium. However, Lotharingia was absorbed into the German Empire, and the idea of a state between France and the German Empire did not resurface until the fourteenth century. The Burgundian princes inherited, conquered, bought, or received in dowry most of the fiefs constituting the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern and eastern France. They established their court in Brussels and brought the French language to their states. The possessions of the dukes of Burgundy were inherited by the Habsburg dynasty in 1477.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, a religious civil war led to the division of the Low Countries into two parts. The north became the Netherlands, a Dutch-speaking, Protestant state. The south remained Catholic and was associated with the Habsburg dynasty until the French conquest in 1794. Under the Habsburg rulers, the use of Flemish progressively declined, but the position of French was reinforced during the French administration (17941814).

After the defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna established the kingdom of the Netherlands, including present-day Belgium. However, the policy of King Willem I van Oranje Nassau (1772 1843) of favoring the Dutch language and the Protestant religion, led to the revolution of 1830, after which Belgium became independent.

National Identity. The Belgian state stipulated freedom of language in its constitution. However, partially as a reaction against the pro-Dutch policy of Willem I, French became the de facto state language. The new government made it the language of administration and education, hoping that it would replace Flemish, Walloon, and German dialects. A Flemish revival initiated by members of the lower clergy and some intellectuals (the so-called Flemish movement) led, over the next two centuries in Flanders, to the progressive replacement of French by Flemish as the language of education, justice, and administration.

In the nineteenth century, the Flemish cultural heritage was an important basis for the definition of a Belgian identity, emphasizing the religious difference with the Netherlands and the wars with France. Thus, the growth of the Flemish movement weakened the feeling of national identity not only in Flanders but in the entire country, leading to the growth of a distinct Brussels identity.

Ethnic Relations. The rehabilitation of the Flemish language met with strong resistance from the Francophone establishment and political parties. The "linguistic question" has been the source of political tension for more than a century. In reaction to the Flemish movement, a Walloon movement emerged, mostly linked to the Francophone socialist party. Although the Flemish are the majority population, the Flemish political parties have promoted reforms to protect their language against perceived Francophone domination.

Another Flemish grievance came from the emigration of Francophone inhabitants of Brussels to the surrounding Flemish villages, after which inflation in real estate prices made it impossible for the original Flemish population to stay. The main problem from the Flemish point of view is that the Francophone "migrants" do not learn Dutch but continue to live and work in French-speaking environments and send their children to French schools in Brussels. The Flemish "law of the land" holds that newcomers have to learn the official language of the region. The Francophone population appeals to an individual's rights to speak the language of one's choice, and resents administrative measures favoring the Dutch language in communes situated in Flanders where Francophones constitute 80 percent of the population. More generally, French speakers resent the suppression of French in public administration, public and private education, church services, and business relations. They stress the rights granted to the Flemish minority in Brussels and the petty humiliations faced by the Francophones in the Flemish suburbs. The Flemish feel that their rights in Brussels are justified because that city is the capital of the Flemish region as well as the Belgian state. Most conflicts along the ethnocultural cleavage are fought at the level of politicians, whereas the relations between the population groups remain peaceful.

The main threat to peaceful ethnic relations comes from the extreme-rightist parties, particularly the Vlaams Blok, which thrives on resentment against immigrant communities and the national state. The Vlaams Blok has also recruited some of the most radical elements of the Flemish movement. The rise of the extremist party was historically made possible by the ambiguous attitude of many mainstream Flemish politicians and journalists toward the wartime collaboration of a fraction of the Flemish movement with Nazi Germany. Collaboration in Wallonia was equivalent but was not linked to anything similar to the Flemish movement.

The extreme right in Wallonia has always been fragmented into very small parties, with little political influence. However, one of the main points of the Vlaams Blok, the resentment of the influence of the other language community, is also a major point in the program of the FDF party.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Belgium is essentially a country of medium-size and small cities, many with long histories. In the central parts of these cities, rows of terraced houses are built among a network of ancient churches and marketplaces. Opulent buildings often feature a Belfry in the central marketplace, or, as in Brussels, a city hall and corporation houses.

In nineteenth century, many working-class cities were built in mining and industrial areas. In some cities, new middle-class suburbs were linked to urban centers by large avenues. The stylistic height of this expansion is illustrated by the Art Nouveau houses built by Victor Horta. In the first half of the twentieth century, garden cities were built to provide humane lodgings for the working classes. Today, as the population continues to leave the central cities, one-family houses are organized in small suburban villages.

There is some contrast between the north and south in the use of traditional, rural spaces. While the north has many isolated farms between villages, the southern farms tend to be grouped in villages on both sides of a road.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Bread and potatoes are the traditional staple foods. Most meals include, pork, chicken, or beef, and Seafood is popular in the northern part of the country. The national drink is beer, but wine is imported in large quantities. In northern cities, popular dishes include mussels with fries and waterzooi a broth of vegetables and meat or fish. Throughout the country, French fries are eaten with steaks or minced raw meat. Cooking is traditionally done with butter rather than oil; there is also a high consumption of dairy products. Immigration has ensured a diversity of "ethnic" restaurants and is gradually changing the eating habits of the residents in culturally mixed areas.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Christmas is an occasion for large family meals with grandparents and cousins. There are many other occasions for long meals at public and private celebrations, such as weddings, funerals, and the days devoted to city and parish saints. Pastries are associated with religious and civil occasions. At Christmas, people eat sweet bread in the form of the child Jesus; at Easter, children are told that eggs are dropped in the gardens by flying churchbells; and sugar beans are distributed to those who visit a young mother.

Basic Economy. Belgium is heavily dependent on foreign trade. Since the closing of its coal mines in the 1960s, the country has had to import most of its fuel, although it is an important producer of nuclear energy. Although less then 3 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, farm production is very intensive. The southern part of the country has not recovered from the closing down of steel plants and coal mines; the economy of the north, traditionally based on trade and textile manufacturing, has fared better.

Commercial Activities. Belgium is considered the world's diamond capital. The annual turnover of the diamond industry was about $23 billion (U.S.) in 1996 and contributed nearly $3 billion (U.S.) to the Belgian economy. Belgium is also an important producer of several industrial minerals, including limestone, dolomite, whiting, sodium sulfate, silica sand, and marble. Livestock raising is the most important single sector of Belgian agriculture, accounting for over 60 percent of agricultural production. In 1998 there were about 3.2 million head of cattle, 7.4 million hogs, 147,000 sheep, and 22,000 horses. Belgian farmers breed some of the finest draft horses in the world, including the famous Percherons.

Major Industries. Industry, highly developed in Belgium, is devoted mainly to the processing of imported raw materials into semifinished and finished products, most of which are then exported. Steel production is the single most important sector of industry, with Belgium ranking high among world producers of iron and steel. In 1998, Belgium produced 342,000 tons of crude copper. The country also produces significant amounts of crude zinc and crude lead. The bulk of metal manufactures consists of heavy machinery, structural steelwork, and industrial equipment. The railroad equipment industry supplies one of the most extensive railroad systems in Europe. The textile industry, dating from the Middle Ages, produces cottons, woolens, linens, and synthetic fibers. The chemical industry manufactures a wide range of products, from heavy chemicals and explosives to pharmaceuticals and photographic supplies.

Trade. Belgium is heavily dependent on trade, mostly with neighboring European countries (76 percent of exports and 71 percent of imports are with EU partners). More than half the energy is nuclear produced, which makes the country less dependent on imports of fossil fuels. Most of the trade, for imports as for exports, is in machinery, chemicals and metal products. An exception is the important place of cut diamonds in exports. In the past decade, an increasing number of spin-offs of universities has reinforced Belgian exports in high-tech products.

Division of Labor. Less than 60 percent of the population was employed as of 1999, including 19.5 percent in part-time jobs. The repartition in sectors is as follows: 73 percent in services, 25 percent in industry, and 2 percent in agriculture.

Social stratification

Classes and Castes. There is a relatively even distribution of wealth, with 5 to 6 percent living close to the poverty line. The majority of the population is middle class. The vast majority has equal opportunities for education and a professional life. There is a very inclusive social security system.

Deep societal cleavages have led to the construction of "pillars," integrated social structures based on ideology. Although "pillarization" is becoming less important in social life, its influence is clearly noticeable. These pillars encompass every aspect of societal life, including youth, sports and leisure movements, education at all levels, trade unions, health funds, newspapers, and political parties. The three main pillars are the Christian-democrat pillar, the socialist pillar, and the liberal pillar. Until the 1990s, the positions of these pillars were mutually agreed on and anchored through a complex system of "political nominations" in which people with a philosophical affiliation to one of the pillars were appointed to key societal positions as magistrates, top public officials, and leaders of state-controlled companies. The public is turning against this aspect of the pillars, but their influence and power are considerable, especially when their interests are challenged.

The major cleavages are ethnocultural (Flemish speakers versus Francophones), philosophical (the church versus liberals) and economic. The importance of these cleavages has changed over time, often leading to the establishment of new coalitions.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Wealth is most often expressed through houses and cars. In general, there are few external behavioral class markers. The upper classes act discreetly, and people make little distinction between classes or social strata. Exceptions sometimes appear in youth culture, where fashion can turn into a means of social distinction.

Political life

Government. Belgium is a federal state, consisting of its three language communities that are responsible for the control of culture and education, and its three regions that are responsible for controlling the economic development, infrastructure, and environment. In Flanders, the institutions of the Dutch-speaking community and the Flemish region have merged, leaving the country with six governments and six parliaments. This complex structure has resulted from the increasing federalization of the country, which in turn has resulted from the demands for more cultural autonomy in each language community, as well as demands for control over local economic development.

The political system is based on discussion and compromise between different interest groups. The term "Belgian compromise" applies to solutions reached in this way: complex issues are settled by conceding something to every party. The resulting agreements often leave room for interpretation due to their complexity.

Leadership and Political Officials. The major political parties are the Liberals, Socialists, and Christian-Democrats, complemented by regionalist parties as the VolksUnie and the extreme right-wing Vlaams Blok in Flanders. Their Francophone counterpart is the Front Démocratique des Francophones (FDF). In some communes on the linguistic border and in Brussels, Francophone and Flemish parties form cross-political union lists such as Union des Francophones (UF) or Samen. The green parties entered the federal government coalition in 1999. All political parties (with the exception of the regionalist parties), have evolved from unitary parties into a Flemish party and a Walloon party since the 1970s. Politicians often rise through the pillars, mostly in Flanders; in Wallonia and Brussels, on the other hand, politicians usually have a stronger local base, often as mayors. The few independent candidates with political potential are quickly recruited by the parties.

Social Problems and Control. Policing and the judiciary are organized at the national level. After a major police reform in 1999, there will be one police force with authority to operate in the entire nation. Delays in handling cases in Brussels are often related to a lack of bilingual magistrates. In recent years, civilian patrols without legal powers of intervention have come into existence, but their function is mainly to deter robbers.

Informal social control is much stronger in small villages and towns than it is in large cities. Organized crime is rare except in drug trafficking, prostitution, and illegal immigration. Organized crime is mostly controlled by foreign criminals such as the Russian mafia. There are relatively few murders and armed robberies. The most common crime is property theft.

Military Activity. Belgium is a member of NATO, and its military forces have been completely integrated into the alliance. The military has to live with tight budgets, and military expenditure is seen as a necessity, not a source of national pride. The military is professional and separate from the rest of society and is subject to strong parliamentary control.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

A series of Public Centers of Social Aid (CPAS) exist in the cities, supporting impoverished residents. A ministry of social promotion supports initiatives for the reduction of inequality.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Belgium hosts many international organizations and hundreds of lobbying-groups, but their presence has little direct impact on social life. The most influential organizations are the Catholic Church and its affiliates and social organizations related to the pillars, such as trade unions.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. The occupational gender gap is decreasing, particularly among younger generations (67.5 percent of men working versus 50.2 percent of women working). In fact, the higher occupational rate of women is due to an increase in part-time jobs in services: less than 3 percent of men work part-time, but nearly 30 percent of women do.

The Relative Status of Men and Women. The unemployment rate in (1999) was slightly lower for men than for women. The wage differentials between men and woman are the lowest in the European Union, with women earning on average 91 percent of a man's salary.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage. There are no social or ethnic barriers to marriage, although proximity and social models influence the choice of a spouse. Young people marry and have children less often and later than former generations did. The divorce rate has increased to about one in three marriages.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit usually is composed of the parents and up to three children, although immigrants from North Africa often have more children. Women still do more of the domestic work, but this is perceived as a matter of negotiation by the couple.

Inheritance. In the absence of a will, the children inherit equally from a deceased parent. However, if one spouse survives the other, he or she keeps the entire estate. The law limits the proportion of the estate that can be disposed of by will, depending on the number of children.

Kin Groups. The extension of the family group generally is limited to first cousins. However, there are a growing number of family associations in the upper and middle classes through which the descendants of an individual gather once or twice a year.


Child Rearing and Education. The values parents attempt to transmit to their children are honesty, good manners, tolerance, and responsibility, but there are regional and class differences. Obedience and cleanliness are considered most important in Flanders and among workers, the unemployed, and shopkeepers; loyalty and courage are important in Wallonia; and independence and autonomy are more appreciated in Brussels and among university graduates, executives, civil servants and shopkeepers. The trend, however, shows a weakening of these oppositions, most notably between religious and hard work values in Flanders and socialist values in Wallonia.

Since 1956 all public and private schools have been supported by the state, and education is virtually free. In theory, access to the best schools depends on grades, language, location, and social position influence parental choice. Children must remain in full-time education until age sixteen and in part-time until age eighteen.

Higher Education. In arts, business, teacher training, and nursing, higher education is organized outside universities. Education is federalized and is conducted in the language of the individual region. Although language education in generally very good, there are no official bilingual institutions. The Catholic University of Louvain and the Free University of Brussels are divided into Flemish and Francophone parts. State universities are located in provincial towns. A high percentage of young people enter higher education (there were 307,000 students in higher education in 2000).


There are not many interactions in the streets, as residential, working and leisure areas tend to be distinct. Among young people, especially Francophones, girls rarely shake hands but kiss other girls and boys.


Religious Beliefs. Catholicism is the main religious faith. The government financially supports the Catholic and Protestant churches as well as the Jewish and Muslim faiths. The Catholic Church controls an important network of schools with 70 percent of the pupils in secondary education and two main universities. Religious beliefs and practice declined during the twentieth century, but approximately 65 percent of Belgians believe in God. Many people who say they do not believe in God take part in religious rituals for major events such as baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Minority faiths include Muslims, Jews, and Protestants.

Medicine and Health Care

There is a modern health system with state, university, and private hospitals. Health insurance is mandatory and is paid for by employers. Self-employed people must have insurance for major risks and pay according to their income.

Secular Celebrations

Many important secular celebrations are linked to the ethnic identity of the Flemish and the Francophones. Labor Day on 1 May and World War I Armistice Day are national holidays. The National Day on 21 July commemorates the taking of an oath of fidelity to the Constitution by the first king, Leopold I (17901865). Mardi Gras is celebrated in several cities.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Aspiring artists and musicians receive training in evening schools that are free of charge and accessible in most of the country. At the postsecondary level, there are many state-supported conservatories and art schools. An extensive network of art galleries supports avant-garde and traditional artists. Museums in the main cities also support artists by buying some of their work and making it known to the public.

Literature. Sometimes it is denied that there is a Belgian literature, with only Flemish and Walloon or French and Dutch writers who happen to be Belgian citizens. However, authors such as Charles de Coster (18271879) and Emile Verhaeren (18551916), wrote in French on Flemish themes. Another important Francophone writer from Flanders was the symbolist Maurice Maeterlinck. The main nineteenth-century Flemish writers were Hendrik Conscience and Guido Gezelle. Flemish and Francophone writers contributed to important literary movements such as symbolism, surrealism, and magic realism. Important themes are the hardness of life, the questioning of the nature of reality, and the quest for original ways to get through life. The distrust of authority was present in one of the oldest Flemish tales, Reynard the Fox, in which the small fox outsmarts the larger animals.

Graphic Arts. The golden age of graphic arts lasted from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century and was embodied mostly in painting. The Flemish Primitives school of painting (fourteenth and fifteenth centuries) made the region the main artistic center of Europe outside of Italy. Artists such as Jan Van Eyck (13951441) and Rogier Van Der Weyden (14001464) were interested in spatial composition and psychology and rendered the colors and textures of living and material objects with realism. The main artistic figure of the next century was Pieter Breughel the Elder (15251569), with his lively paintings of peasant life.

Pieter Paul Rubens (15771640) was the most famous painter of his time, receiving commissions from European sovereigns. His main focus was on the human figure. Rubens influenced Anthony Van Dyk (15991641) and Jacob Jordaens (15931678). The graphic arts declined until the late nineteenth century, when James Ensor and René Magritte (in the twentieth century) revived the avant-garde. The most innovative works of living artists can be seen in contemporary art museums in Antwerp and Ghent.

Performance Arts. The Franco-Flemish style dominated European music in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with composers such as Josquin des Prez and Orlando di Lasso. In the twentieth century, the most famous Belgian musician was the singer Jacques Brel. Several living classical composers are active. The harmonica player Toots Thielemans is the most famous jazz musician. The Blindman Kwartet combines jazz, pop, and classical music.

The presence in Brussels between 1959 and 1987 of the French choreographer Maurice Béjart stimulated a new generation of choreographers. The main theatrical centers are De Singel in Antwerp and the Kaai Teater in Brussels. Several theaters and orchestras are supported by the government.


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The people of Belguim are called Belgians. The ancestors of Belgium's present population are believed to have settled there during the fourth century ad. The Flemings, comprising about 60 percent of the population, are of Dutch descent. The Walloons, about 35 percent, are of French descent.

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Belgium •amalgam • Targum • begum •Brigham • lingam • ogham • sorghum •Nahum • Belgium • dodgem •Brummagem • stratagem • Rackham •Malcolm • Ascham • Beckham •welcome • vade mecum • stickum •dinkum • modicum • hypericum •capsicum • viaticum • practicum •Occam •hokum, locum, oakum •bunkum •alum, Calum, mallam, vallum •Pablum •Haarlem, Harlem, Malayalam, slalom •antebellum, cerebellum, elm, helm, overwhelm, pelham, realm, underwhelm, vellum •emblem • bedlam • peplum •exemplum • wychelm • Kenelm •Salem • velum •aspergillum, chillum, film, vexillum •Whitlam • clingfilm • telefilm •microfilm •asylum, hilum, phylum, whilom •column, olm, solemn •problem • golem • hoodlum • Ulmincunabulum, pabulum •coagulum • pendulum • speculum •curriculum • cimbalom • paspalum •Absalom • Jerusalem • tantalum

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