Belgium: country overview22 May 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 12 February 2013
Belgium's modern, private-enterprise economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base.
Year of EU entry: Founding member (1952)
Member of Schengen area:Yes
Political system: Constitutional monarchy
Capital city: Brussels
Total area: 30 528 km²
Population: 10.7 million
Belgium is a federal state divided into three regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, francophone Wallonia in the south and Brussels, the bilingual capital, where French and Dutch share official status. There is also a small German-speaking minority of some 70 000 in the eastern part of the country.
Belgium’s landscape varies widely: 67 kilometres of seacoast and flat coastal plains along the North Sea, a central plateau and the rolling hills and forests of the Ardennes region in the southeast.
Brussels hosts several international organisations: most of the European institutions are located here as well as the NATO headquarters.
Independent since 1830, Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. The two houses of Parliament are the Chamber of Representatives, whose members are elected for a maximum period of four years, and the Senate or upper house, whose members are elected or co-opted. Given its political make-up, Belgium is generally run by coalition governments.
Among the best known Belgians are Georges Rémi (Hergé), creator of the Tintin comic-strip, writers Georges Simenon and Hugo Claus, composer and singer Jacques Brel and cyclist Eddy Merckx. Painters like James Ensor, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte are the modern-day successors of Rubens and the other Flemish masters of yesteryear.
Belgium is famous for its chocolates, which are appreciated the world over. A favourite dish is mussels and chips (French fries) which, according to legend, are a Belgian invention. The country also produces over 1 000 brands of beer.
This modern, open, and private-enterprise-based economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the more heavily-populated region of Flanders in the north. With few natural resources, Belgium imports substantial quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactures, making its economy vulnerable to volatility in world markets. Roughly three-quarters of Belgium's trade is with other EU countries, and Belgium has benefited most from its proximity to Germany. In 2011 Belgian GDP grew by 1.8%, the unemployment rate decreased slightly to 7.2% from 8.3% the previous year, and the government reduced the budget deficit from a peak of 6% of GDP in 2009 to 4.2% in 2011 and 3.3% in 2012. Despite the relative improvement in Belgium's budget deficit, public debt hovers around 100% of GDP, a factor that has contributed to investor perceptions that the country is increasingly vulnerable to spillover from the euro-zone crisis. Belgian banks were severely affected by the international financial crisis in 2008 with three major banks receiving capital injections from the government, and the nationalization of the Belgian retail arm of a Franco-Belgian bank.
Source: European Commission, CIA - The World Factbook