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Belgium: country overview

22 May 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 30 January 2017

Belgium's modern, private-enterprise economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. The most important sectors of Belgium’s economy in 2015 were public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (22.5 %), wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services (19.7 %) and industry (16.3 %). Belgium's main export partners are Germany, France and the Netherlands while its main import partners are the Netherlands, Germany and France.


Belgian flag

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: 11,258 million (2015)

Population as % of total EU: 2.2 % (2015)

Gross domestic product (GDP): € 409.407 billion (2015)

Official EU language(s): Dutch, French and German

Political system: federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy

EU member country since: 1 January 1958

Seats in the European Parliament: 21

Currency: Euro. Member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999

Schengen area member?: Yes, Schengen Area member since 26 March 1995.

Presidency of the Council: Belgium has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU 12 times between 1958 and 2010.

Belgium mapBelgium 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 sea coast and flat coastal plains along the North Sea, a central plateau and the rolling hills and forests of the Ardennes region in the south east.

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.

Economy overview

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 shifts in foreign demand, particularly with Belgium's EU trade partners. Roughly three-quarters of Belgium's trade is with other EU countries.

In 2015, Belgian GDP grew by 1.4%, the unemployment rate stabilized at 8.6%, and the budget deficit was 2.7% of GDP. Prime Minister Charles MICHEL's center-right government has pledged to further reduce the deficit in response to EU pressure to reduce Belgium's high public debt, which remains above 100% of GDP, but such efforts could also dampen economic growth. In addition to restrained public spending, low wage growth and high unemployment promise to curtail a more robust recovery in private consumption.

The government has pledged to pursue a reform program to improve Belgium's competitiveness, including changes to tax policy, labour market rules, and welfare benefits. These changes risk worsening tensions with trade unions and triggering extended strikes.

Useful links

The Commission's Representation in Belgium

European Parliament office in Belgium portal

Tourist information

Source: European Commission, CIA - The World Factbook