Belgium


Belgium
/bel"jeuhm/, n.
a kingdom in W Europe, bordering the North Sea, N of France. 10,203,683; 11,779 sq. mi. (30,508 sq. km). Cap.: Brussels. French, Belgique /bel zheek"/; Flemish, België /bel"khee euh/.

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Belgium

Introduction Belgium
Background: Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 and was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy. Geography Belgium -
Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between France and the Netherlands
Geographic coordinates: 50 50 N, 4 00 E
Map references: Europe
Area: total: 30,510 sq km land: 30,230 sq km water: 280 sq km
Area - comparative: about the size of Maryland
Land boundaries: total: 1,385 km border countries: France 620 km, Germany 167 km, Luxembourg 148 km, Netherlands 450 km
Coastline: 66 km
Maritime claims: continental shelf: median line with neighbors territorial sea: 12 NM exclusive fishing zone: median line with neighbors (extends about 68 km from coast)
Climate: temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy
Terrain: flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, rugged mountains of Ardennes Forest in southeast
Elevation extremes: lowest point: North Sea 0 m highest point: Signal de Botrange 694 m
Natural resources: coal, natural gas
Land use: arable land: 25% permanent crops: 0% note: includes Luxembourg (1998 est.) other: 75%
Irrigated land: 40 sq km (includes Luxembourg) (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: flooding is a threat in areas of reclaimed coastal land, protected from the sea by concrete dikes Environment - current issues: the environment is exposed to intense pressures from human activities: urbanization, dense transportation network, industry, intense animal breeding and crop cultivation; air and water pollution also have repercussions for neighboring countries; uncertainties regarding federal and regional responsibilities (now resolved) have slowed progress in tackling environmental challenges Environment - international party to: Air Pollution, Air
agreements: Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution- Volatile Organic Compounds, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Antarctic- Environmental Protocol, Antarctic- Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: crossroads of Western Europe; majority of West European capitals within 1,000 km of Brussels, the seat of both the European Union and NATO People Belgium
Population: 10,274,595 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 17.3% (male 911,729; female 871,470) 15-64 years: 65.6% (male 3,395,885; female 3,341,536) 65 years and over: 17.1% (male 716,673; female 1,037,302) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.15% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 10.58 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 10.08 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: 0.97 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.69 male(s)/ female total population: 0.96 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 4.64 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.13 years female: 81.62 years (2002 est.) male: 74.8 years
Total fertility rate: 1.61 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.15% (1999 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ 7,700 (1999 est.)
AIDS:
HIV/AIDS - deaths: less than 100 (1999 est.)
Nationality: noun: Belgian(s) adjective: Belgian
Ethnic groups: Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%
Religions: Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant or other 25%
Languages: Dutch 60%, French 40%, German less than 1%, legally bilingual (Dutch and French)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 98% male: NA% female: NA% Government Belgium
Country name: conventional long form: Kingdom of Belgium conventional short form: Belgium local short form: Belgique/Belgie local long form: Royaume de Belgique/Koninkrijk Belgie
Government type: federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch
Capital: Brussels Administrative divisions: 10 provinces (French: provinces, singular - province; Dutch: provincien, singular - provincie) and 1 region* (French: region; Dutch: gewest); Antwerpen, Brabant Wallon, Brussels* (Bruxelles), Hainaut, Liege, Limburg, Luxembourg, Namur, Oost-Vlaanderen, Vlaams- Brabant, West-Vlaanderen
Independence: 4 October 1830 a provisional government declared independence from the Netherlands; 21 July 1831 the ascension of King Leopold I to the throne
National holiday: Independence Day, 21 July (1831)
Constitution: 7 February 1831, last revised 14 July 1993; parliament approved a constitutional package creating a federal state
Legal system: civil law system influenced by English constitutional theory; judicial review of legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal and compulsory
Executive branch: chief of state: King ALBERT II (since 9 August 1993); Heir Apparent Prince PHILIPPE, son of the monarch head of government: Prime Minister Guy VERHOFSTADT (since 13 July 1999) cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the monarch and approved by Parliament elections: none; the monarchy is hereditary; prime minister appointed by the monarch and then approved by Parliament note: government coalition - VLD, PRL, PS, SP, AGALEV, and ECOLO
Legislative branch: bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate or Senaat in Dutch, Senat in French (71 seats; 40 members are directly elected by popular vote, 31 are indirectly elected; members serve four-year terms) and a Chamber of Deputies or Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers in Dutch, Chambre des Representants in French (150 seats; members are directly elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms) elections: Senate and Chamber of Deputies - last held 13 June 1999 (next to be held in NA 2003) note: as a result of the 1993 constitutional revision that furthered devolution into a federal state, there are now three levels of government (federal, regional, and linguistic community) with a complex division of responsibilities; this reality leaves six governments each with its own legislative assembly; for other acronyms of the listed parties see the Political parties and leaders entry election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - VLD 15.4%, CVP 14.7%, PRL 10.6%, PS 9.7%, VB 9.4%, SP 8.9%, ECOLO 7.4%, AGALEV 7.1%, PSC 6.0%, VU 5.1%; seats by party - VLD 11, CVP 10, PS 10, PRL 9, VB 6, SP 6, ECOLO 6, AGALEV 5, PSC 5, VU 3; Chamber of Deputies - percent of vote by party - VLD 14.3%, CVP 14.1%, PS 10.2%, PRL 10.1%, VB 9.9%, SP 9.5%, ECOLO 7.4%, AGALEV 7.0%, PSC 5.9%, VU 5.6%; seats by party - VLD 23, CVP 22, PS 19, PRL 18, VB 15, SP 14, ECOLO 11, PSC 10, AGALEV 9, VU 8, FN 1
Judicial branch: Supreme Court of Justice or Hof van Cassatie (in Dutch) or Cour de Cassation (in French) (judges are appointed for life by the monarch, although selected by the Government) Political parties and leaders: AGALEV (Flemish Greens) [Jos GEYSELS]; Christian Democrats and Flemish or CD & V [Stefaan DE CLERCK, president]; note - used to be the Flemish Christian Democrats or CVP; ECOLO (Francophone Greens) [no president; led by three person federal secretariat]; Flemish Liberal Democrats or VLD [Karel DE GUCHT, president]; Francophone Christian Democrats or PSC (Social Christian Party) [Joelle MILQUET, president]; Francophone Liberal Reformation Party or PRL [Daniel DUCARME, president]; Francophone Socialist Party or PS [Elio DI RUPO, president]; National Front or FN [Daniel FERET]; New Flemish Alliance or NVA [Geert BOURGEOIS]; note - split from Volksunie or VB; Social Progressive Alternative Party or SP.A [Patrick JANSSENS, president]; note - was Flemish Socialist Party or SP; Spirit [Annemie VAN DE CASTEELE]; note - split from Volksunie or VU; Vlaams Blok or VB [Frank VANHECKE]; other minor parties Political pressure groups and Christian and Socialist Trade
leaders: Unions; Federation of Belgian Industries; numerous other associations representing bankers, manufacturers, middle-class artisans, and the legal and medical professions; various organizations represent the cultural interests of Flanders and Wallonia; various peace groups such as Pax Christi and groups representing immigrants International organization ACCT, AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group,
participation: Benelux, BIS, CCC, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECE, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G- 9, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, MINURSO, MONUC, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIK, UNMOGIP, UNMOP, UNRWA, UNTSO, UPU, WADB (nonregional), WCL, WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, ZC Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Alexis REYN chancery: 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008 consulate(s) general: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York FAX: [1] (202) 333-3079 telephone: [1] (202) 333-6900 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Ambassador Stephen
US: Franklin BRAUER embassy: 27 Boulevard du Regent, B- 1000 Brussels mailing address: PSC 82, Box 002, APO AE 09710 telephone: [32] (2) 508-2111 FAX: [32] (2) 511-2725
Flag description: three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), yellow, and red; the design was based on the flag of France Economy Belgium -
Economy - overview: This modern private enterprise economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the populous Flemish area in the north. With few natural resources, Belgium must import substantial quantities of raw materials and export a large volume of manufactures, making its economy unusually dependent on the state of world markets. About three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Belgium's public debt is expected to fall to about 100% of GDP in 2002, and the government has succeeded in balancing its budget. Belgium, together with 11 of its EU partners, began circulating euro currency in January 2002. Economic growth in 2001 dropped sharply due to the global economic slowdown. Prospects for 2002 depend largely on recovery in the EU and the US.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $267.7 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 1.1% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $26,100 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 1.4% industry: 24% services: 74.6% (2000) Population below poverty line: 4% Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: 3.7%
percentage share: highest 10%: 20.2% (1992) Distribution of family income - Gini 25 (1992)
index: Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.4% (2001 est.)
Labor force: 4.44 million (2001) Labor force - by occupation: services 73%, industry 25%, agriculture 2% (1999 est.)
Unemployment rate: 6.8% (2001 est.)
Budget: revenues: $113.44 billion expenditures: $106 billion, including capital expenditures of $7.17 billion (2000)
Industries: engineering and metal products, motor vehicle assembly, processed food and beverages, chemicals, basic metals, textiles, glass, petroleum, coal Industrial production growth rate: 4.5% (2000 est.) Electricity - production: 79.348 billion kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 40.31% hydro: 0.57% other: 1.46% (2000) nuclear: 57.66% Electricity - consumption: 78.13 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 7.309 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 11.645 billion kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: sugar beets, fresh vegetables, fruits, grain, tobacco; beef, veal, pork, milk
Exports: $160.3 billion (f.o.b., 2001)
Exports - commodities: machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products
Exports - partners: EU 74% (France 18%, Germany 17%, Netherlands 13%, UK 10%), US 6% (2000)
Imports: $154 billion (f.o.b., 2001)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, chemicals, metals and metal products
Imports - partners: EU 68% (Germany 17%, Netherlands 17%, France 13%, UK 9%) (2000)
Debt - external: $28.3 billion (1999 est.)
Economic aid - donor: ODA, $764 million (1997)
Currency: euro (EUR); Belgian franc (BEF) note: on 1 January 1999, the European Monetary Union introduced the euro as a common currency to be used by financial institutions of member countries; on 1 January 2002, the euro became the sole currency for everyday transactions within the member countries
Currency code: EUR; BEF
Exchange rates: euros per US dollar - 1.1324 (January 2002), 1.1175 (2001), 1.0854 (2000), 0.9386 (1999); Belgian francs per US dollar - 34.77 (January 1999), 36.229 (1998), 35.774 (1997)
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Belgium Telephones - main lines in use: 4.769 million (1997) Telephones - mobile cellular: 974,494 (1997)
Telephone system: general assessment: highly developed, technologically advanced, and completely automated domestic and international telephone and telegraph facilities domestic: nationwide cellular telephone system; extensive cable network; limited microwave radio relay network international: 5 submarine cables; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) and 1 Eutelsat Radio broadcast stations: FM 79, AM 7, shortwave 1 (1998)
Radios: 8.075 million (1997) Television broadcast stations: 25 (plus 10 repeaters) (1997)
Televisions: 4.72 million (1997)
Internet country code: .be Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 61 (2000)
Internet users: 2.807 million (2001) Transportation Belgium
Railways: total: 3,422 km standard gauge: 3,422 km 1.435- m gauge (2,517 km electrified; 2,563 km double-tracked) (2001)
Highways: total: 145,774 km paved: 116,182 km (including 1,674 km of expressways) unpaved: 29,592 km (1999)
Waterways: 1,570 km (route length in regular commercial use) (2001)
Pipelines: crude oil 161 km; petroleum products 1,167 km; natural gas 3,300 km
Ports and harbors: Antwerp (one of the world's busiest ports), Brugge, Gent, Hasselt, Liege, Mons, Namur, Oostende, Zeebrugge
Merchant marine: total: 20 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 31,362 GRT/54,058 DWT ships by type: cargo 6, chemical tanker 9, petroleum tanker 5, includes some foreign-owned ships registered here as a flag of convenience: Finland 1, Netherlands 3 (2002 est.)
Airports: 42 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 24 over 3,047 m: 6 2,438 to 3,047 m: 8 914 to 1,523 m: 1 under 914 m: 6 (2001) 1,524 to 2,437 m: 3 Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 18 914 to 1,523 m: 2 under 914 m: 16 (2001)
Heliports: 1 (2001) Military Belgium
Military branches: Army, Navy, Air Components, National Gendarmerie Military manpower - military age: 19 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 2,508,557 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 2,070,016 (2002
service: est.) Military manpower - reaching males: 63,247 (2002 est.)
military age annually: Military expenditures - dollar $3,076.5 million (FY01/02)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 1.4% (FY01/02)
GDP: Transnational Issues Belgium Disputes - international: none
Illicit drugs: growing producer of synthetic drugs; transit point for US-bound ecstasy; source of precursor chemicals for South American cocaine processors; transshipment point for cocaine, heroin, hashish, and marijuana entering Western Europe

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officially Kingdom of Belgium

Country, northwestern Europe.

Area: 11,787 sq mi (30,528 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 10,280,000. Capital: Brussels. The population consists mostly of Flemings and Walloons. The Flemings, more than half of the population, speak Flemish (Dutch) and live in the northern half of the country; the Walloons, about one-third of the population, speak French and inhabit the southern half. Languages: Dutch, French, German (all official). Religions: Roman Catholicism (90%), Islam, Protestantism. Currency: euro. Belgium can be divided into several geographic regions. The southeast consists of the forested Ardennes highland, which extends south of the Meuse River valley and includes Belgium's highest point, Mount Botrange (2,277 ft [694 m]). Middle Belgium is a fertile region crossed by tributaries of the Schelde River. Lower Belgium comprises the flat plains of Flanders in the northwest with their many canals. Maritime Flanders borders the North Sea and is agriculturally prosperous; the chief North Sea port is Oostende, but Antwerp, near the mouth of the Schelde, has much greater trade. Belgium has minimal natural resources, so the manufacture of goods from imported raw materials plays a major role in the economy, and the country is highly industrialized. It is a monarchy with a parliament composed of two legislative houses; the chief of state is the monarch, and the head of government is the prime minister. Inhabited in ancient times by the Belgae, a Celtic people, the area was conquered by Caesar in 57 BC; under Augustus it became the Roman province of Belgica. Conquered by the Franks, it later broke up into semi-independent territories, including Brabant and Luxembourg. By the late 15th century the territories of the Netherlands, of which the future Belgium was a part, gradually united and passed to the Habsburgs. In the 16th century it was a centre for European commerce. The basis of modern Belgium was laid in the southern Catholic provinces that split from the northern provinces after the Union of Utrecht in 1579 (see The Netherlands). Overrun by the French and incorporated into France in 1801, the area was reunited with Holland and with it became the independent Kingdom of The Netherlands in 1815. After the revolt of its citizens in 1830, it became the independent Kingdom of Belgium. Under Leopold II, it acquired vast lands in Africa. Overrun by the Germans in World Wars I and II, it was the scene of the Battle of the Bulge (1944–45). Internal discord led to legislation in the 1970s and '80s that created three nearly autonomous regions in accordance with language distribution: Flemish Flanders, French Wallonia, and bilingual Brussels. In 1993 Belgium became a federation comprising the three regions, which gained greater autonomy at the outset of the 21st century. It is a member of the European Union.

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▪ 2009

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2008 est.): 10,697,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Guy Verhofstadt, from March 20, Yves Leterme, and, from December 30, Herman Van Rompuy

      The longest-running political crisis in Belgium's history formally ended in March 2008 when Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme's five-party coalition government was sworn in—nine months after the country's general election in June 2007. Leterme took over from former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, who since before Christmas had led an interim government.

      The partnership between the French- and Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats and Liberals and the French-speaking Socialists was far from smooth, however, as the parties negotiated possible constitutional reforms that would affect the future status of the bilingual Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) constituency, which included the capital, and devolve more power to the country's three regions. In mid-July, Leterme submitted his resignation for a third time when he failed to meet a deadline set by his own party, the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V), for issuing a proposal to resolve the constitutional deadlock. King Albert II refused to accept the prime minister's resignation, but he did on December 22 when Leterme offered to resign a fourth time after accusations that aides had tried to influence a ruling by the country's appeals court.

      The court case had been brought by shareholders in Fortis NV, which, with operations in Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands, in late September became the first European bank to fail amid the global credit crisis. Each of the three governments had agreed to take a 49% share in its respective country of the operations of the bank, whose origins predated the creation of the Belgian state in 1830. Within days, however, the Dutch government nationalized the bank's holdings in The Netherlands and the Belgian government sold three-quarters of its 51% stake in Fortis Belgium to France's BNP Paribas—a decision which the shareholders had decided to challenge though the courts. Soon after the initial Fortis rescue package, the Belgian and Luxembourg governments—this time working with France—stepped in again to prop up another of Belgium's leading banks, Dexia. After an initial cash injection by the three countries of €6,376,000,000 (€1 = about $1.40) had failed to prevent the bank's shares from plummeting, they announced that between them they would guarantee all new issues of obligations by the bank, interbank deposits, and institutional investments until the end of October 2009.

      Two other Belgian companies were involved in major international deals during the year. InBev, which was formed in 2004 when Belgian company Interbrew merged with Brazil's AmBev, continued on the acquisition trail. In July it paid $52 billion for Anheuser-Busch, which accounted for almost half of all U.S. beer sales. The new company, called Anheuser-Busch InBev, was looking to produce 460 million hectolitres (about 12 billion gal) of beer a year—about a quarter of global beer consumption. Brussels Airlines, created in 2006 after a merger between SN Brussels Airlines (the successor to the bankrupt national carrier SABENA) and Virgin Express, formed an alliance with Germany's Lufthansa, Europe's second largest airline. Under the deal, signed on September 15, the German carrier agreed to buy 45% of the Belgian airline for €65 million, with the option of acquiring the whole company in 2011 for a maximum price of €250 million.

      Hugo Claus (Claus, Hugo Maurice Julien ), a colossus on the Belgian literary landscape, died on March 19. Claus, who suffered from Alzheimer disease, chose to die by euthanasia, taking advantage of liberal legalization that had been introduced six years earlier.

      Three of Belgium's favourite sportswomen, tennis star Justine Henin, track and field athlete Kim Gevaert, and high jumper Tia Hellebaut, retired from competition in 2008. Henin, the world's number one female player almost continuously from November 2006 until her retirement in May, won 7 Grand Slam titles during her career, in addition to 33 other Women's Tennis Association singles titles and gold at the 2004 Olympics; Gevaert had dominated Belgian sprinting for the past decade; and Hellebaut won gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Rory Watson

▪ 2008

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2007 est.): 10,597,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

      Belgium experienced its most serious political crisis in decades following the country's general election on June 10, 2007, as political parties struggled to form a government. The polls signaled the end of the outgoing Liberal-Socialist coalition, which had governed for four years under Flemish Liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. In Dutch-speaking Flanders there were major gains for the Christian Democrats and losses for the Liberals and Socialists. In Francophone Wallonia the Socialists also lost seats, the Christian Democrats made modest gains, and the Liberals emerged as the largest political force in the region.

      The clear winner was Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats. His party gained eight seats, returning 30 deputies to the 150-member House of Representatives. His demands for wide-ranging constitutional reforms and increased autonomy for the regions, notably Flanders, met firm opposition from potential French-speaking partners, however, and stalled the formation of a Christian Democrat–Liberal coalition. After almost 200 days of stalemate, an interim coalition government under Verhofstadt was formed shortly before Christmas. This government would remain in office until March 23, 2008, allowing Leterme more time to try to put together a ruling majority.

      An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report in March noted that the Belgian economy was recovering strongly and that public debt was declining as a percentage of GDP. It forecast growth of 2.3% for 2007 and 2.1% for 2008. A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Belgium placed Belgium as the fifth largest destination for American investment in 2005. The total stock of American investment had reached $36.7 billion by 2005—double the level of five years earlier.

       Brussels Airlines, the result of a merger in November 2006 between Virgin Express and SN Brussels Airlines (the latter the offspring of the defunct national carrier, Sabena), began operating in March. At the end of May, the Belgo-Dutch bank, Fortis, joined the Royal Bank of Scotland and Spain's Banco Santander Central Hispano and made an offer for Dutch bank ABN AMRO. This consortium faced competition from a rival bid from British bank Barclays. ABN AMRO shareholders supported Fortis's cash-and-share offer, while the bank's supervisory and management boards favoured Barclays's all-share bid. In October ABN AMRO accepted the consortium's revised, mostly cash, offer of €72 billion (about $102 billion). After the takeover was completed, Fortis, previously in 20th position, became the 15th largest bank in Europe in terms of capitalization.

      Belgium used its powers under the law of universal competence (which allowed the country to judge crimes wherever they were committed) to try a former Rwandan army officer, Maj. Bernard Ntuyahaga, for the murder of 10 Belgian paratroopers in Kigali, Rwanda, in April 1994. The soldiers were part of a UN force monitoring the cease-fire between the Hutu and the Tutsi. After an 11-week trial, Ntuyahaga was found guilty in early July and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

      Tennis player Justine Henin separated from her husband, Pierre-Yves Hardenne (and reverted to her maiden name), but she had a good year on the court, winning the French and U.S. Open championships and regaining the number one ranking. In contrast, her great rival Kim Clijsters married Belgium-based American basketball player Brian Lynch in July and retired from tennis at the age of 23. Clijsters won 34 titles during her career and was ranked number one for 19 weeks in 2003.

Rory Watson

▪ 2007

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2006 est.): 10,517,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

      Communal and provincial elections throughout Belgium on Oct. 8, 2006, gave some insight into the state of the political landscape prior to general elections, due in May 2007. The results suggested that the ruling Liberal-Socialist coalition would have to make up ground if it was to be returned to office. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's Dutch-speaking Liberal party performed badly in Flanders, coming in fourth place, while the party's Francophone allies in Wallonia fared only marginally better. French-speaking Socialists, who had anticipated an electoral backlash after having been involved in a series of scandals, did not suffer as much as they had feared, although they lost seats in some heartland areas. The Socialists' Flemish partners enjoyed a stronger showing, notably in Antwerp, where they rebuffed the expected advance of the extreme right-wing Vlaams Belang. The main winner in the vote was the Christian Democratic party, now in opposition but previously in government for most of the post-World War II years. The Christian Democrats were the premier political force in Flanders and improved their previously low fortunes in Wallonia.

      Within a week of the elections, Verhofstadt presented a balanced federal budget for 2007—the eighth time he had achieved this feat. The country continued to reduce its overall national debt, which since 1993 had fallen from 137% of GDP to just over 90%. Belgium's energy sector was set for a shake-up in 2007, not only from the introduction of liberalization but also from the planned merger between state-controlled Gaz de France (GDF) and the private Franco-Belgian group SUEZ, which held controlling stakes in three Belgian energy companies. The European Commission agreed to the merger, subject to certain conditions, but a final decision was delayed after a successful appeal to French courts by GDF's European Works Council. Two low-cost airlines, SN Brussels Airlines (the successor to the bankrupt national carrier, Sabena) and Virgin Express, which already cooperated on many routes, agreed to begin operating as a single body in April 2007.

 Compared with most countries, the level of violence in Belgium historically was low, but the country was shocked by two tragic incidents within weeks of each other. In April 17-year-old Joe Van Holsbeeck was stabbed to death for his MP3 player in broad daylight in Brussels Central Station. The murder prompted demands for greater public safety and a silent march of 80,000 people—reminiscent of the 300,000 who had staged an equally dignified demonstration 10 years earlier to protest the official incompetence that had failed the victims of convicted pedophile Marc Dutroux. The second incident occurred in Antwerp a few weeks later, when a Malian babysitter and a two-year-old Belgian child were shot dead (a Turkish woman was also severely wounded). On May 26 some 20,000 demonstrators in Antwerp participated in a march against racism. Many people were incensed that the killer had bought the gun and bullets that morning, without needing a license, and within days after the incident, draft legislation to update 70-year-old rules and to restrict the use of firearms was approved. The new legislation came into force on June 9.

      From January 2006 smoking was outlawed in the workplace, apart from specially designated rooms. The ban was to be extended from January 2007 to restaurants but not to cafés, bars, and nightclubs. Legislation passed in April that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

      In tennis, Justine Henin-Hardenne won the French Open for the third time. She had to be content with being a runner-up in several other major tournaments, but she ended the year as the world's number one female player after winning the Madrid Masters in November. Meanwhile, Kim Gevaert won the women's 100- and 200-m events at the track and field European championships, and Tia Hellebaut triumphed in the women's high jump.

Rory Watson

▪ 2006

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2005 est.): 10,432,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

 Belgium observed twin celebrations in 2005. The country marked the 175th anniversary—> of the relatively painless revolution of 1830, when citizens took to the streets and ended 15 years of Dutch rule, and commemorated Belgium's 25th birthday as a federal state in which most internal powers had been devolved to the three regions. In January, looking ahead to the year of festivities, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said: “We want to use the occasion to show that our country is modern and dynamic. The aim is not to wallow in nostalgia but to look ahead to the future, focusing on youth, meetings, and conviviality.”

      Verhofstadt's coalition government faced one of its toughest tests, however, with a linguistic dispute that echoed the bitter language battles of the 1970s between the country's French- and Dutch-speaking communities. At stake was the Brussels-Hal-Vilvoorde parliamentary constituency. Not only was it the largest in Belgium, but it was also the only bilingual constituency in the country, with both French- and Dutch-speaking parties putting forward candidates in elections. The Dutch-speaking parties wanted to split the constituency by adding Hal and Vilvoorde to nearby Leuven to create a purely Flemish unit. French-speaking parties objected, however, fearing that such a division would undermine the rights of francophone residents in the constituency itself and in some other communes around Brussels. After months of negotiations, a compromise was reached that put the issue on hold for two years; it would be addressed again after the next general election, due in May 2007 at the latest.

      On the economic front, the government announced in October that it had kept within its budget for the sixth straight year. The government also received a boost from the proceeds of the fiscal amnesty that it had organized during 2004 to encourage Belgians to repatriate funds that they had lodged in foreign banks in order to escape the country's high tax rates. The initiative brought the government €496 million (€1 = about $1.28) from the levies it applied to the returning funds. Officially, €5.7 billion returned to Belgium, but it was widely believed that as much as €10 billion more had gone back into the country without being declared. The government continued to reduce the country's national debt, paring it by €3.06 billion in the year leading up to May 2005; however, the debt, at €268.18 billion, represented 95.5% of GDP—one of the highest percentages in the European Union.

      It was a good year for Belgium's top two tennis players, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, after both had suffered injuries and fallen in the rankings during 2004. Clijsters won the U.S. Open—her first Grand Slam title after having been beaten in four previous finals. Henin-Hardenne won her second French Open, taking her Grand Slam wins to four.

       Cycling, which had been personified in Belgium by five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx, saw the emergence of a new Belgian champion, Tom Boonen. The 24-year-old Boonen crowned an outstanding year by becoming world road-race champion at the end of September. He had previously won three other road races during the year, including the Paris–Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, as well as two road-race stages in the 2005 Tour de France.

      In the world of culture, the brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (Dardenne, Jean-Pierre and Luc ) (see Biographies) joined the rare group of film directors to have twice won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Their entry, L'Enfant, about the lives of two young parents, was voted best film six years after they won their first award at Cannes with Rosetta.

Rory Watson

▪ 2005

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2004 est.): 10,416,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

       Elections in mid-June 2004 in Belgium's three regions—Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels—brought major strains to Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's Liberal-Socialist federal coalition government less than a year after it had come into office. Verhofstadt's own Dutch-speaking Liberal party, VLD-Vivant, fared badly and was pushed into third place in Flanders, overtaken even by the extreme right-wing Vlaams Blok. In November, however, the Supreme Court of Belgium ruled that Vlaams Blok had violated antiracism laws and was thus not a legal party. Elsewhere the main victor was the French-speaking Socialist Party, which consolidated its leading position in Wallonia and overtook the French-speaking Liberals to become the main political force in Brussels. In the complex negotiations that followed, the Socialists ended their previous government partnerships with the Liberals in Wallonia and the Belgian capital and established new coalitions in both regions with the centre-right Humanist Democratic Centre.

      The political maneuvers ended the symmetry that had previously existed whereby Liberals and Socialists were driving forces at both the federal and regional levels. The change in political fortunes soon made it harder for Verhofstadt, who failed at the same time in his bid to become European Commission president, to drive through national policies, which required the cooperation of regional governments. This was demonstrated by a crisis in the autumn over the number of night flights over Brussels from Zaventem airport, located nearby in Flanders. After the federal, Flemish, and Brussels authorities failed to reach a settlement with DHL, the courier company canceled plans to expand its European hub at the airport.

      The highest-profile event of the year was the three-month-long trial in the small southern town of Arlon of convicted rapist Marc Dutroux. In June, eight years after his arrest, Dutroux was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of two teenage girls and a male accomplice. He was also found guilty of the kidnapping, imprisonment, rape, and abuse of these young women, two eight-year-old girls (who had starved to death in an underground cell), and two other girls who survived their ordeal and testified against him in court. Dutroux's ex-wife received a 30-year sentence as an accessory, and another accomplice was sent to prison for 25 years. A fourth defendant was acquitted of the kidnapping but was given a five-year sentence for drug trafficking and conspiracy to traffic human beings. Just a few weeks after Belgium's “trial of the century,” the nation was again appalled when serial killer Michel Fourniret confessed to the murders of nine people, mostly young girls, between 1987 and 2001.

      Sobelair, the Belgian charter airline, which had survived the bankruptcy in November 2001 of its former parent company, Sabena, itself went into liquidation in January 2004, and almost 500 jobs were lost. After Sabena, Delsey Airlines, and City Bird, it was the fourth Belgian airline to fold since 1991. Interbrew, previously the number three brewer in the world, moved to the top slot, pushing Anheuser-Busch of the U.S. into second place after the Belgian company acquired a 21.8% interest in Brazil's Ambev. Following the merger Interbrew changed its name to Inbev.

      In January Belgium extended existing legislation on same-sex marriages to allow gay Belgians to marry foreign partners. Previously, the right covered only nationals from countries where same-sex marriages were legal and thus effectively enabled only Belgians and Dutch to benefit. (See Law, Crime, and Law Enforcement Special Report (Legal Debate over Same-Sex Marriages ).) Between September 2002, when euthanasia was decriminalized, and the end of 2003, 259 cases of mercy killing were officially recorded. During that period, the number of cases rose from 8 to 21 per month.

Rory Watson

▪ 2004

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2003 est.): 10,341,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

      Flemish Liberal Guy Verhofstadt began his second term as prime minister of Belgium in early summer after having won a resounding victory in the country's general election on May 18, 2003. Instead of leading a six-party rainbow coalition of French and Dutch-speaking Liberals, Socialists, and Greens, as he had done for the previous four years, his new government had a more violet hue, blending the blue of liberalism with the red of socialism.

      The election confirmed the changes taking place in the modern Belgian political landscape. Liberals and Socialists were consolidating their position as the major political forces in both Flanders and Wallonia. Christian Democrats, who had been a traditional feature of Belgian governments for four decades, continued their decline. The Greens, who had clashed with Verhofstadt in the final days of the outgoing government, suffered major losses across the country, while the far-right Vlaams Blok made noticeable gains in Flanders.

      The coalition's program included a pledge to create 200,000 new jobs, support small and medium-sized businesses, set aside extra finances for public services such as railways and post offices, and increase health expenditure. The government was also looking to woo back the billions of dollars Belgians held in foreign accounts by offering an amnesty that would apply low taxes on repatriated funds.

      Belgium's relationship with the U.S. went through a particularly difficult period during the year. The government, especially Foreign Minister Louis Michel, was openly hostile to the war in Iraq. More significantly, Washington was outraged by efforts to use Belgium's law on universal competence, which gave its courts jurisdiction over genocide and war crimes irrespective of the location of the alleged offenses or the nationalities of those involved, to try both U.S. Pres. George W. Bush and Gen. Tommy Franks. (See Biographies (Franks, Gen. Tommy ).) Although the legal challenges were rejected and the outgoing government amended the law, Verhofstadt continued to come under strong U.S. pressure with suggestions that NATO and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe headquarters might be moved from Belgian soil. After the elections the Belgian government decided to revise the controversial law further so that it could be applied only to Belgians or long-term foreign residents.

      After having legalized euthanasia and decriminalized the private use of cannabis in 2002, Belgium continued to relax societal rules. In June legislation entered into force allowing people of the same sex to marry. Belgium continued to stamp its mark on the world of women's tennis. At one moment Kim Clijsters was ranked number one in the world—the first time a Belgian had ever held that rank—while her compatriot Justine Henin-Hardenne won her first grand-slam final, the Roland Garros (French Open) in Paris, against Clijsters. Henin-Hardenne followed this up by winning the U.S. Open a few months later.

      In August Princess Mathilde gave birth to a son, Prince Gabriel, who became third in line to the throne after his father, Prince Philippe, and sister, Elisabeth, born in 2001. Earlier, in April, Prince Philippe's younger brother, Prince Laurent, had married Claire Coombs, whose father was British and mother Belgian. Ilya Prigogine, the winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and a Belgian citizen since 1949, died in May. (See Obituaries (Prigogine, Ilya ).)

Rory Watson

▪ 2003

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2002 est.): 10,280,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

      Belgium's coalition government of Liberals, Socialists, and Greens successfully weathered various political storms during 2002 and looked set to remain in power until the general election scheduled for June 15, 2003—four years after it had entered office. Internal disputes over immigrants' voting rights, ecotaxes, and the closure of nuclear power stations were successfully defused. The most serious crisis occurred in August after the government had agreed to the controversial sale a month earlier of 5,500 machine guns to Nepal. Opponents argued that this violated a 1991 law banning the sale of weapons to countries involved in civil wars. The government easily defeated an opposition-sponsored no-confidence vote tabled in an emergency debate by 87 votes to 38.

      Belgium became the second country in the world, after The Netherlands, to legalize euthanasia. The legislation came into force in September despite heavy criticism from the Roman Catholic Church and opposition Christian Democrats. In a further sign of changing societal values, a law passed in May made the private use of cannabis no longer a criminal offense, although penalties for causing a nuisance in a public place when smoking the drug were increased.

      A Brussels appeals court rejected attempts to try Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Belgium for alleged war crimes committed against Palestinian refugees 20 years earlier. The case had been brought by 23 Palestinians under a controversial 1993 law, modified in 1999. This law gave Belgian courts universal jurisdiction to try genocide cases and war crimes, irrespective of the location of the alleged offenses or the nationality of those involved. The appeals court dismissed the case by referring to the Belgian criminal code, which states that alleged crimes committed outside the country may be pursued only “when the suspect is found in Belgium.”

      Despite the poor economic climate, which saw growth in Belgium fall to 1.1% in 2001 from 4% the previous year, the country entered 2002 with a slight budget surplus, equivalent to 0.2% of its gross domestic product. Although tax revenue fell, this was offset by increased income from the social security system, reduced administrative expenditures, lower public-debt interest payments, and the proceeds from several one-off sales, such as mobile telephone licenses. Several months after the collapse of Sabena, Belgium's national airline, its successor, SN Brussels Airlines, was launched in February.

      Belgium's Royal Museum for Central Africa established an investigation into claims that up to 10 million Congolese had been either murdered or worked to death by the private army of King Leopold II. A committee of eminent historians was due to complete its study of the allegations—the first serious inquiry into the events of more than a century earlier—in 2004, the centenary of the death of explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who secured the colony for Leopold in 1885. The decision in July to set up the committee followed a formal apology from Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel for the death in 1961 of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country's former colony. A Belgian parliamentary inquiry found that Belgium bore “moral responsibility” for Lumumba's death after he was overthrown in a military coup by the head of the armed forces, Mobutu Sese Seko.

Rory Watson

▪ 2002

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2001 est.): 10,268,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

      The Belgian Parliament approved a further decentralization of power to the country's three regions during 2001. After six months of intense negotiations between the major political parties, it was agreed in July that responsibility for agricultural policy, foreign trade, development cooperation, and control over communal and provincial councils would pass from the national to the regional level at the beginning of 2002. Regional governments in Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels were also being given increased fiscal autonomy with the power to raise or lower tax rates by 6.7%—considerably more than the 3.25% leeway they previously enjoyed. Under the four-part agreement, the federal government would also increase funding to the Dutch- and French-speaking language communities, which were responsible for running the country's education system. Some estimates suggested that by 2020 this would mean the transfer of an extra BF 250 billion (about $5.7 billion). The final element of the package provided for increased representation for Dutch speakers in the Brussels region.

      Belgium's Liberal-led coalition continued to implement its social agenda. It legalized the use of cannabis for those over 18 years old, passed legislation to allow gay and lesbian partners to marry, which made Belgium the second country, after The Netherlands, to do so, and was preparing to decriminalize euthanasia. The government also took the first step toward reducing the country's tax burden over the next five years. From 2003 the top two rates of 52.5% and 55% would be reduced to a maximum rate of 50%, and existing thresholds would also be raised. Despite these changes and the introduction of more generous tax allowances, Belgium would remain one of the most heavily taxed European countries.

      Belgium's legal system broke new ground during 2001 with the trial of four Rwandans—two nuns, a factory manager, and a university professor. They were accused and found guilty of complicity in the genocide of 800,000 members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority in 1994. The judgment was the first time that powers granted by a 1993 act allowing Belgian courts to prosecute serious crimes against humanity had been used.

      On the business front, it proved to be a good year for Belgian brewing giant Interbrew. The Leuven-based company, the world's second largest brewer, bought Germany's fourth largest brewer, Beck's, and thereby strengthened its position in the U.S. After months of negotiations Interbrew overcame the British government's concerns regarding the company's acquisition of Bass Brewers by preparing to sell off the latter's top brand, Carling. During the first six months of 2001, Interbrew posted its best half-yearly results in 10 years. It was turbulent times, however, for another of Belgium's corporate flagships, Sabena. The airline, jointly owned by the Belgian state and Swissair, announced drastic plans in August to shed staff, dispose of larger planes and certain assets, and cut back on long-haul operations. On October 2 Swissair, faced with financial collapse, grounded all of its flights indefinitely. The next day Sabena filed for bankruptcy protection, which sent Swissair stock plummeting. Though the Belgian government vowed to work to save the national airline, in November the struggle became too great, and Sabena became the first national carrier to be declared bankrupt. The government and the financial community moved quickly to support as its successor DAT (Delta Air Transport), formerly Sabena's regional subsidiary. By year's end, however, DAT itself was facing a battle for survival as it struggled to raise the finances necessary to guarantee its survival.

      Belgium's presidency of the European Union in the second half of the year ensured the country and its leading politicians a place in the international limelight. To mark the occasion the government inaugurated a new international press centre in Brussels.

      The exploits of two young female tennis players, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, thrilled the country in 2001. In July Henin became the first Belgian player to reach a Wimbledon final, while less than a month earlier Clijsters had been the losing finalist in the French Open. The country's premier sporting achiever, however, was probably Jacques Rogge, who in July was elected the eighth president of the International Olympic Committee. (See Biographies (Rogge, Jacques ).) Former prime minister Paul Vanden Boeynants died at age 81 in January. (See Obituaries (Vanden Boeynants, Paul ).) At the end of October, Princess Mathilde gave birth to a daughter, Elisabeth Thérèse Marie Hélène, who would be second in line to the throne after her father, Prince Philippe.

Rory Watson

▪ 2001

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(2000 est.): 10,249,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

      The six parties in Belgium's coalition government consolidated their positions in local elections in October 2000. Substantial gains were also made by Flemish ultranationalist Vlaams Blok, which polled one-third of the votes in the second city, Antwerp, and scored well in several other towns. The main losers in the elections, which were the first in which European Union resident nationals could vote, were the two Social Christian parties, the moderate Flemish nationalist Volksunie, and the extreme right-wing francophone Front National, which all but disappeared. Political parties in Flanders combined to keep the Vlaams Blok out of every municipal authority. Relations in the federal government coalition were strained when the Socialists reversed some earlier local alliances in the Brussels region, and French-speaking Liberals were robbed of a handful of mayoral posts as a result. The most prominent victim of the switch was Liberal Brussels mayor Franƈois-Xavier de Donnea, who was replaced by Freddy Thielemans, a Socialist.

      Early in the year the government announced a general amnesty to legalize illegal immigrants who had resided in Belgium for six years, or five years if they had school-age children. It was overwhelmed by the response, however, when more than 50,000 took up the offer, and it was not expected to regularize their status before spring 2001.

      The persona of Marc Dutroux continued to cast a shadow over Belgium. Although arrested in August 1996 and charged with the kidnapping, imprisonment, and murder of several young girls, he was unlikely to be brought to trial before 2001. In June 2000 he was given a five-year prison sentence and a BF 80,000 fine (BF 1=about $0.02) for offenses he committed—assaulting a policeman, theft with violence, and threatening behaviour—when he briefly escaped custody in April 1998. Belgium's judicial system received a blow when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in June that five members of the French-speaking Socialist Party, including former defense minister Guy Coëme, had not received a fair trial when the country's highest court convicted them on corruption charges in 1996.

      Belgium's corporate landscape continued to change. Interbrew, the country's leading brewer, went on an acquisition binge. In May it purchased the British company Whitbread's brewing interests for BF 27 billion, in the process adding labels such as Murphy's Irish Stout and Boddingtons to its own brands of Stella Artois and Leffe. Shortly thereafter, Interbrew purchased Bass Brewers, the U.K.'s second largest beer company, for BF 145 billion. The takeovers propelled the Louvain-based company from fifth to second place behind the American group Anheuser-Busch in the world brewing stakes. The year ended on a more downbeat note, however, when the European Commission accused the company, in collaboration with other Belgian brewers, of illegal anticompetitive behaviour between 1993 and 1998.

      Belgium's $20 million diamond industry came under attack by the UN for doing little to curb the illegal diamond trade. Some 85% of the worldwide rough-diamond trade was conducted in Antwerp, where traders were allegedly flouting a UN embargo on so-called conflict diamonds being sold by Angolan rebels to stage their civil war. (See Angola: Sidebar.)

      SAirGroup, the parent company of Swissair, planned to increase its stake in Sabena, Belgium's national airline, from 49.5% to 85% in a deal that represented the first takeover of a European national airline by a foreign company. The merger forged ahead after almost 70% of the Swiss electorate voted in a referendum for closer links to the European Union. In the fall, GIB, Belgium's biggest retailer, sold its GB supermarket and hypermarket chain to France's Carrefour for $euro;670 million (about $625 million).

      The way was paved for the biggest fraud trial in Belgium's history when 10 senior officials of the Luxembourg-based KB Lux, a sister bank of the Belgian KBC, were indicted in April on charges of fiscal fraud, money laundering, falsifying documents, and belonging to a criminal organization. The alleged offenses were thought to have cost Belgium between BF 20 billion and BF 50 billion in lost taxes.

Rory Watson

▪ 2000

Area:
30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)
Population
(1999 est.): 10,224,000
Capital:
Brussels
Chief of state:
King Albert II
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Jean-Luc Dehaene and, from July 12, Guy Verhofstadt

      Belgium's general election on June 13, 1999, produced one of the greatest upheavals of the century in the country's political landscape. It ended decades of dominance by Christian Democrat parties and meant defeat for the 12-year-old centre-left coalition led since 1991 by Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene.

      Dehaene was replaced by the first Liberal prime minister in half a century, the Flemish Liberals and Democrats leader Guy Verhofstadt. The French- and Dutch-speaking Liberal parties became the country's largest political force, after having been in third place for 80 years. Verhofstadt presided over a six-party “rainbow coalition” of Liberals, Socialists, and Greens representing Belgium's two main language communities. Similar coalitions took office in Wallonia and Flanders after regional elections held the same day. In Flanders the government was also joined by the moderate nationalist Volksunie Party. In the third region, Brussels, the Greens remained in opposition after a dispute with their potential partners. The new federal government pledged to achieve a balanced budget by 2002, reduce taxation, and promulgate an amnesty for asylum seekers.

      Dehaene's personal popularity remained high, and the defeat of his government was partly attributable to public outrage over its handling of the year's major crisis. In early June, a ban was imposed on domestic sales and exports of Belgian chickens, eggs and egg-based products, pork, beef, and butter after the discovery that toxic chemicals had been added to a batch of feed that was then sent to more than 1,400 farms in the country and fed to livestock. It emerged later that the government had been aware of the problem since March. Even when the food products were allowed back on the market, strict tests were kept in place for exports. The government stepped in with a compensation package of BF 20 billion (about $535 million) to prevent farmers from going out of business. In a bid to calm the public's fears, the Liberal-led coalition announced it would establish an independent national food safety agency.

      Wilfried Martens, prime minister from 1979 to 1991 and leader of the European People's Party since 1994, decided to leave the European Parliament when he was not chosen to lead his party's list in the June Euro-elections.

      It was announced that one of the country's major sporting events, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, would take place for the last time in 1999. The race was to be dropped from the circuit of Formula One auto-racing events by the organizers in protest at the government's ban on cigarette and tobacco advertising, a ban that other European Union countries were required to introduce by 2006. A subsequent arbitration-court ruling, however, determined that the event could continue with tobacco sponsorship until 2003. In May mountain climber Pascal Debrouwer fell to his death after becoming the first Belgian to reach the summit of Mt. Everest without oxygen.

      The year ended on a joyful note with the wedding on December 4 of the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Philippe, to Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz. (See Biographies. (Philippe and Mathilde, Prince and Princess of Belgium )) If her husband eventually succeeds to the throne, the bride will be the first queen of the Belgians to have actually come from the country. The union offered something for each of Belgium's three regions; the bride descended from a long line of Flemish nobility, the d'Udekem d'Acoz family had lived in Wallonia for four decades, and the wedding took place in Brussels. Another high note occurred at the Cannes Film Festival when a Belgian film, the low-budget Rosetta by brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, was awarded the Palme d'Or—Belgium's first win in 52 years.

Rory Watson

▪ 1999

      Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 10,208,000

      Capital: Brussels

      Chief of state: King Albert II

      Head of government: Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene

      Belgium's highest-profile trial in many years opened in Brussels on Sept. 2, 1998, when several senior politicians and their advisers faced charges of having awarded lucrative defense contracts in the late 1980s in exchange for kickbacks to funds of the country's French- and Dutch-speaking Socialist parties. The defendants included three former senior ministers—Willy Claes (a former deputy prime minister and former secretary-general of NATO), Guy Coëme (one-time defense minister), and Guy Spitaels (former minister-president of Wallonia)—and French businessman Serge Dassault. None of the accused was charged with having benefited personally from the payments, which were allegedly made when the Belgian government placed contracts with the Italian company Agusta to purchase 46 army helicopters and with the French company Dassault to supply advanced electronic equipment to Belgium's F-16 jets. Announcing its verdict on December 23, the Cour de Cassation gave suspended sentences of three years to Claes, two years to Coëme, Spitaels, and Dassault, and three months to two years to the eight other defendants.

      The damaging allegations surfaced as a result of investigations into the 1991 murder of former deputy prime minister André Cools, who was shot as he left his Liège flat early on the morning of July 18. In June a court in Tunis, Tunisia, sentenced his two killers to 20 years in prison.

      On April 23 the government was buffeted by another unwelcome development when the convicted pedophile and alleged child murderer Marc Dutroux briefly escaped from his police escort. Although he was recaptured within four hours, the incident was greeted by a mixture of anger and incredulity throughout the country and forced the resignations of Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerk, Interior Minister Johan Vande Lanotte, and the head of the national police force (gendarmerie), Willy Deridder. Lanotte's successor, Louis Tobback, resigned in September after a Nigerian woman collapsed and died when Belgian police tried to deport her forcibly.

      A 17-month parliamentary investigation concluded in February that a combination of incompetence, professional jealousy, and structural weaknesses in the judicial and police systems—rather than any protection from senior politicians or magistrates—had enabled Dutroux and his accomplice, Michel Nihoul, to escape detection for so long. Dutroux faced trial for the abduction of six young girls and the murder of four of them as well as of a former accomplice. The critical report forced the government to reorganize the country's three different police forces—gendarmerie, judicial police, and communal police—and to introduce changes to the judiciary with the creation of a federal prosecutor's office.

      Despite the succession of political setbacks, Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene was determined to lead his centre-left coalition government through to general elections in mid-1999. As a sign of its confidence, the government announced at the start of 1998 that the next elections would be held on June 13, 1999.

      Belgium's corporate world began to restructure itself in 1998. In May Belgium's largest holding company, Société Générale de Belgique, which was created in 1822 and once controlled one-third of the country's economy, was fully taken over by its parent company, France's Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux. Also, the Belgo-Dutch insurance combine Fortis took over Generale Bank, creating Belgium's biggest and Europe's 15th largest banking and insurance firm. A break with the past took place at the start of the year when the world's oldest operating stock exchange, at Antwerp, which had been founded in 1531, closed its doors as its remaining business moved to Brussels.

RORY WATSON

▪ 1998

      Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 10,189,000

      Capital: Brussels

      Chief of state: King Albert II

      Head of government: Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene

      The pedophile scandal that rocked Belgium in 1996 continued to be a significant force in the country throughout 1997, fueling pressure for reform of the political, judicial, and police systems. The suspect at the centre of the scandal, Marc Dutroux, was charged with having kidnapped and murdered four girls, aged 8 to 19; with having kidnapped, imprisoned, and raped two others, aged 12 and 14; with having murdered an accomplice, Bernard Weinstein; and with criminal conspiracy. He and at least four other defendants were unlikely to be brought to trial before autumn 1998.

      An inquiry—unanimously approved by Parliament in April—identified 30 individuals whose actions had contributed to the tragedies and singled out one politician—former justice minister Melchior Wathelet, who had approved Dutroux's release in 1992 before completion of a 13-year prison sentence for rape. Acting on the inquiry's recommendations, the government in mid-September introduced new procedures for handling incidents involving missing people and required each police force to appoint a magistrate specifically for such cases. To end the counterproductive rivalry the case revealed between the gendarmerie (responsible to the Interior Ministry) and the judicial police (accountable to the courts), the government proposed merging both forces into a federal unit. Approval was given for the creation in Belgium of the European Centre for Missing Children—inspired by the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—as had been promised by the government after the October 1996 White March, when 300,000 people demonstrated in Brussels against the authorities' handling of the Dutroux case. Public anger against the police and judicial systems was heightened by the discovery in March of the body of Loubna Benaïssa in a garage a few hundred metres from her Brussels home five years after the girl was reported missing.

      If the Dutroux case were not enough, in October Andras Pandy, a Protestant pastor, was arresed in Brussels on suspicion of having murdered and dismembered his two wives and four of his children beginning a decade earlier.

      One political spin-off of the Dutroux case was the nationwide popularity of Flemish Liberal legislator Marc Verwilghen, who had chaired the parliamentary inquiry into the case. His success was matched by the strong showing of his party and of its French-speaking Liberal counterpart. With Belgium's next general election scheduled to be held by May 1999 at the latest, the Liberals moved to the front in the race to form the next government.

      Industrial news during the year was dominated by the controversial closing in the summer of the Renault plant in Vilvoorde, on the outskirts of Brussels, with the loss of 2,700 jobs and the transfer of production to France and Spain. The French company's announcement in February provoked unsuccessful protests from the Belgian government, trade unions, and employees and was implemented despite being judged illegal by Belgian and French courts because of the absence of prior consultation with the unions.

      Further gloom was caused by the demise of Wallonia's iron and steel industry. The end came when production at the ailing steelmaker Forges de Clabecq was brought to a halt in January after the company had been declared bankrupt. In its heyday in the late 1970s, it employed 6,000 people, but by the beginning of 1997, the numbers had dwindled to 1,800. Despite the industrial setbacks, the country appeared on course to meet the economic entry criteria for the European single currency, the euro. Belgium's National Bank predicted that the 1997 budget deficit would be 2.8% of gross domestic product and thus under the 3% ceiling required for economic and monetary union membership.

RORY WATSON

▪ 1997

      A federal constitutional monarchy, Belgium is situated on the North Sea coast of northwestern Europe. Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 10,185,000. Cap.: Brussels. Monetary unit: Belgian franc, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a free rate of BF 31.55 to U.S. $1 (BF 49.70 = £1 sterling). King, Albert II; prime minister in 1996, Jean-Luc Dehaene.

      Belgium was rocked during 1996 by a child-sex scandal that raised fundamental questions about the country's police, judicial, and political systems. Marc Dutroux, who had been released on parole in 1992 after serving just 3 years of a 13-year prison sentence for the abduction and rape of under-age girls, was arrested in mid-August—more than a year after two eight-year-old girls were kidnapped near Liège. In the following weeks, the bodies of both as well as those of two girls aged 17 and 19 were discovered on property owned by Dutroux. Two other girls Dutroux had admitted kidnapping—one 14 and the other 12—were found alive by police.

      Investigations into the Dutroux case, which revealed incompetence, rivalry, and patronage on the part of the authorities, gave renewed energy to the stalled five-year inquiry into the murder in Liège in 1991 of André Cools, former deputy prime minister and leader of the French-speaking Socialist Party (PS). The latter led to a new wave of arrests, including those of three suspects who had been questioned and then freed in 1993. Among those charged was former PS regional and federal minister Alain Van der Biest.

      The two investigations revealed rivalry between local and national police forces and between differing legal courts and jurisdictions. The degree of public concern prompted King Albert II to make a rare departure from royal protocol in early September and demand a full investigation into the Dutroux case. He made it clear that he also expected the fullest possible light to be shed on the search for the killer of Cools. The outcry over the girls' abduction and murder prompted immediate calls in autumn for the return of the death penalty, which Belgium had formally abolished just weeks earlier.

      Other scandals dogged the PS during the year. Guy Coëme, a former PS vice president and defense minister, became the first Belgian since 1865 to be convicted of having committed an offense while serving as a government minister. He and seven other prominent PS members were found guilty of fraud, embezzlement, and corruption. The court ruled that a research firm, Inusop, had used the income from overpriced opinion polls for government departments to make illegal electoral and other payments to PS branches and members. Coëme was given a two-year suspended prison sentence, fined BF 60,000 and ordered to repay some BF 500,000.

      Jean-Luc Dehaene's coalition government adopted an austerity package of BF 82 billion for its 1997 budget. Taxes were to be raised and social security benefits cut. The budget was designed to reduce the total public deficit, which stood at 4.5% of gross domestic product in 1995, from 3% in 1996 to 2.9% in 1997.

      Dehaene's hand was considerably strengthened in July when Parliament gave his government the power to change budget and social security measures by decree. The government had successfully argued that it needed to be able to raise taxes or cut spending without seeking parliamentary approval if the country was to meet the qualifying criteria for participating in the single European currency, the euro.

      (RORY WATSON)

▪ 1996

      A federal constitutional monarchy, Belgium is situated on the North Sea coast of northwestern Europe. Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 10,064,000. Cap.: Brussels. Monetary unit: Belgian franc, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of BF 29.39 to U.S. $1 (BF 46.46 = £1 sterling). King, Albert II; prime minister in 1995, Jean-Luc Dehaene.

      On May 21 Belgium held its first federal elections to the Chamber of Representatives and the country's three regional assemblies of Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels. The event was a triumph for Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and his Flemish Christian People's Party (CVP). Dehaene quickly reshaped his coalition government with the same four political parties as before—CVP, French-speaking Social Christians, French-speaking Socialists (PS), and Flemish Socialists. Expected gains by extreme right-wing parties did not materialize. Under the new federal structure, the size of the national Chamber of Representatives fell from 212 to 150 members and that of the Senate from 184 to 71. The regional assemblies in Brussels and Wallonia had 75 deputies each and in Flanders 118.

      The key challenge facing the new government was preparation of the country's 1996 budget, which would have to reduce Belgium's budget deficit to 3% to ensure that it would join other European Union (EU) countries in introducing a single currency in 1999. Workers protested the austerity measures proposed by the government, and the issue was unresolved at the end of December.

      Speculation over two of Belgium's longest-running political scandals continued to dog the country's leading politicians. The Agusta affair, with its investigation into an alleged BF 50 million bribe in 1988 to secure the contract for the purchase of Agusta SpA helicopters, involved two of Belgium's most prominent politicians. Karel Van Miert continued untroubled as Belgium's EU commissioner, but Willy Claes, former foreign minister, was forced to resign as NATO secretary-general.

      The affair claimed other victims. In March the retired chief of staff of the Belgian air force, Lieut. Gen. Jacques Lefebvre, committed suicide after his house had been searched and he had been questioned about the Agusta affair, and on March 22 Frank Vandenbroucke resigned as foreign minister after just five months in the post.

      Investigators also tried to determine, but without success, whether there were any links between the Agusta contract and the second scandal, the murder in July 1991 of André Cools, the former leader of the PS.

      Also in March Belgium became one of seven EU countries to abolish passport and customs border checks on EU nationals and legally resident third-country citizens traveling within the seven-member group. The removal of controls was not totally achieved, partly for technical problems and partly because of an upsurge in terrorist attacks in France.

      Several changes took place in Belgium's economic landscape in 1995. The Leuven-based brewing company, Interbrew, took over Canada's John Labatt at the end of July and became the fourth largest brewing company in the world.

      The year also saw an alliance between Belgium's national airline, Sabena, and Swissair. The deal, whereby the Swiss carrier took a 49% stake in the Belgian company, was a welcome source of cash for Sabena. The agreement also liquidated the 25% stake that Air France had earlier held in Sabena.

      Pope John Paul II made a brief visit to Belgium in June after having canceled a trip a year earlier because of injury. The purpose was to beatify Joseph De Veuster, better known as Father Damien, who died in 1889 after caring for lepers in Hawaii. (RORY WATSON)

▪ 1995

      A federal constitutional monarchy, Belgium is situated on the North Sea coast of northwestern Europe. Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 10,118,000. Cap.: Brussels. Monetary unit: Belgian franc, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a free rate of BF 31.70 to U.S. $1 (BF 50.42 = £1 sterling). King, Albert II; prime minister in 1994, Jean-Luc Dehaene.

      After the failure of the social pact between employers and trade unions, in 1994 the Belgian government elaborated its own "global plan" to fight unemployment (9.8% in May), improve industrial competitiveness, and maintain social security levels. It also called for higher taxation. The plan was expected to create an extra 80,000 jobs over a three-to-four-year period. The Employers Federation regarded the lower labour costs as insufficient. After negotiations with the unions, they did offer more jobs in exchange for lower social welfare contributions and more flexible labour legislation.

      Introduction of the new "eco-taxes" was delayed to provide manufacturers more time to conform to the legislation, but not without protest from the Green parties. Meanwhile, Parliament approved practical measures in pursuance of the so-called Saint-Michael agreements on the creation of a federal state. These dealt with the division of the still-bilingual central Brabant province into three new entities—Flemish-Brabant, Walloon-Brabant, and the Brussels-capital region—to become effective on Jan. 1, 1995. Starting with the municipal elections in October, restrictions were imposed on electoral expenditures. Parliament also approved legislation to provide for a minimal presence of women on the lists of candidates, agreed to the creation of a professional army (thus ending conscription), and endorsed closer cooperation between Dutch and Belgian naval forces within NATO.

      Protests against the Flemish regional environment minister's plan to restrict the production and indiscriminate use of dung—as well as its relocation over all Flemish provinces—caused friction in the Flemish regional government. In addition, farmers unions rejected the scheme.

      A bribery scandal involving three prominent French Socialist politicians, all members of either the federal or the regional governments, led to their resignations. All three were suspected of urging the Italian helicopter manufacturer Agusta to pay bribes to their party when the Belgian armed forces ordered 46 attack helicopters. Guy Coëme, who had been minister of defense at the time of the alleged bribes, resigned from his post as minister of communications, while Guy Spitaels, leader of the Walloon regional government, and Guy Mathot, regional minister of home affairs, budget, and public works, also resigned. Coëme was ordered to appear before the Supreme Court of Appeal. In March, after the mayor of Brussels, Michel Demaret, made an insulting statement aimed at Pope John Paul II, he was stripped of his powers and forced to step down from office. The defense minister, Leo Delcroix, denied allegations of impropriety in connection with the tax status of a house that he owned in the south of France but nonetheless resigned in December; he was replaced by Karel Pinxten.

      The elections to the European Parliament confirmed the disaffection of the public toward the four government parties. Most pronounced was that of the French Socialists, with 30.4% of the vote, as against 38.5% in 1989. This was in spite of the huge personal score of their top candidate, José Happart, who captured 265,376 votes. The Flemish Liberal breakthrough did not materialize, despite the "enlargement" operation launched by the young party leader, Guy Verhofstadt. The Socialists were also the big losers in the local elections in October, in this case ceding seats to the far-right parties. The anti-immigrant Vlaams Blok, for example, took 18 of the 55 seats in Antwerp's city council, making it the largest party in that port city.

      The murder in April of 10 Belgian members of the UN Assistance Mission to Rwanda and the hostile attitude of the authorities and the population toward the Belgians living in Rwanda prompted the repatriation of Belgian nationals, as well as the withdrawal of the Belgian UN contingent. Development aid to Rwanda was also suspended.

      In July the last representative of the Belgian Surrealist school, Paul Delvaux, died in Veurne at the age of 96. (See OBITUARIES (Delvaux, Paul ).) (JAN R. ENGELS)

▪ 1994

      A federal constitutional monarchy, Belgium is situated on the North Sea coast of northwestern Europe. Area: 30,528 sq km (11,787 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 10,072,000. Cap.: Brussels. Monetary unit: Belgian franc, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a free rate of BF 35.15 to U.S. $1 (BF 53.25 = £1 sterling). Kings, Baudouin I and, from August 9, Albert II; prime minister in 1993, Jean-Luc Dehaene.

      Exactly 289 days after the conclusion of the so-called Saint-Michael's agreements between the Social Christian and Socialist coalition parties, the two houses of Parliament approved the constitutional changes that would turn Belgium into a federal state. The required two-thirds majority was obtained with the help of the Green parties and the Flemish nationalist Volksunie. In exchange for this support, the coalition parties agreed that ministers would henceforth resign their seats in Parliament and that they would support the introduction of much-criticized "eco-taxes" on various types of wrappings and newsprint. At the request of the Volksunie, residual powers were transferred to the language communities and geographic regions.

      A statement by the Flemish regional minister-president, Luc Van den Brande, claiming that confederalism would be the next step in the transformation of Belgium prompted strong reaction since it was considered a move toward separatism. King Baudouin's invitation to Van den Brande to explain his views was criticized in certain Flemish circles. A demonstration in Brussels against the separatist trend drew large public support. The discussion nevertheless continued concerning unjustifiable transfers of financial resources from Flanders to Wallonia, in particular in the social security sector.

      The budgetary situation further deteriorated, and in March it caused a crisis within the government, prompting Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene to tender his resignation, which King Baudouin refused to accept. Acting as a mediator between the coalition parties, Dehaene achieved an agreement on measures to reduce the deficit by BF 113 billion. A decision was also reached on the privatization of a number of public companies. These included the National Savings and Loan Bank, shares of which were acquired by the Belgian-Dutch insurance group Fortis, providing the government with new financial resources.

      Meanwhile, the crisis made further inroads in the economy. The number of bankruptcies in Belgium increased dramatically. Among the most serious was the loss of the last Belgian ship-repair firm. The country's largest retail chain store reduced its workforce by one-quarter (4,600 people), while the multinational petrochemical company Solvay reported a loss for only the second time in its 130-year history. On the other hand, the Société Générale de Belgique holding company sold the country's major cement producer, CBR (with subsidiaries in Europe and North America), to one of its German competitors, Heidelberger, for nearly $1 billion.

      Faced with the consequences in employment and social security of the ever expanding recession, Dehaene conceived the idea of a "social pact" to which employers, trade unions, and the government would subscribe. Unemployment at the end of August stood at 13.4% of the active population. In the event, the government's austerity plan, released on November 17, triggered a one-day general strike that brought the country to a virtual standstill.

      Compulsory military service was abolished in 1993, and the number of reservists was scaled down to 30,000. The Army Command feared it would become impossible for Belgium to meet its NATO commitments. The Belgian contingent in Somalia was due to be withdrawn in December.

      The death of King Baudouin (see OBITUARIES (Baudouin I )) at his vacation home in Motril, Spain, provoked an outpouring of emotion that showed the extent of the support he enjoyed among the population. Tens of thousands paid a last homage, at the same time underlining their desire to maintain the country's unity. He was succeeded by his younger brother, who was sworn in as King Albert II (see BIOGRAPHIES (Albert II )) on August 9. (JAN R. ENGELS)

* * *

Introduction
Belgium, flag of   country of northwestern Europe. It is one of the smallest and most densely populated European countries, and it has been, since its independence in 1830, a representative democracy headed by a hereditary constitutional monarch. Initially, Belgium had a unitary form of government. In the 1980s and '90s, however, steps were taken to turn Belgium into a federal state with powers shared among the regions of Flanders, Wallonia, and the Brussels-Capital Region.

      Culturally, Belgium is a heterogeneous country straddling the border between the Romance and Germanic language families of western Europe. With the exception of a small German-speaking population in the eastern part of the country, Belgium is divided between a French-speaking people, collectively called Walloons (approximately one-third of the total population), who are concentrated in the five southern provinces (Hainaut, Namur, Liège, Walloon Brabant, and Luxembourg), and Flemings (Fleming and Walloon), a Flemish- (Dutch (Dutch language)-) speaking people (more than one-half of the total population), who are concentrated in the five northern and northeastern provinces (West Flanders, East Flanders [West-Vlaanderen, Oost-Vlaanderen], Flemish Brabant, Antwerp, and Limburg). Just north of the boundary between Walloon Brabant (Brabant Walloon) and Flemish (Vlaams) Brabant lies the officially bilingual but majority French-speaking Brussels-Capital (Brussels) Region, with approximately one-tenth of the total population. (See also Fleming and Walloon.)

      Belgium and the political entities that preceded it have been rich with historical and cultural associations, from the Gothic grandeur of its medieval university and commercial cities and its small, castle-dominated towns on steep-bluffed winding rivers, through its broad traditions in painting and music that marked one of the high points of the northern Renaissance in the 16th century, to its contributions to the arts of the 20th century and its maintenance of the folk cultures of past eras. The Belgian landscape has been a major European battleground for centuries, notably in modern times during the Battle of Waterloo (Waterloo, Battle of) (1815) and the 20th century's two world wars. Given its area and population, Belgium today is one of the most heavily industrialized and urbanized countries in Europe. It is a member of the Benelux Economic Union (with The Netherlands and Luxembourg), the European Union (EU), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—organizations that all have headquarters in or near the capital city of Brussels.

Land
 The country has a total of 860 miles (1,385 km) of land boundaries with neighbours; it is bounded by The Netherlands (Netherlands, The) to the north, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast, and France to the south. Belgium also has some 40 miles (60 km) of shoreline on the North Sea.

Relief, drainage, and soils
 Belgium generally is a low-lying country, with a broad coastal plain extending in a southeasterly direction from the North Sea and The Netherlands and rising gradually into the Ardennes hills and forests of the southeast, where a maximum elevation of 2,277 feet (694 metres) is reached at Botrange.

      The main physical regions are the Ardennes and the Ardennes foothills; Côtes Lorraines (Belgian Lorraine), the intrusion of the Paris Basin in the south; and the Anglo-Belgian Basin in the north, comprising the Central Plateaus, the plain of Flanders, and the Kempenland (French: Campine).

 The Ardennes region is part of the Hercynian orogenic belt of mountain ranges, which reaches from western Ireland into Germany and was formed roughly 300 to 400 million years ago, during the Paleozoic Era. The Ardennes is a plateau cut deeply by the Meuse River and its tributaries. Its higher points contain peat bogs and have poor drainage; these uplands are unsuitable as cropland.

      A large depression, known east of the Meuse River as the Famenne and west of it as the Fagne, separates the Ardennes from the geologically and topographically complex foothills to the north. The principal feature of the area is the Condroz, a plateau more than 1,100 feet (335 metres) in elevation comprising a succession of valleys hollowed out of the limestone between sandstone crests. Its northern boundary is the Sambre-Meuse valley, which traverses Belgium from south-southwest to northeast.

      Situated south of the Ardennes and cut off from the rest of the country, Côtes Lorraines is a series of hills with north-facing scarps. About half of it remains wooded; in the south lies a small region of iron ore deposits.

      A region of sand and clay soils lying between 150 and 650 feet (45 and 200 metres) in elevation, the Central Plateaus cover northern Hainaut, Walloon Brabant, southern Flemish Brabant, and the Hesbaye plateau region of Liège. The area is dissected by the Dender, Senne, Dijle, and other rivers that enter the Schelde (Escaut) River (Schelde River); it is bounded to the east by the Herve Plateau. The Brussels region lies within the Central Plateaus.

      Bordering the North Sea from France to the Schelde is the low-lying plain of Flanders, which has two main sections. Maritime Flanders, extending inland for about 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 km), is a region of newly formed and reclaimed land (polders) protected by a line of dunes and dikes and having largely clay soils. Interior Flanders comprises most of East and West Flanders and has sand-silt or sand soils. At an elevation of about 80 to 300 feet (25 to 90 metres), it is drained by the Leie, Schelde, and Dender rivers flowing northeastward to the Schelde estuary. Several shipping canals interlace the landscape and connect the river systems. Lying between about 160 and 330 feet (50 and 100 metres) in elevation, the Kempenland contains pastureland and is the site of a number of industrial enterprises; it forms an irregular watershed of plateau and plain between the extensive Schelde and Meuse drainage systems.

Climate
      Belgium has a temperate, maritime climate predominantly influenced by air masses from the Atlantic. Rapid and frequent alternation of different air masses separated by fronts gives Belgium considerable variability in weather. Frontal conditions moving from the west produce heavy and frequent rainfall, averaging 30 to 40 inches (750 to 1,000 mm) a year. Winters are damp and cool with frequent fogs; summers are rather mild. The annual mean temperature is around 50 °F (10 °C). Brussels, which is roughly in the middle of the country, has a mean minimum temperature of just below 32 °F (0 °C) in January and a mean maximum of about 71 °F (22 °C) in July.

      Regional climatic differences are determined by elevation and distance inland. Farther inland, maritime influences become weaker, and the climate becomes more continental, characterized by greater seasonal extremes of temperature. The Ardennes region, the highest and farthest inland, is the coldest. In winter, frost occurs on about 120 days, snow falls on 30 to 35 days, and January mean minimum temperatures are lower than elsewhere. In summer, the elevation counteracts the effect of distance inland, and July mean maximum temperatures are the lowest in the country. Because of the topography, the region has the highest rainfall in Belgium. In contrast, the Flanders region enjoys generally higher temperatures throughout the year. There are fewer than 60 days of frost and fewer than 15 of snow. On the seacoast these figures are reduced to below 50 and 10, respectively. There are a few hot days, especially on the coast, where the annual rainfall is the lowest in the country.

Plant and animal life
      All of Belgium except the Ardennes lies within the zone of broad-leaved deciduous forestation. The dominant tree is the oak; others include beeches, birches, and elms. Little remains of the forest that covered this area 2,000 years ago. Most of lowland Belgium is now used for agriculture or human settlement; small clumps of deciduous trees and grasses dominate the remaining open spaces. In the Kempenland, however, significant areas are devoted to planted forests of silver birch and Corsican pine.

      The Ardennes lies within the zone of mixed deciduous and coniferous forestation. The area has been heavily logged for centuries. Hence, little old-growth forest remains. The Ardennes is dominated now by coniferous forests in the higher elevations and by zones of mixed coniferous and deciduous trees, especially beeches and oaks, in the foothills. Hautes Fagnes, which is located at the northeastern edge of the Ardennes, has many peat bogs. Drainage has improved, however, and the area, forested with spruce, is part of a nature reserve.

      Forest and grassland dominate the landscape south of the Sambre-Meuse valley. Meadows, with a few orchards, occur near the Fagne depression and in the Herve Plateau, whereas forest occupies a significant portion of the land along both edges of the Ardennes and in the heart of Côtes Lorraines.

      The animal population, greatly reduced by human activities, is Eurasian. Most remaining wild animals are found in the Ardennes; wild boars, wildcats, deer, and pheasant are among the more common animals of the region. A number of birds can be found in the Belgian lowlands, including sandpipers, woodcocks, snipes, and lapwings. The Anglo-Belgian Basin north of the Ardennes is home to a considerable population of muskrats and hamsters.

People

Ethnic groups and languages
 The population of Belgium is divided into three linguistic communities. In the north the Flemings, who constitute more than half of Belgium's population, speak Flemish, which is equivalent to Dutch (Dutch language) (sometimes called Netherlandic). In the south the French-speaking (French language) Walloons make up about one-third of the country's population. About one-tenth of the people are completely bilingual, but a majority have some knowledge of both French (French language) and Flemish. The German-language (German language) region in eastern Liège province, containing a small fraction of the Belgian population, consists of several communes around Eupen and Saint-Vith (Sankt-Vith) (see Eupen-et-Malmédy). The city of Brussels comprises a number of officially bilingual communes, although the metropolitan area extends far into the surrounding Flemish and Walloon communes. The French-speaking population is by far the larger in the capital region. Bruxellois, a regionally distinct dialect influenced by both French and Flemish is also spoken by a small segment of the city's inhabitants.

      During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Belgium's managerial, professional, and administrative ranks were filled almost entirely by the French-speaking segment of the population, even in Flanders. The Flemings long protested what they felt was the exclusion of the average nonbilingual Fleming from effective participation in everyday dealings concerning law, medicine, government administration, and industrial employment. The Flemings, after gradually gaining greater numerical and political strength, eventually forced reforms that established Flanders as a unilingual Flemish-speaking area, provided Flemings with access to political and economic power, and established a degree of regional autonomy. Many disputes and much rancour remain between Flemish- and French-speaking Belgians, however.

      Foreign-born residents make up less than one-tenth of the population. Citizens of the EU constitute much of the foreign-born population, but there is also a large number of immigrants from other parts of the world—particularly North and Central Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia.

Religion
      The great majority of Belgians are Roman Catholic, but regular attendance at religious services is variable. Although it is marked in the Flemish region and the Ardennes, regular attendance at church has decreased in the Walloon industrial region and in Brussels. The relatively few Protestants live mostly in urban areas in Hainaut, particularly in the industrial region known as the Borinage, and in and around Brussels. Several municipalities on the north and west sides of Brussels—notably Schaerbeek—are home to many Muslim immigrants. The country's small Jewish population is concentrated in and around Brussels and Antwerp.

Settlement patterns
      The ecological resources of the several natural regions and the consequent variations in land use have been major factors in determining patterns of rural settlement. The nature of the urban developments is derived mainly from the patterns of mining, manufacturing, commerce, and related enterprises throughout the country.

      The population is sparse in the Ardennes region in the south, the Herve Plateau in the east, and the western Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse region in the southwest. The open landscape of maritime Flanders and the lower Schelde, intersected by dikes and canals, is dotted with farms and residential areas. Interior Flanders is a region of scattered habitation and market towns. However, Belgium is one of the world's most heavily urbanized countries, and the vast majority of its inhabitants live in cities.

      In the Walloon coalfields—roughly in and to the north of the Meuse valley across south-central Belgium—coal mining, glass manufacturing, iron production, zinc metallurgy, and the chemical and electrical industries in the 19th and 20th centuries gave rise to a number of large cities with widely varying characteristics. Liège (Flemish: Luik) has been the regional economic and cultural capital since the Middle Ages. Namur (Flemish: Namen), an ancient city that expanded significantly with industrialization, is the capital of the administrative region of Wallonia. Charleroi, the heart of a large urban industrial area, is a newer city dominated by commerce and industry. La Louvière, founded during the 19th-century industrial development, is a burgeoning metropolitan centre. The Borinage, an area of high population density without a central city, comes under the influence of the city of Mons (Flemish: Bergen).

      In Flanders the ancient city of Antwerp (Flemish: Antwerpen; French: Anvers) and its metropolitan area, the second largest in the country, extend along the east bank of the Schelde. The city's port, one of the largest in Europe, is formed by the base of the estuary and the concave riverbank. The existence of the port has favoured the establishment of important and diverse industries: petroleum refining, chemical and metallurgical industries, food processing, and electronics manufacturing. The city is also well known for its diamond-cutting industry.

       Ghent (Flemish: Gent; French: Gand), a historic university town, is another of Belgium's important ports. Long a centre of the textile industry, Ghent in the 20th century experienced an industrial regeneration characterized especially by steel production along the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, connecting the port to the Schelde. (Schelde River)

 A third busy port, Zeebrugge (French: Bruges-sur-mer), is connected by canal to the inland city of Brugge (French: Bruges), meaning “bridge.” Brugge is a city of medieval aspect, resplendent with cathedrals, late medieval public buildings, and ancient homes. As its name implies, the city has many bridges spanning the several canals and the canalized Reie River. Mentioned as early as the 7th century, Brugge became an important trading centre for the Hanseatic League and reached its zenith during the 15th century, when the dukes of Burgundy held court there.

      Louvain (Leuven) (Flemish: Leuven), about 16 miles (26 km) east of Brussels, is the site of the Catholic University of Louvain (Leuven, Catholic University of) (founded 1425), the first university to be established in the Low Countries. The institution was damaged severely during both world wars, but it was rebuilt, and many countries, the United States in particular, helped it to restock its libraries.

 Belgium's largest city, Brussels (Flemish: Brussel; French: Bruxelles), the capital of both the country and the administrative region of Flanders, has suburbs that spread into Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant. It is the centre of commerce, industry, and intellectual life in Belgium. It is also a city of international importance. The headquarters of the EU and NATO are located in Brussels, infusing the city with a very multicultural and cosmopolitan air. It is home to embassies and consulates of most of the world's countries, offices housing delegations from most of Europe's major substate regions (e.g., Catalonia and Bavaria), and more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations associated with the United Nations. Many of the inhabitants of Brussels distance themselves from the debates between Flemish and French speakers and see themselves as living in a distinct cultural region.

Demographic trends
      The annual growth rate of the Belgian population is very low; overall birth rates and immigration exceed death rates and emigration only slightly. Population growth rates, which were markedly higher in Flanders than in Wallonia prior to the 1980s, became nearly equivalent by the end of the 20th century. There was considerable rural-to-urban migration throughout the 20th century. The institution of policies that made Wallonia and Flanders officially unilingual regions greatly reduced migration between those two regions, but there is considerable migration within language regions. The emigration rate is low. Most of those who emigrate go to other EU countries or to the United States.

      Since World War II the foreign-born population has increased at a rate higher than that of Belgian nationals, owing to continued immigration and a higher birth rate among immigrants. The largest concentrations of foreigners are found in the cities of the Walloon mining and industrial areas, in Brussels, and in Antwerp. Foreign workers are largely of Mediterranean origin (mostly Italian, Middle Eastern, and North African). A modest number of these guest workers return to their countries of origin each year.

Economy
      Belgium has a free-enterprise economy, with the majority of the gross domestic product (GDP) generated by the service sector. The Belgian economy also is inextricably tied to that of Europe. The country has been a member of a variety of supranational organizations, including the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU), the Benelux Economic Union, and the EU. The first major step Belgium took in internationalizing its economy occurred when it became a charter member of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. On Jan. 1, 1999, Belgium also became a charter member of the European Monetary Union, paving the way for the introduction of the euro, which became the country's sole currency in 2002, replacing the Belgian franc.

      Historically, Belgium's national prosperity was mainly dependent on the country's role as a fabricator and processor of imported raw materials and on the subsequent export of finished goods. The country became a major steel producer in the early 19th century, with factories centred in the southern Walloon coal-mining region, particularly in the Sambre-Meuse valley. Rigorous monetary reform aided Belgium's post-World War II recovery and expansion, particularly of the Flemish light manufacturing and chemical industries that developed rapidly in the north, and Belgium became one of the first European countries to reestablish a favourable balance of trade in the postwar world. By the late 20th century, however, coal reserves in Wallonia were exhausted, the aging steel industry had become inefficient, labour costs had risen dramatically, and foreign investment (a major portion of the country's industrial assets are controlled by multinational companies) had declined.

      The government, in an effort to reverse the near-depression levels of industrial output that had developed, subsidized ailing industries, particularly steel and textiles, and offered tax incentives, reduced interest rates, and capital bonuses to attract foreign investment. These efforts were moderately successful, but they left Belgium with one of the largest budget deficits in relation to gross national product in Europe. The government was forced to borrow heavily from abroad to finance foreign trade (i.e., importing of foreign goods) and to sustain its generous social welfare system. In the early 1980s the government attempted to reduce the budget deficit; the debt-to-GDP ratio decreased as tighter monetary and fiscal policies were implemented by the central bank. Moreover, in the early 1990s the government decreased its subsidy to the social security system. By the early 21st century, Belgium had diversified its sources of social-security funding and succeeded in balancing its budget. Regionally, Flanders has attracted a disproportionate share of investment, but the national government has offered subsidies and incentives to encourage investment within Wallonia. Unemployment also has been less of a problem in Flanders, which has experienced significant growth in service industries, than in Wallonia, where the negative consequences of deindustrialization remain.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
      Only a small percentage of the country's active population engages in agriculture, and agricultural activity has continued to shrink, both in employment and in its contribution to the GDP. About one-fourth of Belgium's land area is agricultural and under permanent cultivation; more than one-fifth comprises meadows and pastures. Major crops are sugar beets, chicory, flax, cereal grains, and potatoes. The cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants also is important, particularly in Flanders. However, agricultural activity in Belgium centres primarily on livestock; dairy and meat products constitute more than two-thirds of the total farm value.

      Forage crops, barley, oats, potatoes, and even wheat are grown everywhere, but especially in the southeast. The region is one of striking contrasts: in the Condroz farms range in size from 75 to 250 acres (30 to 100 hectares), whereas in the Ardennes they are between 25 and 75 acres (10 to 30 hectares).

      The open countryside of north-central Belgium—Hainaut, Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant, and Hesbaye (the region of rolling land southwest of Limburg)—includes pastureland as well as intensive diversified cultivation of such crops as wheat, sugar beets, and oats; local variations include orchards in northern Hesbaye. Farms, with their closed courts, range in size from 75 to 250 acres (30 to 100 hectares).

      Most farms in the far north—maritime Flanders and the lower Schelde—range in size from 25 to 75 acres (10 to 30 hectares), some of which are under pasture, while the remainder are cultivated, with wheat and sugar beets again the dominant crops. Interior Flanders is devoted to grazing. Intensive cultivation is confined to gardens and small farms, which are usually smaller than 10 acres (4 hectares). Oats, rye, and potatoes are the chief crops; wheat, sugar beets, chicory, hops, flax, and ornamental plants (e.g., azaleas, roses, and begonias) also are grown in southwestern Flanders.

      The planted forests of the Ardennes and the Kempenland support Belgium's relatively small forest-products industry. Growth of the forest industry after World War II has been aided by mechanization, allowing Belgium to reduce its reliance on imported timber.

      Belgium's fishing industry is relatively small; almost all fish are consumed within the country. Zeebrugge and Ostend, the main fishing ports, send a modest fleet of trawlers to the North Sea fishing grounds. The harvesting of mussels is also an important industry in Belgium, with the mollusks being a popular menu item in restaurants throughout the country.

Resources and power
      Historically, coal was Belgium's most important mineral resource. There were two major coal-mining areas. The coal in the Sambre-Meuse valley occurred in a narrow band across south-central Belgium from the French border through Mons, Charleroi, Namur, and Liège. Mined since the 13th century, these coal reserves were instrumental in Belgium's industrialization during the 19th century. By the 1960s the easily extractable coal reserves were exhausted, and most of the region's mines were closed. By 1992 mining had ceased there and in the country's other major coal-mining area, in the Kempenland (Limburg province) in northeastern Belgium. Belgium now imports all its coal, which is needed for the steel industry and for domestic heating.

      During the 19th century, iron ore and zinc deposits in the Sambre-Meuse valley were heavily exploited. They too are now exhausted, but the refining of imported metallic ores remains an important component of Belgium's economy. Chalk and limestone mining around Tournai, Mons, and Liège, which supports a significant cement industry, is of greater contemporary importance. In addition, sands from the Kempenland supply the glass-manufacturing industry, and clays from the Borinage are used for pottery products and bricks. Stones, principally specialty marbles, also are quarried.

      Belgium's water resources are concentrated in the southern part of the country. Most streams rise in the Ardennes and flow northward; three-fourths of the country's groundwater originates in the south. Since the largest concentration of population is in the north, there is a marked regional disjunction between water supply and demand. This problem is addressed through elaborate water-transfer systems involving canals, storage basins, and pipelines. Although reasonably plentiful, existing water supplies incur heavy demands from industrial and domestic consumers. Moreover, water pollution is a serious problem. In the south a modest hydroelectric power industry has developed along fast-moving streams. However, as nuclear reactors generate more than half of Belgium's electricity, the use of water for cooling in nuclear power stations is much more significant. With the expansion of domestic and commercial needs in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, increasing attention focused on problems of water quality and supply.

Manufacturing
      The manufacturing sector accounts for about one-sixth of the GDP. Manufacturing is the major economic activity in the provinces of East Flanders, Limburg, and Hainaut. The corridor between Antwerp and Brussels also has emerged as a major manufacturing zone, eclipsing the older industrial concentration in the Sambre-Meuse valley.

      Metallurgy, steel, textiles, chemicals, glass, paper, and food processing are the dominant industries. Belgium is one of the world's leading processors of cobalt, radium, copper, zinc, and lead. Refineries, located principally in the Antwerp area, process crude petroleum. Antwerp is also known for diamond cutting and dealing. The lace made in Belgium has been internationally renowned for centuries. To combat the slow decline of this industry, which has been dependent on the handiwork of an aging population of skilled women, specialized schools were established in Mons and Binche to train younger workers.

      Foreign investment led to considerable growth in the engineering sector of Belgium's economy in the late 20th century. The country has assembly plants for foreign automakers, as well as for foreign firms manufacturing heavy electrical goods. Moreover, Belgium has a number of important manufacturers of machine tools and specialized plastics.

Finance
      The economic importance of the financial sector has increased significantly since the 1960s. Numerous Belgian and foreign banks operate in the country, particularly in Brussels. The National Bank, the central bank of Belgium, works to ensure national financial security, issues currency, and provides financial services to the federal government, the financial sector, and the public. The European Central Bank is now responsible for the formulation of key aspects of monetary policy. An important stock exchange was founded in Brussels in the early 19th century. In 2000 it merged with the Amsterdam and Paris stock exchanges to form Euronext—the first fully integrated cross-border equities market. Belgium has long been a target of significant foreign investment. Foreign investments in the energy, finance, and business-support sectors are of particular significance in 21st-century Belgium.

Trade
      Among Belgium's main imports are raw materials (including petroleum), motor vehicles, chemicals, textiles, and food products. Major exports include motor vehicles, chemicals and pharmaceutical products, machinery, plastics, diamonds, food and livestock, textile products, and iron and steel.

      Belgium's principal trade partners are the member countries of the EU, particularly Germany, France, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Services
 Spurred by the expanding needs of international business and government as well as the growth of tourism, especially in western Flanders and the Ardennes, the service sector grew tremendously in the second half of the 20th century. Flanders in particular enjoyed an economic boom because of the growth of service industries. Today the overwhelming majority of the Belgian labour force is employed in private and public services.

Labour and taxation
      After the service industries, manufacturing and construction enterprises are the largest employers. Agriculture and mining employ only a tiny percentage of the labour force. About half of Belgian workers belong to labour unions.

      The Belgian government levies taxes on income as well as on goods and services. These taxes, along with social security contributions, provide the bulk of the national revenue. Regions and local units of government also may levy taxes.

Transportation and telecommunications
      Belgium has an extensive system of main roads, supplemented by modern expressways that extend from Brussels to Ostend by way of Ghent and Brugge, from Brussels to Antwerp, from Brussels to Luxembourg city by way of Namur, and from Antwerp to Aachen (Ger.) by way of Hasselt and Liège. Other expressways include those from Antwerp to Kortrijk by way of Ghent and from Brussels to Paris through Mons and Charleroi.

      The railway network, a state enterprise, is one of the densest in the world. Brussels is the heart of the system, the centre of a series of lines that radiate outward and link the capital to other cities both inside and outside the country. The heaviest traffic is between Brussels and Antwerp.

 Antwerp handles a major portion of the country's foreign trade through its port. Other important ports are Zeebrugge-Brugge, Ostend, Ghent, and Brussels. Navigable inland waterways include the Meuse and the Schelde, which are navigable throughout their length in Belgium. A canal from Charleroi to Brussels links the basins of the two main rivers through the Ronquières lock. The Albert Canal links Antwerp with the Liège region. A maritime canal connects Brugge and Zeebrugge (Brugge-Zeebrugge Canal); another connects Ghent and Terneuzen (Ghent-Terneuzen Canal) (Neth.), on the Schelde estuary; and a third links Brussels and Antwerp.

      The Brussels international airport is the centre of Belgian air traffic. Smaller international facilities are maintained at Antwerp, Liège, Charleroi, and Ostend. Partly owned by the state, an international airline, SABENA (Brussels Airlines), operated from 1923 to 2001. Its place has been taken by Brussels Airlines.

      Belgium's technologically advanced telecommunications network is well developed, with a number of companies offering traditional telephone, cellular telephone, cable, and other telecommunications services. Cellular telephone and Internet usage in Belgium is similar to that of other western European countries, although Belgians own fewer personal computers than their immediate neighbours.

Government and society

Constitutional framework
 Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. The Belgian constitution was first promulgated in 1831 and has been revised a number of times since then. A 1991 constitutional amendment, for instance, allows for the accession of a woman to the throne.

      Under the terms of the Belgian constitution, national executive power is vested in the monarch and his Council of Ministers, whereas legislative power is shared by the monarch, a bicameral parliament comprising the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, and the community and regional councils. In practice, the monarch's role as head of state is limited to representative and official functions; royal acts must be countersigned by a minister, who in turn becomes responsible for them to the parliament.

      The prime minister is the effective head of government; the position of prime minister was created in 1919 and that of vice prime minister in 1961. Typically the leader of the majority party or coalition in the parliament, the prime minister is appointed by the monarch and approved by the parliament.

Local government
      Prior to 1970 Belgium was a unitary state. An unwritten rule prevailed that, except for the prime minister, the government had to include as many Flemish- as French-speaking ministers. Tensions that had been building throughout the 20th century between the two ethnolinguistic groups led to major administrative restructuring during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. A series of constitutional reforms dismantled the unitary state, culminating in the St. Michael's Agreement (September 1992), which laid the groundwork for the establishment of the federal state (approved by the parliament in July 1993 and enshrined in a new, coordinated constitution in 1994). National authorities now share power with executive and legislative bodies representing the major politically defined regions (Flemish: gewesten; French: régions) of Belgium—the Flemish Region (Flanders), the Walloon Region (Wallonia), and the Brussels-Capital Region—and the major language communities of the country (Flemish, French, and German). The Flemish Region—comprising the provinces of Antwerp, Limburg, East Flanders, West Flanders, and Flemish Brabant—and the Flemish Community are represented by a single council; the Walloon Region—comprising the provinces of Hainaut, Namur, Liège, Luxembourg, and Walloon Brabant—and the French Community each have a council, as do the Brussels-Capital Region and the German Community. The regional authorities have primary responsibility for the environment, energy, agriculture, transportation, and public works. They share responsibility for economic matters, labour, and foreign trade with the national government, which also retains responsibility for defense, foreign policy, and justice. The community councils have authority over cultural matters, including the use of language and education.

      Farther down the administrative hierarchy are the provinces (Flemish: provincies), each of which is divided into arrondissements and further subdivided into communes (gemeenten). The provinces are under the authority of a governor, with legislative power exercised by the provincial council. The Permanent Deputation, elected from the members of the provincial council, provides for daily provincial administration. Each commune is headed by a burgomaster, and the communal council elects the deputy mayors.

Justice
      Judges are appointed for life by the monarch; they cannot be removed except by judicial sentence. At the cantonal, or lowest, judicial level, justices of the peace decide civil and commercial cases, and police tribunals decide criminal cases. At the district level, judicial powers are divided among the tribunals of first instance, which are subdivided into civil, criminal, and juvenile courts and commercial and labour tribunals. At the appeals level, the courts of appeal include civil, criminal, and juvenile divisions that are supplemented by labour courts. Courts of assizes sit in each province to judge crimes and political and press offenses. These are composed of 3 judges and 12 citizens chosen by lot.

      The Supreme Court of Justice is composed of three chambers: civil and commercial, criminal, and one for matters of social and fiscal law and the armed forces. The last court does not deal with cases in depth but regulates the application of the law throughout all jurisdictions. The military jurisdictions judge all cases concerning offenders responsible to the army and, in time of war, those concerning persons accused of treason. The State Council arbitrates in disputed administrative matters and gives advice on all bills and decrees. The Arbitration Court, established in 1984, deals with disputes that develop between and among national, regional, and community executive or legislative authorities.

Political process
      Communal and provincial elections take place every six years; regional and community council elections occur every five years; and national elections are held at least every four years. Deputies to the Chamber of Representatives are elected directly, as are certain senators, while other senators are either designated by the community councils from their ranks or selected by the rest of the Senate. Each deputy and senator has a language community and a regional affiliation.

      Belgium's leading political parties were long divided into French- and Flemish-speaking wings; however, as the country moved toward federalism, the differences between these wings became more pronounced, and they became increasingly discrete organizations. The traditional parties include the Social Christians—that is, the Flemish Christian Democrats and their French counterpart, the Humanist and Democratic Center; the Socialist Party (divided into Flemish- and French-speaking branches); the Flemish Liberals and Democrats; and the French-speaking Reform Movement. Other ethnic and special-interest parties also have emerged, including French- and Flemish-speaking Green parties, Flemish separatist parties, and the right-wing National Front in Wallonia. Because representatives are elected on the basis of proportional representation, recent governments have been dominated by coalitions of the strongest parties. The Vlaams Belang, a party with a strong anti-immigrant message that succeeded the right-wing Vlaams Block, had notable electoral success in Flanders in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

      All citizens age 18 and older are required to vote in national elections. They are informed of political events through the press, but, as press ownership increasingly is concentrated in fewer hands, many persons consider the medium to be unamenable to the expression of a wide range of opinions. Radio and television often organize debates and discussions that provide political information. In spite of these efforts, a degree of disaffection exists among the citizens with regard to politics. Conflicts over the competencies of different levels of government life tend to foster this sense of antipathy and often serve to heighten tensions between Flemish- and French-speaking Belgians.

Security
      The Belgian armed forces include land, air, and naval components, as well as reserve forces and a medical service. Belgium was one of the founding members of the military alliance NATO, and the organization's headquarters are located in Brussels. A federal police force and numerous local police forces carry out law enforcement in the country.

Health and welfare
      A great improvement in health conditions after World War II was due as much to the programs of social insurance, covering nearly the entire population, as to advances in medical science. In addition to the many hospitals, hundreds of centres offer specialized help in medical, psychological, and geriatric areas as well as in physical rehabilitation. Under a 1925 statute, each commune has a commission of public assistance that is represented on the communal council and provides aid to the indigent. Belgium's welfare system, though comprehensive, has placed great strain on the national budget.

Housing
      Building is encouraged in a number of ways, including government-guaranteed mortgage loans that have low interest rates. Most Belgians prefer to live in single-family houses. The rate of home ownership in Belgium is among the highest in western Europe, though the cost of housing increased significantly in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There are some shortages in housing supply, but the situation is not acute. The National Housing Society oversees public housing construction for low-income families. The state also sponsors programs to alleviate slum conditions.

Education
      Freedom of education is a constitutional guarantee in Belgium, but conflicts between public and confessional (i.e., Roman Catholic) schools date almost to the founding of the kingdom and remain a delicate problem within the social fabric. A dual system of state-run schools and religious “free” schools (the latter are nearly all Roman Catholic) exists on the primary and secondary levels, with the “free” schools subsidized by the state to compensate for the abolition of fees in 1958. The language of instruction is either French, Flemish, or German, depending on the region. Secondary schools are graded into two types, one that is staffed by graduates from teachers colleges and offers technical and vocational education and another that is staffed by university graduates and offers either a classical or a modern curriculum.

      In addition to numerous specialized institutions for advanced training, Belgium has several universities. The Catholic University of Leuven (Louvain; (Leuven, Catholic University of) 1425) and the Free University of Brussels (1834), both formerly bilingual, were each divided into independent Flemish- and French-speaking universities (thereby creating four universities) in 1969–70. The University of Liège (Liège, University of) (1817) and the University of Mons-Hainaut (1965) teach in French, and Ghent University (1817) teaches in Flemish.

Cultural life

Cultural milieu
      Belgium's long and rich cultural and artistic heritage is epitomized in the paintings of Pieter Bruegel, the Elder (Bruegel, Pieter, the Elder), Jan van Eyck (Eyck, Jan van), Hans Memling (Memling, Hans), Dirck Bouts (Bouts, Dirck), Peter Paul Rubens (Rubens, Peter Paul), René Magritte (Magritte, René), and Paul Delvaux (Delvaux, Paul) (see also Flemish art); in the music of Josquin des Prez, Orlando di Lasso (Lasso, Orlando di), Peter Benoit (Benoit, Peter), and César Franck (Franck, César); in the dramas of Maurice Maeterlinck (Maeterlinck, Maurice) and Michel de Ghelderode (Ghelderode, Michel de) and the novels of Georges Simenon (Simenon, Georges) and Marguerite Yourcenar (Yourcenar, Marguerite) (see also Belgian literature); in the mapmaking of Gerardus Mercator (Mercator, Gerardus); and in the many palaces, castles, town halls, and cathedrals of the Belgian cities and countryside.

      The federal structure of Belgium encourages the drawing of cultural distinctions among and between Flanders, Wallonia, and the small German-speaking minority—institutionalized as formally empowered “communities.” Through educational initiatives, language promotion, and patronage of the arts, these communities see to it that regional cultures do not lose their distinctiveness. In addition, some regions are more strongly associated with particular cultural attributes than others. Flanders is particularly noted for its visual art, and various schools of painting have arisen there. In music, avant-garde tendencies have become influential in Brussels, Liège, Ghent, and Antwerp, while Hainaut remains the centre of the classical and popular traditions.

Daily life and social customs
      Belgium's strong tradition of fine cuisine is expressed in its large number of top-rated restaurants. The country is known for moules frites (mussels served with french fries) as well as waffles, a popular snack item. Belgian chocolate is renowned around the world and may be considered a cultural institution. Chocolatiers such as Neuhaus, Godiva, and Leonidas, among others, are internationally acclaimed for their truffles and candies sold in small, distinctive cardboard boxes. Chocolate is one of Belgium's main food exports, with the majority being shipped to other EU countries.

 Beer is Belgium's national beverage; the country has several hundred breweries and countless cafés where Belgians enjoy a great array of local brews, including the famed Trappist and lambic varieties. While the reputation of Belgian beer is often overshadowed by that of its larger neighbour, Germany, the brewing and consuming of beer within the country is a cultural institution in and of itself. Most beers have particular styles of glasses in which they are served, and a variety of seasonal brews are synonymous with various holidays and celebrations. It is also common for special brews to be created for occasions such as weddings, a tradition that is reported to have begun in the early 1900s, when nearly every village had a brewery. In many small Belgian villages, the brewer was also the mayor.

      Festivals focus on regional history and the celebration of the seasons. In the Walloon area there are joyous spring festivals, such as the carnivals of Binche and Stavelot; summer festivals, such as the procession of giants at Ath and the dragon battle in Mons; and the winter festivals of St. Nicholas, Christmas, and the New Year. In Flanders these festivals have become folkloric celebrations with a religious or historical character. Notable events include the Festival of Cats in Ypres, which is held once every three years and commemorates a practice from earlier centuries of tossing cats from the tower of the Cloth Hall to keep their numbers under control. (The cats helped guard textiles kept in the Cloth Hall from rodents, but once the textiles were sold, the cats tended to proliferate.) Today the festival re-creates this practice with toy cats and, more generally, celebrates cats as a species. Another popular event is the Procession of the Holy Blood; held in Brugge, it is the modern continuation of a medieval tradition of parading through the city with what was said to be the coagulated blood of Christ—taken from his body after the descent from the cross. According to legend, the relic at the centre of the ceremony was brought back to Brugge by Thierry, the crusading count of Flanders, in the 12th century. Finally, marionette shows survive in the Toone Theatre in Brussels. The traditional folk culture is in marked contrast to modern forms of popular culture, which, as everywhere in the West, are dominated by television, cinema, and popular music.

The arts
      Belgium's rich heritage makes it an artistic centre of considerable importance. The paintings of the Flemish masters are on display in museums and cathedrals across the country; Belgium's contribution to Art Nouveau is clearly evident in the Brussels cityscape, and folk culture is kept alive in a variety of indoor and outdoor museums. Among the most celebrated examples of Art Nouveau architecture is the home of architect Baron Victor Horta (Horta, Victor, Baron), which is now a museum.

      Belgium holds several significant annual musical events, including the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition. Belgians also have taken a foreign musical form, American jazz, and made it very much their own. The style owes much to Antoine-Joseph Sax (Sax, Antoine-Joseph), the Belgian-born instrument maker who invented the saxophone. Practitioners of homegrown jazz have included cabaret singer Jacques Brel, jazz harmonica player Jean (“Toots”) Thielemans, and the legendary Django Reinhardt (Reinhardt, Django), a Belgian-born Rom (Gypsy) who mastered a guitar style that wedded Duke Ellington (Ellington, Duke) to flamenco. Belgium teems with jazz clubs and bistros and hosts a number of respected jazz festivals each year. Belgians also played an important role in the creation of techno music late in the 20th century.

      Literary works (Belgian literature) produced in Flanders have a style peculiar to the region, whereas in the Walloon (Walloon literature) area and in Brussels most authors write for a larger French readership that is inclined especially toward Parisian tastes. Moreover, some works that are thought of as French are written by Belgian authors living in France, and others are by writers living in Belgium who are considered French.

      In Belgium the comic strip is a serious and well-respected art form that has become part of the country's modern cultural heritage. Children throughout the world became familiar with the adventures of the boy hero Tintin, who was created by Hergé (Georges Rémi) and was featured in a comic strip that first appeared in 1929. The Smurfs, created in 1958 by Peyo (Pierre Culliford), became world famous as a television cartoon series. Brussels is home to a large comic-strip museum that attracts visitors from throughout Europe.

Cultural institutions
      The Belgian artistic heritage is represented in major museums in Brussels, Ghent, Brugge, Antwerp, Charleroi, and Liège. Traditional art and architecture are preserved in a large outdoor museum near Hasselt. The most extensive collection of Central African art in the world is housed in a museum in Tervuren, a suburb of Brussels. The National Orchestra and the National Opera in Brussels enjoy world fame. The Museum of Musical Instruments, also in Brussels, has a fine collection. War monuments at Waterloo, Ypres, and Bastogne, among others, attract visitors and history buffs to Belgium from around the world.

Sports and recreation
      If Belgians could play only one sport, it probably would be football (soccer). The Royal Belgian Football Association encompasses thousands of teams and clubs. Belgian's national team, known as the Red Devils, has long been a power in international competitions. Cycling too has numerous enthusiasts, many inspired by the example of Eddy Merckx (Merckx, Eddy), who dominated international cycling during the 1960s and '70s, winning the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia five times each. Belgium also has produced a number of Olympians, including Hubert van Innis, who won six medals in archery events at the 1920 games; Ulla Werbrouck and Robert van der Walle, who dominated women's and men's judo in the later 20th century; and swimmer Frederik Deburghgraeve, who set a world record and won a gold medal in the men's 100-metre breaststroke at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

      For daily recreation, most of the major cities have accessible parks. The Ardennes and the North Sea coast are major destinations for Belgians on vacation.

Media and publishing
      The many daily newspapers published in Belgium are controlled by press consortiums. Among the most influential and widely read newspapers are Le Soir, De Standaard, and Het Laatste Nieuws. A German-language daily, Grenz-Echo, is published in Eupen. The majority of newspapers have some political affiliation, but only those of the socialist press are linked to a political party. Belgium has several magazines, but these face strong foreign competition.

      Radio broadcasting was born in Belgium. As early as 1913, weekly musical broadcasts were given from the Laeken Royal Park. Radio-Belgium, founded in 1923, was broadcasting the equivalent of a spoken newspaper as early as 1926. Belgian Radio-Television of the French Community (RTBF), which broadcasts in French, and the Flemish Radio and Television Network (VRT; formerly Belgian Radio and Television [BRTN]), in Flemish, were created as public services. Both are autonomous and are managed by an administrative council. Radio Vlaanderen International (RVI) serves as an important voice of the Flemish community in Belgium.

Arthur J.M. Doucy Alexander B. Murphy

History
      This section surveys the history of the Belgian territories after 1579. For information concerning the period prior to that date, see Low Countries, history of.

      After the Burgundian regime in the Low Countries (1363–1477), the southern provinces (whose area roughly encompassed that of present-day Belgium and Luxembourg) as well as the northern provinces (whose area roughly corresponded to that of the present-day Kingdom of The Netherlands (Netherlands, The)) had dynastic links with the Austrian Habsburgs (Habsburg, House of) and then with Spain and the Austrian Habsburgs together. Later, as a consequence of revolt in 1567, the southern provinces became subject to Spain (1579), then to the Austrian Habsburgs (1713), to France (1795), and finally in 1815 to the Kingdom of The Netherlands. While Luxembourg remained linked to The Netherlands until 1867, Belgium's union with The Netherlands ended with the 1830 revolution. Belgian nationality is generally considered to date from this event. Throughout the long period of foreign rule, the southern part of the Low Countries generally preserved its institutions and traditions, and only for a short interval, under the First French Republic and Napoleon, could integration with an alien system be enforced.

      The Burgundian period, from Philip II (the Bold) to Charles the Bold, was one of political prestige and economic and artistic splendour. The “Great Dukes of the West,” as the Burgundian princes were called, were effectively considered national sovereigns, their domains extending from the Zuiderzee to the Somme (Somme River). The urban and other textile industries, which had developed in the Belgian territories since the 12th century, became under the Burgundians the economic mainstay of northwestern Europe.

      The death of Charles the Bold (1477) and the marriage of his daughter Mary to the archduke Maximilian (Maximilian I) of Austria proved fatal to the independence of the Low Countries by bringing them increasingly under the sway of the Habsburg dynasty. Mary and Maximilian's grandson Charles became king of Spain as Charles I in 1516 and Holy Roman emperor as Charles V in 1519. In Brussels on Oct. 25, 1555, Charles V abdicated the Netherlands to his son, who in January 1556 assumed the throne of Spain as Philip II.

      Under Spanish rule, discontent increased in the Netherlands and revolution broke out in 1567, but the union between the south and the north could not be maintained after the first years of conflict.

      The formation of the Union of Arras (Jan. 6, 1579) by the conservative Catholic provinces of Artois and Hainaut (fearing the dominance of more urban, more commercial, and therefore more progressive provinces) enabled the Spanish commander Alessandro Farnese (Farnese, Alessandro, duke of Parma and Piacenza) to resume war against the rebellious Protestants. William I (of Orange) emerged as the leader of the latter group, supported by the Union of Utrecht (Jan. 23, 1579), and rallied the numerous provinces that opposed a return to Spanish rule. After a series of sieges, however, Farnese made himself master of many towns in the southern part of the country and finally, on Aug. 17, 1585, recaptured Antwerp, which had closed its gates to rebels and government forces alike. Antwerp's surrender incited the still resisting northern provinces to close the Schelde River to foreign shipping. From this time onward, the whole of the southern part of the Netherlands once more recognized Philip II as its sovereign. In 1598 Philip II granted the sovereignty of the Netherlands to his daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia (Isabella Clara Eugenia, archduchess of Austria) and her husband, Archduke Albert VII of Austria.

      The United Provinces of the north, also known as the Dutch Republic, were never recovered, and in 1609 Albert was even forced to join them in a 12-year truce. He died in 1621, the same year that the war was resumed. Isabella was, from that time on, nothing more than a governor-general. During the resumed course of the war (1621–48), the region to the east of the Meuse (Meuse River), northern Brabant, and Zeeland were lost. Philip IV of Spain agreed to the new northern boundary of the Spanish Netherlands in the Peace of Westphalia (Westphalia, Peace of) (1648). Hostilities between France and Spain persisted, marked by further losses of territory on the southern border (Artois in 1640 and parts of Flanders in the later 17th century).

      The government of the Spanish Netherlands, though not independent, enjoyed a large degree of autonomy. A governor-general, usually a member of the Spanish royal family, represented the king in Brussels. Local leaders held most positions on the three councils that assisted the governor (the Council of State, the Privy Council, and the Council of Finances). The president of the Privy Council became a kind of prime minister; although holders of this office did not hesitate to show independence of Madrid in order to protect their interests, they remained supporters of absolutism, regularly asserting the authority of the royal government at the expense of regional and local rights. After 1664 the Council of Finances, under its chief official, the treasurer-general, began to function as a sort of ministry of economic affairs. The councils exercised considerable autonomy domestically. With respect to foreign policy, however, they were controlled less by the governor-general than by a Spanish official in Brussels called the secretary of state and war. In Madrid there was a council of state for the Netherlands made up of natives of the Belgian provinces.

      The bishopric of Liège (in present-day eastern Belgium) was ruled as a separate principality by its prince-bishops, as had been the case since the Middle Ages. During the revolt against Spain, Liège maintained a strict neutrality and continued to do so through most of the 17th and 18th centuries. Its institutional development paralleled that of the neighbouring regions.

      The most important of various representative bodies in the Spanish Netherlands were the provincial estates or assemblies. Their authority to levy and collect taxes (taxation) enabled them to ensure that a considerable portion of the revenue was spent within the country. A permanent deputation drawn from the estates supervised public works. The States General, consisting of delegates from all the provincial estates, had enjoyed great influence before and during the revolt against Spain. From that time their role diminished, and after 1632 the States General no longer met. Regionalism, deep-rooted in the provinces during the 16th century, gave way in the 17th century to a wider unity. The aristocratic provincial governors revolted against the government's centralizing policy in the early 1630s but were forced to flee the country for lack of urban support. By 1700 only Hainaut, Luxembourg, Namur, Limburg, and south Gelderland, all of which had proved their loyalty, still had provincial governors.

      The supreme authority in judicial matters was the Great Council of Malines, founded in 1504. This body, however, had to defend its jurisdiction against the encroachments of the Privy Council. The provincial courts of justice were the councils of Flanders, Brabant, Namur, Luxembourg, southern Gelderland, Hainaut, and Artois (until 1659). The unique autonomy of the Council of Brabant had been granted by the king in conformity with the provincial liberties of that region. Nevertheless, after 1603 the king was represented in Brabant by financial officials under a procurer-general. In addition to their judicial duties, all these magistrates had increasing administrative functions.

      Nearly constant warfare made the administration of the country increasingly difficult. Foreign troops manned the fortresses of Antwerp, Ghent, Ostend, and Charleroi, and other armed forces were raised locally. Government finances, weakened by the loss of revenues from the northern provinces, suffered still further from the enormous military expenditures.

Economic developments
      The revolt against Spain in 1567 and the military campaigns it provoked in the following years were detrimental to industrial activity in the southern provinces. Moreover, the Spanish reconquest of the territory caused a major emigration of merchants and skilled artisans. Amsterdam replaced Antwerp as the chief trading centre of Europe. Many towns facing industrial decline reacted by restructuring their economic bases. Antwerp fostered new enterprises in silk weaving, diamond processing, and the production of fine linen, furniture, and lace; in addition, it resuscitated many old export products, such as musical instruments, tapestries, embroidery, and brass. Although English competition had crippled the Flemish woolen industry, Ghent developed a specialization in luxury fabrics, and Brugge in cloth for everyday use.

      From the end of the 16th century on, import and export duties provided a new source of revenue. Taxes on foreign trade originated from permits allowing commerce with the rebellious United Provinces of the north. By the middle of the 17th century, these taxes had become real customs tariffs. The financial problems of the government also made the sale of public offices a common practice.

      The commercial revitalization of the southern Low Countries, particularly of Antwerp, was gradual, but it no doubt partly explains the flourishing artistic life during the period. This was chiefly evident in the works of the Flemish school of 17th-century painters—among them Peter Paul Rubens (Rubens, Peter Paul), Anthony Van Dyck (Van Dyck, Sir Anthony), and Jacob Jordaens (Jordaens, Jacob). The ongoing Counter-Reformation stimulated demand for art in the triumphant Baroque style. Rubens, court painter to Isabella and Archduke Albert, made Antwerp one of the cultural capitals of Europe. In the area of scholarship, the Bollandists (Bollandist), a group of Antwerp Jesuits, made valuable contributions to historical methodology.

      The Peace of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Dutch and the German phase of the Thirty Years' War, stimulated economic competition between the countries of northern Europe. As a result, Flemish textile manufacture once again shifted from the towns to the countryside, where production costs were lower. In addition, the burgeoning bureaucracies and new mercantilist policies of rival capitals attracted many Flemish artisans. Emerging fashions abroad, particularly the Enlightenment Classicism and colonial exoticism of France and England, were soon to overtake the Baroque style of the Spanish Netherlands.

The Austrian Netherlands
      In 1700 the Spanish Habsburg dynasty died out with Charles II, and a new conflict with France arose. By the Treaty of Utrecht (Utrecht, treaties of) (1713), ending the War of the Spanish Succession (Spanish Succession, War of the), the territory comprising present-day Belgium and Luxembourg (the independent principality of Liège not included) passed under the sovereignty of the Holy Roman emperor Charles VI, head of the Austrian branch of the house of Habsburg.

      Under the Austrians, as under the Spanish Habsburgs, the southern Netherlands enjoyed political autonomy. The Austrian government initially modernized the Spanish institutions internally by introducing a new working spirit and more efficient administrative methods. To a greater degree than under Spanish rule, appointments to public offices depended upon competence and dedication. Apart from attempting to subject the provinces and the class-ridden society to absolute imperial power, the Austrian government focused in particular on rationalizing public finances at all levels, on the formation of a dynamic, well-documented bureaucracy, and on the improvement of the country's infrastructure.

      Emperor Charles VI attempted to relieve the economic distress in the southern Netherlands by founding the Ostend Company (1722) to trade with Asia, but England and the United Provinces forced him after a few years to abandon the project. At the death of Charles VI in 1740, the southern Netherlands passed to his daughter Maria Theresa. The War of the Austrian Succession (Austrian Succession, War of the), however, resulted in a new French occupation in 1744. Austrian rule was restored by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of) (1748).

      The regime of the empress Maria Theresa of Austria enjoyed popularity as the economic situation began to improve again toward the middle of the 18th century. As in contemporary England, an increase in agricultural productivity stimulated a population increase, especially in rural areas. This, in turn, spurred the development of various industries. The agricultural transformation occurred mainly on the small farms of Flanders; one of its main features was the spread of potato cultivation, which added an important element to the diet of the rural population. In addition, in the French-speaking part of the country, a number of landed proprietors invested in mining enterprises, notably in the area between the Sambre and the Meuse rivers, which belonged to the principality of Liège. In the southern Netherlands, urban merchants and manufacturers had more in common with the rural landowning class than was usual in continental European countries in the 18th century. As in the case of Britain, this created an atmosphere favourable to the development of industrial capitalism. During this period Ghent, Antwerp, and Tournai had factories with more than 100 workers; wages, however, were poor. Verviers, in the principality of Liège, was an important centre for woolen manufactures, Ghent for cotton goods.

      After 1750 the influence of the Enlightenment permeated government policy in the domains of demography, social relief, employment, public health, education, religion, culture, and art, mainly at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church. Religious suppression and administrative reforms, sponsored by Maria Theresa's son and successor, the emperor Joseph II, caused great dissatisfaction among the upper classes. The Austrian government was no longer inclined to maintain the remnants of feudal privilege. Reforms deepened to include replacement of the traditional provinces and their aristocracies by districts and newly appointed intendants. The proposal to suppress simultaneously the central councils and the provincial courts of justice constituted a clear threat to provincial autonomy. The governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands was reluctant to enforce the edicts (Toleration, Edict of) involved, but other leading members of the administration, including the emperor's minister plenipotentiary, insisted upon the abolishment of the traditional bodies.

      In 1789, stirred by the outbreak of revolution in neighbouring France, conservatives led by Henri van der Noot (Noot, Henri van der) and progressives led by Jean-François Vonck (Vonck, Jean-François) united in opposition to the emperor and defeated an Austrian force at Turnhout. After their common victory, conservatives and progressives came into conflict. The conservatives, or Statists, in the end gained the upper hand and made a triumphant entry into Brussels. This “Brabant Revolution” (so called because most of its leaders came from Brabant (Brabant Revolution)) had widespread support in the towns. The peasants, on the other hand, had little in common with the middle-class revolutionaries and generally supported the Austrians. Thus, when Leopold II, successor to Joseph II, decided to reestablish imperial authority in 1790, he encountered no opposition from the mass of the people. On Dec. 2, 1790, imperial troops reoccupied Brussels. The discontented Statists now looked to revolutionary France for support, but enthusiasm waned when it became clear that a French military (French Revolution) victory was the prelude to annexation. On Oct. 1, 1795, the French National Convention voted to annex the southern Netherlands and the principality of Liège, where a revolution against the prince-bishop had prepared the country for assimilation into the French Republic. Thenceforth, the territory of Liège was amalgamated with the Belgian provinces.

French administration
      Under French rule there was no autonomy as there had been under the Spanish and Austrian regimes. The administration was centralized, aristocratic privileges abolished, and the church persecuted. Military conscription measures provoked a peasants' revolt (1798–99), but repression was extremely harsh. Under the Napoleonic consulate (Napoleon I) and empire (1799–1814), the position of the clergy was regulated by a concordat with the papacy. Further changes included introduction of the French civil code and the decimal metric system and the reopening of the Schelde River to maritime traffic to and from the harbour of Antwerp.

      The period of the Napoleonic empire may be considered the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Belgium. Only at the very end of the 18th century, with the prospects of a wider market and under Napoleon (Napoleon I)'s encouragement, did mechanization (i.e., the Industrial Revolution in its strictest sense) begin in the textile sector. Mechanization quickly made Ghent, with its cotton mills, and Verviers, with its woolen industry, the leading textile centres of the country. The coal and metal industries of Hainaut (under French rule, the département of Jemappes) and Liège also flourished. From the beginning of the 18th century, the coal industry had expanded production with the help of the Newcomen pump and systematically extended its export markets to France (see Thomas Newcomen (Newcomen, Thomas)). Annexation of the Belgian provinces by France opened the market still further, hastening the modernization process in which Belgium already led the continent.

The Kingdom of The Netherlands
      After the defeat of Napoleon, the Allied powers were determined not to leave the Belgian territories in the hands of France. Under the influence of Great Britain, it was decided that the territories would be united in a single state with the old republic of the United Provinces, thus to constitute a better barrier against French expansion than that of 1715. The Kingdom of The Netherlands, the existence of which was confirmed by the Congress of Vienna (Vienna, Congress of) (June 1815), was thus established for the convenience of Europe, regardless of the wishes of the Belgians and the Dutch. Prince William of Orange ascended the throne on March 16, 1815, under the title William I; he was crowned September 27.

      The two parts of The Netherlands, which had been one country until the 16th century and were now reunited, had developed in markedly different ways during the two intervening centuries. The north was commercial and the south increasingly industrial; the north was Protestant and Flemish- (Dutch-) speaking and the south Roman Catholic and partly French-speaking (the elite was entirely French-speaking). Under the Dutch house of Orange (Orange, House of), the north was to be predominant. Dutch (Dutch language), sometimes called Netherlandic, became the official language of the new kingdom; moreover, the fundamental law gave Belgium and Holland the same number of representatives in the States General, in spite of the fact that the population of Belgium was nearly twice that of the former United Provinces. Belgian representatives, members of the nobility, rejected the constitution, but it was promulgated by the king over their objections.

      William I encouraged the industrialization of the south, commissioning the construction of new roads and canals and the establishment of new commercial and financial companies; he also extended subsidies to promising industrial enterprises, frequently from his own private fortune. In the beginning, the favourable economic situation reinforced the king's popularity among the middle class. The mechanized textile industries of Ghent and Verviers continued their progress, while the modern coal mines and forges of Liège and Hainaut prospered. Antwerp's role as an international port was expanding rapidly.

      King William I also created three state universities: Ghent and Liège, which were new, and Louvain, which he put under state control to remove it from Catholic influence. Secular academies (athénées) were established at the secondary level, and state inspection was mandated for church-controlled schools. An attempt to interfere with the curriculum of the training schools for priests (1825) brought clerical dissatisfaction with the government to its height. In an effort to disengage the Protestant monarch from the religious affairs of the south, the clergy and traditional Catholic elite began clamouring for freedom of religion, education, and association. This remarkable shift in mentality within the ranks of the southern conservatives was welcomed by the more progressive merchants, who in their turn had grown more critical toward the north and the king's policy.

      After 1821 the conflicting interests of north and south also created an economic split. The commercial north, having little industry, desired more free trade; the industrial south sought greater tariff protection in order to compete against falling British export prices. The king's unwillingness to increase protection gave the industrialists a grievance against the government. Progressives and clericals now joined forces. Both groups wanted to curtail the personal power of the king in favour of a true parliamentary system, based on an expanded range of civil and political rights. In this new climate, Unionism came into being in 1827, merging young Catholics and liberals in the south into a strong antigovernment coalition. The king agreed to make concessions regarding matters of religion and language but refused to relinquish his ultimate authority. This refusal generated the “Belgian Revolution” of August–September 1830 (1830, Revolutions of), in the tracks of the July Revolution in Paris the same year.

      The revolutionaries at first demanded separate administrations for the northern and southern Netherlands. The actions of the radical patriots in Liège, however, soon aggravated the situation. The unyielding attitude of the king now led to a complete break. On September 25 a provisional Belgian government was established, and on October 4 it proclaimed the country's independence, a move reaffirmed by the newly elected National Congress on November 10. William I prepared for war, but on December 20 the great powers intervened, imposing an armistice on both sides. On Jan. 20, 1831, an international conference in London (under the influence of the new liberal governments in France and Britain) recognized Belgium as an independent, neutral state, its neutrality to be guaranteed by the European powers.

Independent Belgium before World War I
      The National Congress had decided that Belgium should be a monarchy, but finding a king proved difficult. In the end, Prince Leopold (Leopold I) of Saxe-Coburg, who was related to the British royal family and who became engaged to the daughter of the French king, was acceptable to both Britain and France. On July 21, 1831, Leopold ascended the throne, promising to support the liberal constitution, which gave the greater part of the governing power to a parliament elected by property owners. Some days later, the Dutch army invaded Belgium. The Belgians, who had no regular army, were defeated, but the London Conference agreed to intervention by the French army, which forced the Dutch to withdraw. The conference then decided to divide the provinces of Limburg and Luxembourg, assigning part to Belgium and part to The Netherlands. William I refused to accept this settlement. The Belgians, therefore, continued to occupy Dutch Limburg and Luxembourg until William finally relented in 1838. The eastern half of Luxembourg became the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, while the western half became a Belgian province. In 1839 the Dutch government officially recognized Belgium in its borders of 1838.

      In the short run, the revolution had a detrimental effect on the economy. Separation from the north resulted in the sudden loss of the large Dutch market, including the colonies. The Schelde River remained closed until 1839. The Belgian government addressed the crisis by launching a vigorous policy of internal investment. In 1835 it inaugurated a railroad line between Brussels and Malines, the first to operate on the continent. The Antwerp-Cologne line, completed in 1843, opened great prospects for the Belgo-German transit trade. In 1844 a favourable trade agreement between Belgium and the German Zollverein (“Customs Union”) completed this strategy.

      Private participation in the development program was encouraged. In the case of railroads, for example, the government restricted itself to the construction of main lines as an incentive for private enterprise to provide the secondary network. The modernization of the infrastructure, in turn, created a climate conducive to industrial investment. Belgian banks played a decisive role in the response, in particular the Société Générale, founded in 1822 by King William I, and the Banque de Belgique, founded in 1835 by Belgian liberals. Both companies provided extensive financing for the new mechanized sectors, especially those of the Walloon heavy industry. Converting these enterprises into limited companies, the banks sold shares to the public while holding enough shares in their own or their subsidiaries' portfolios to retain control. Through this and other measures, including extension of long- and short-term credit to developing companies and the establishment of savings banks to augment resources, the Brussels banks created a new type of financial organization, the industrial banking system, which would soon be imitated by the French, the Germans, and later the English-speaking world.

      While the Walloon industrial economy expanded rapidly with the infusion of capital, the mechanized textile industry in Flanders remained less dynamic. The Brussels banks exhibited little interest in this industry in the region because it was splintered over many small family enterprises. Moreover, the Ghent cotton industry faced the formidable competition of the British, and Flemish woolen producers had lost the advantage to those of Verviers and northern France. The mechanized linen mills fared better but precipitated, along with their British counterparts, a disastrous decline in the traditional linen industry based on cottage spinning and weaving throughout rural Flanders. The crisis reached a climax with the famine of 1844–46, when poor grain harvests coincided with a potato blight. The deep impoverishment of the Flemish countryside retarded the full modernization of the region until the beginning of the 20th century.

Liberal dominance
      After 1839, the Unionist coalition that had consolidated the revolution showed signs of falling apart. The progressives, especially, were unhappy with the growing influence of the Roman Catholic Church and with the government, which increasingly enacted the personal policy of the monarch. In 1846 middle-class anticlericals laid the foundation for a national liberal party independent of the Unionist movement, aiming in particular at the curtailment of the church's growing social position. Later, a Roman Catholic conservative party took shape in opposition. Thus, one of the ideological polarities of modern Belgian politics was born.

      The first Liberal government came to power in 1847 and withstood the revolutionary shock wave that rocked Europe the following year (see Revolutions of 1848 (1848, Revolutions of)). Electoral reforms, hastened by international circumstances, secured the long-standing political dominance of the Liberal urban bourgeoisie.

      The Liberal governments broadened the free-trade policy in order to promote industrialization and commercial expansion and lifted a number of fiscal hindrances on internal trade. The great Liberal reformer Walthère Frère-Orban (Frère-Orban, Walthère) took special measures to reinforce Belgium's economic infrastructure: in 1850 he founded a central issuing bank (the National Bank of Belgium), in 1860 a public cooperative bank for municipal finances (the Communal Credit), and five years later a public savings bank (the General Savings Bank). By 1863 the prosperity of the country permitted redemption of The Netherlands' right to levy charges on ships entering the Schelde estuary, a right enacted in 1839. The port of Antwerp was the great beneficiary, able to compete strongly with Rotterdam (Neth.) and Hamburg. Favourable trade agreements with France, Britain, and The Netherlands further stimulated the Belgian export and transit trade. The importation of grain was also fully liberalized, without noticeable objection from the agrarian pressure groups, as the prices of grain, rent, and land remained quite high until the 1870s.

      On the political scene, the growing social influence of the church became a matter of passionate public debate. As the controversy mounted, the respective attitudes became more and more radicalized. Among the Liberals, anticlericalism frequently evolved into antireligiosity; among the Catholics, the defense of the church increasingly became a means to acquire political power. The Liberals, controlling the government, managed to curtail the church's influence in such crucial domains as public charity and public education. The church successively lost its influence in the state secondary schools and in the state universities. When the Liberal government eliminated religious education from public primary schools, the so-called School War erupted. This conflict strengthened the Catholics in their distrust of the state and prompted the development of a state-independent Catholic school network, which met with great success. The School War precipitated a conservative landslide in the elections of 1884, which gave the Catholics a majority in both chambers of the parliament.

Period of Catholic government
      Aside from the education controversy, the biggest factor in the Liberals' defeat was probably their advocacy of free trade, which was favoured by manufacturers but exposed farmers to ruinous foreign competition. In the early 1880s, when the Belgian market was flooded with American grain, the Catholic Party became the champion of the rural classes by promising to protect agriculture. It also espoused the cause of the nascent Flemish movement that sought to expand opportunities for Flemish-speaking Belgians in a country until then dominated by a French-speaking upper bourgeoisie.

      The last years of the 19th century and the first of the 20th were years of social tension. In 1886 there was a disturbance among workers in Liège, followed by unrest in other industrial areas. The Catholic government of Auguste-Marie-François Beernaert (Beernaert, Auguste-Marie-François) suppressed this movement harshly, but, beginning in 1889, a series of laws were passed regulating workers' housing, limiting labour by women and children, and providing workmen's compensation. Because of the system of electoral property qualifications, the working class did not have the right to vote until after the legislature revised the constitution in 1890; in 1893 universal suffrage was adopted for men age 25 and over. Though the effect of this law was weakened by giving a plural vote to electors fulfilling certain conditions of income, age, and education and to heads of families, it resulted in the election of the first Socialist deputies to the legislature. The Equality Law of 1898 made Flemish an official language, on a par with French. Social legislation benefited from the improving economic climate of the 1890s. The Flemish provinces were now fully engaged in the Industrial Revolution, the mechanization process having penetrated into the textile industries of the small towns and villages.

      Belgian industry, dominated by powerful financial groups, began to assume worldwide importance and was active in Asia and Latin America, as well as in Europe. In Africa, King Leopold II acquired the Congo Free State as a personal possession in 1885. While employing brutal methods to suppress rebellion, Leopold's regime forced the Congolese to work in mines and to gather rubber, palm oil, and ivory for export. The completion in 1898 of the Matadi-Léopoldville (now Kinshasa) railroad, which facilitated access to the interior of the Congo River basin, prompted Belgian banks to push for annexation by the Belgian government. Mounting international indignation over Leopold's harsh rule of the Congo Free State eventually forced the king to hand over his control to the Belgian parliament in 1908.

      The rivalry between France and Germany in the period 1870–1914 constituted a continuous danger to neutral Belgium. King Leopold II and his successor, King Albert I, sought vigorously to strengthen the Belgian armed forces but met resistance from the Belgian Catholic Party governments, which reflected the antimilitaristic sentiments of their grassroots constituency. In 1909 the army recruitment system, which until then had favoured the wealthy by allowing them to hire substitutes for military service, was finally reformed.

Through two world wars
Belgium and World War I
      As international tensions heightened during the summer of 1914, Germany made plans to besiege France by crossing Luxembourg and Belgium, despite their neutrality. The two countries refused free passage to the German troops and were invaded on August 2 and August 4, respectively. The Belgian army retired behind the Yser (IJzer) River (Yser River) in the west of Flanders and held this position until 1918. During the war, the Belgian government sat at Le Havre, France, while King Albert I, as commander in chief of the army, remained with his troops in unoccupied Belgium. In 1916 the Belgian Catholic Party government was enlarged to include some Socialists and Liberals. Germany attempted to profit from Flemish-Walloon antagonism in Belgium by supporting the Flemish Activists, a radical nationalist group that accepted the German offer of assistance. Most Flemings, however, were resolutely hostile to collaboration with the enemy and refused to recognize either the Council of Flanders, founded during the occupation, or the University of Ghent, changed during the occupation from a French-language to a Flemish-language institution. (Shortly after liberation, the Belgian government made the State University of Ghent partially and then, in 1930, completely Flemish.) (See also World War I.)

The interwar period
      The Treaty of Versailles (Versailles, Treaty of) (1919), ending World War I, abolished Belgium's obligatory neutrality and returned the cantons of Eupen and Malmédy (Eupen-et-Malmédy) to its territory. In 1920 a treaty of military assistance was signed with France. In 1921 an economic union was concluded with Luxembourg that tied the currencies of Belgium and Luxembourg together. Belgium's eastern frontier was guaranteed by the Pact of Locarno (Locarno, Pact of) (1925). In Africa, Belgium received the mandate for Ruanda-Urundi, a part of German East Africa that Belgian colonial forces had occupied during World War I.

      On the domestic front, political democratization and trade unionism, as well as social legislation and the Flemish movement, gathered momentum in postwar Belgium. Upon their return to Brussels in November 1918, the king and his government announced the introduction of absolute universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21, implying the abandonment of plural voting. The first elections held following this reform ended the Catholic domination of Belgian politics. Coalition governments, mostly Catholic-Liberal, were the rule in the interwar period. However, the Socialist Party, which had emerged during the social democracy movement of the late 19th century, became increasingly prominent. The anti-Bolshevist climate of the time, nonetheless, resulted in a persisting aversion to socialism among the middle class. The Belgian Socialists and the Liberals both opposed woman suffrage, regarding it as most advantageous to the Belgian Catholic Party. (Only in 1948 did Belgian women gain the right to vote in national elections.) Within the Belgian Catholic Party, the centre of gravity shifted during the interwar period from the old conservative camp to the Christian Democratic wing as Christian trade unionism experienced a significant upsurge. Both Christian Democrats and Socialists stimulated social legislation, especially during the years of Socialist participation in the government.

      The Belgian economy of the interwar period faced serious difficulties. The war had caused a loss of 16 to 20 percent of the national wealth; not only had parts of the country been seriously damaged by combat, but the Germans had largely dismantled the Walloon heavy industry. Moreover, many Belgian investors had lost their capital in Russia, which had been transformed by revolution into the Soviet Union. Reconstruction proved difficult for other reasons as well. Germany was delinquent and inadequate in its payment of war reparations mandated by the Treaty of Versailles. The National Bank of Belgium, in an effort to redress the shortfall, advanced on behalf of the Belgian government the money needed for reconstruction. In so doing, however, the bank increased still further the money supply and the government's already massive short-term debt, which had originated from the conversion into Belgian francs of the German marks circulating in Belgium at war's end. Under such circumstances, inflation was inevitable. Soaring exchange rates generated an acute flight of capital and an imbalance of payments. Inflation also eroded the increase in real wages, which the Socialists and Christian Democrats had been able to obtain in the democratization euphoria of the immediate postwar years.

      The government, which had originally hoped to restore the gold standard at its prewar parity level, soon realized that such a policy had become impossible. Increasing monetary and financial instability and fear of hyperinflation with possibly dangerous social consequences led to the formation in 1925 of a national union government, intent on restoring the gold standard but at a more realistic parity level. The reform failed, precipitating the fall of the government in March 1926. The subsequent Catholic-Liberal coalition government succeeded in restoring the gold standard on Oct. 22, 1926, at 20 percent of its prewar level. Belgian capital returned to the country, and, because of the franc's undervaluation, much foreign capital flowed in as well. Belgian companies, infused with fresh capital, began to invest again outside Belgium, under the leadership of the mixed banks. The discovery of rich mineral deposits in the Belgian Congo made colonial development schemes increasingly attractive. Large-scale investments in southeastern and south-central Europe partly replaced the lost Russian accounts. Owing to the franc's undervaluation, the export industries in Flanders and Wallonia also were booming. The overall prosperity generated speculative excesses, particularly on the Brussels Exchange, which was now an important capital market.

      The perceived neglect of and discrimination against Flemish soldiers at the Yser front during the war, coupled with the lack of official response to postwar Flemish demands, caused a marked shift to the right among many Flemings. In 1930 the Belgian government acquiesced somewhat to the pressure, making Flanders and Wallonia legally unilingual regions, with only Brussels and its surroundings remaining bilingual. The arrangement left the linguistic borders unfixed, the government's hope being that the Frenchification of central Belgium would continue and allow eventually for enlargement of the French-speaking region.

      The Belgian economy was, of course, jolted by the stock market crash of 1929 in the United States, but Britain's decision two years later to abandon the gold standard and allow the pound to float affected the country much more severely. Still traumatized by the experience of the 1920s, the Belgian government decided to maintain the gold parity of 1926, which left the franc seriously overvalued as the pound sterling and dollar fell. Belgian exports declined sharply, as did business profits and investments, while unemployment soared, heightening the atmosphere of social unrest. Only in March 1935 would the government abandon its policy of maintaining the franc at its 1926 level; the gold value of the franc was devalued by 28 percent.

      With the onset of the Great Depression, the Socialist Party advocated a program of economic planning in accordance with the ideas of the socialist theorist Hendrik de Man. At the same time, there emerged two Belgian parties: a strictly Flemish party that enjoyed little success and the broader-based Rexists under the leadership of Léon Degrelle (Degrelle, Léon). The latter party won 21 seats, more than 10 percent of the chamber, in the elections of 1936. Strikes broke out in the same year and led the tripartite government of Paul van Zeeland to establish paid holidays for workers and a 40-hour workweek for miners. Also in 1936, the first National Labour Convention marked the starting point of an institutionalized dialogue between the so-called social partners (employers, trade unions, and government).

      Meanwhile, King Leopold III, who succeeded his father, Albert I, in 1934, faced an increasingly tense international situation. Leopold advocated a policy of neutrality aimed at keeping Belgium from the seemingly inevitable conflict. Although this policy was approved by the parliament, Belgium, in its determination to resist all aggression, constructed a line of defense from Namur to Antwerp.

Nazi occupation
      On May 10, 1940 (World War II), Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands. The Netherlands capitulated after 6 days, Belgium after 18. France, which along with Britain had sent troops to Belgium, had to lay down arms three weeks later. The British troops, covered by the Belgian army, retreated from Dunkirk, France, in particularly dramatic circumstances. The Belgian government fled the country, first to France, in hopes of being able to return to occupied Belgium, and later to London. King Leopold III, commander in chief of the army, refused to follow the government and was taken prisoner by the Germans and confined to his palace at Laeken. The four years of ensuing Nazi occupation were distinguished by a growing resistance organization. When the Allied forces reached Belgium on Sept. 3, 1944, the Belgian underground army was able to prevent the destruction of the port of Antwerp, which served as the most important continental provisioning point for Allied troops for the remainder of the war. (See also World War II.)

Belgium after World War II
      Because of the limited extent of its war damage, estimated at only 8 percent of the national wealth, and the implementation of a vigorous government policy, Belgium experienced a remarkable economic resurgence in the early postwar years. Monetary reform kept inflation under control, and liberalization of the domestic economy quickly returned the market mechanisms to the centre of the industrial, agricultural, and commercial activities. In the climate of recovery, social legislation won the support of both unions and employers.

      The investigation of wartime economic and especially political collaboration with Germany resulted in large-scale purges and the detention of many citizens. The extreme rightist parties disappeared from the political scene. The Communist Party, having identified very early with the resistance movement, experienced a short-lived growth, taking part in coalition governments between 1944 and 1947; the anticommunist reflex during the Cold War brought this interlude to an end.

      Despite the economic revival, political stability deteriorated, notably over the “royal question.” In 1944, at the time of the Allied offensive, the Germans had transferred King Leopold III to Austria, where he was held until 1945. The government, upon returning to Brussels in early September 1944, conferred the regency on the king's brother, Prince Charles. After the war Leopold remained in exile in Switzerland until the “royal question” could be resolved. Generally speaking, the Flemish were the king's partisans and the Walloons his opponents. The Christian Democrats favoured the king's return, while the Socialists and Liberals opposed it. In 1950 a referendum showed that nearly 58 percent of the voters approved of the return of the sovereign, but the king's arrival that year signaled virtual civil war in the Walloon country. In August 1950 Leopold appointed his eldest son, Prince Baudouin (Baudouin I), to rule temporarily in his place. In July 1951 he abdicated, and Baudouin officially assumed the title of king.

      The composition of the government continued to fluctuate, although from the 1950s onward the Christian Democrats maintained a continuous presence, often in coalition with the Socialists. Various nationalist parties emerged—a Flemish one in 1954 and two French-language parties in the 1960s. Eventually the three traditional parties—the Social Christians, the Liberals, and the Socialists—each split along linguistic lines, rendering the political decision-making process increasingly complicated.

      The policy of the postwar Belgian governments, apart from the “royal question” settled in 1951, was dominated by five major issues: consolidation of the mixed economy, the ideological controversy concerning education, the process of decolonization, the matter of language and regional autonomy, and Belgium's role in the new postwar supranational organizations. In 1948 Belgium joined with The Netherlands and Luxembourg in the Benelux Economic Union, which had been conceived in 1944 in London. The country became a signatory of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 and three years later joined the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1957 Belgium signed the Treaties of Rome (Rome, Treaties of), which it had helped to formulate, becoming a member of both the European Economic Community (later the European Community, now embedded in the European Union) and the European Atomic Energy Community.

      During the late 1950s, growing opposition to colonial rule in the Belgian Congo led to large-scale demonstrations in Léopoldville. The Belgian government accelerated the process of political emancipation of its colonies, granting independence to the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo)) in June 1960 and to Ruanda-Urundi (now the countries of Rwanda and Burundi) in July 1962.

      The education controversy became critical once again in the second half of the 1950s. The Socialist-Liberal coalition simultaneously cut subsidies to private (mainly Catholic) secondary schools and promoted a major extension of the state's secondary education system. After the defeat of the Socialists and Liberals in the 1958 election, a “School Pact” was signed under the initiative of the new Social Christian prime minister, Gaston Eyskens (Eyskens, Gaston). This compromise measure, which authorized extension of the state secondary schools while guaranteeing conditional state subsidies for their private counterparts, marked the onset of an enduring ideological pacification in the country.

      Following the “miracle recovery” of the late 1940s, Belgium's economic surge subsided. The consolidation of the mixed economy, aimed at linking economic growth with a more equitable distribution of income and with an increase in the supply of public goods and social benefits, had been successful, but at the cost of rising wages and a heavier tax burden. Continued reliance on the aging Walloon heavy industry, coupled with a declining investment rate, seriously compromised the competitive power of the Belgian economy, reducing its growth rate to a level near that of Britain's.

      Participation in the European customs union from 1958 gradually reversed the unfavourable economic trend by enlarging the market for Belgian products. An explicit expansion policy by the government was also a contributing factor. Prime Minister Eyskens reformed the state finances and launched an active policy of regional economic development in 1959. The Flemish sector, unencumbered by the rigid industrial structure that characterized Wallonia, attracted foreign investment on a large scale from the United States, from Belgium's European Community partners, and subsequently from Japan. Meanwhile, it was generous state subsidies that kept Walloon heavy industry alive.

      The growing economic disparity between the two regions intensified dissatisfaction with the unitary state system. The Flemings (Fleming and Walloon) opposed subsidizing an ailing regional economy that lacked any prospect of structural industrial reform. The Walloons, in turn, feared that the more numerous and prosperous Flemings would soon dominate the state. Linguistic and economic tensions were now inextricable. As a consequence of massive strikes in Wallonia in early 1961, an immovable linguistic border was defined by an act of parliament in 1962–63, and a new special arrangement was elaborated for the bilingual area around Brussels.

Federalized Belgium
      After tensions led to the division of the still bilingual University of Louvain into a Flemish-speaking campus on Flemish territory and a French-speaking campus on Walloon territory in 1969–70, a slow but definitive process of federalization got under way. The parliament accorded cultural autonomy to the Flemish and Walloon regions in 1971. A revision of the constitution nine years later allowed for the creation of an independent administration within each region. Another revision of the constitution in 1988–89 extended regional autonomy to encompass the economy and education. It also gave the bilingual metropolitan area of Brussels the status of a third independent region with its own administration and changed Belgium explicitly into a federal state. This transformation was finalized with the St. Michael's Agreement (September 1992), which also called for the division of Brabant into two provinces (Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant).

      The acceleration of the federalization process during the 1980s was influenced to a large extent by economic factors. The oil crises of 1973 and 1979–80 and the ensuing world recession stunned Belgium's decidedly open economy. A coalition government formed in 1981 by the Liberals and the Social Christians pursued a program of restrictive monetarism and structural reform: the Belgian franc was devalued (1982), and the increase in the money supply was brought under control by cutting public services and by ending governmental subsidies to the old industries. Within three years Belgian industry had regained its competitiveness, owing to a combination of government policy, improvement in the world economy, and the dynamism of Europe as it moved toward a more complete economic unification.

      King Baudouin (Baudouin I), who played a role in maintaining national unity by pacifying the contentious Flemish- and French-speaking communities, died on July 31, 1993. He was succeeded by his brother, Albert II. During the 1990s, Belgium continued to struggle with its so-called language problem. Struggles over the nature and form of power devolution to language regions and communities attracted significant attention, and the federalization of so many aspects of Belgian political and social life promoted linguistic regionalism. Some even began to question whether Belgium can or should remain a single state.

 At the same time, Belgium's immigrant population grew during the 1990s—bolstered by an influx of refugees, first from unrest in Bosnia and then from that in Kosovo. There was evidence of growing social tension related to this influx, and during the early 1990s anti-immigrant groups gained greater support—only to see that support fade somewhat by the end of the decade. Indeed, in 2000 the Belgian government offered an amnesty to illegal immigrants who had resided in Belgium for a minimum number of years. Moreover, in 2006 a large demonstration against racism in Antwerp, prompted by the murder in May of a Malian nanny and a Belgian toddler, revealed the dedication of many Belgians to a multicultural society.

      Several laws passed in the early 21st century further reflected reformist attitudes. Gay marriage became legal; same-sex couples (same-sex marriage) were permitted to adopt children; the private use of cannabis was decriminalized; and euthanasia was legalized.

      The central role of Belgium (particularly Brussels) in the European unity project became more apparent, with massive urban renewal projects initiated in Brussels to make room for the expanding European Union administrative corps. Brussels increasingly has assumed the role of administrative “Capital of Europe,” giving that city a special role in international affairs and providing an antidote to the growing internal fragmentation of Belgium itself. In the process, Belgians tended to define their interests increasingly in international terms.

Herman F.A. Van der Wee Emiel L. Lamberts Jan Maria Juul Materné Leen Van Molle Alexander B. Murphy
      In 2007 the continued existence of a federalized Belgium was called into question after the Flemish Christian Democrats, victors in the June parliamentary elections, failed to form a governing coalition. After six months of political deadlock that threatened to end in the breakup of the country, King Albert II asked caretaker prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, head of the defeated Flemish Liberals and Democrats, to form an interim government. A new coalition government, made up of five French- and Flemish-speaking parties and led by the Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, finally took power in March 2008. Leterme pledged to increase the governmental powers of the country's regions but was met with resistance from French-speaking parties, who saw the reforms as more beneficial to Flanders than to Wallonia. In July of that year Leterme offered to step down as prime minister, but the king rejected the resignation. Political turmoil—fueled by allegations of the government's questionable involvement in the bailout and sale of the Belgian portion of a financial firm—continued through the end of 2008. In December Leterme resigned, and a fellow Flemish Christian Democrat, Herman Van Rompuy, replaced him as prime minister.

Ed.

Additional Reading

Geography
General Works
Overviews of all aspects of the country are contained in Marina Boudart, Michel Boudart, and René Bryssinck (eds.), Modern Belgium (1990); Stephen B. Wickman (ed.), Belgium: A Country Study, 2nd ed. (1984); Vernon Mallinson, Belgium (1969), detailed and well documented; and Frank E. Huggett, Modern Belgium (1969), thorough and discerning. R.C. Riley (compiler), Belgium (1989), is a bibliography. Important aspects of the impact of the European Union on Brussels are highlighted in A.G. Papadopoulos, Urban Regimes and Strategies: Building Europe's Central Executive District in Brussels (1996).An introduction to the geography of Belgium is provided by Comité National de Géographie (Belgium), Tweede atlas van Belgie, also called Deuxième atlas de Belgique (1984), a detailed compilation of thematic maps with accompanying text in French, Dutch, English, and German. Raymond Riley, Belgium (1976), studies the country's economic geography.

Aspects of the language problem and nationalist movements in Belgium are explored in Kas Deprez and Louis Vos (eds.), Nationalism in Belgium, Shifting Identities, 1780–1995 (1998); Liesbet Hooghe, A Leap in the Dark: Nationalist Conflict and Federal Reform in Belgium (1991); Alexander B. Murphy, The Regional Dynamics of Language Differentiation in Belgium (1988), a political geographic treatment; Kenneth D. McRae, Conflict and Compromise in Multilingual Societies: Belgium (1986), a detailed review of language and politics in Belgium; Arend Lijphart (ed.), Conflict and Coexistence in Belgium: The Dynamics of a Culturally Divided Society (1981), articles by a variety of Belgian and American scholars; John Fitzmaurice, The Politics of Belgium: A Unique Federalism (1996); Shepard B. Clough, A History of the Flemish Movement in Belgium: A Study in Nationalism (1930, reissued 1968); and M. de Vroede, The Flemish Movement in Belgium (1975; originally published in French, 1975).

Government and Society
Information on Belgium's constitution and administrative structure may be found in André Alen (ed.), Treatise on Belgian Constitutional Law (1992). The ideological conflict is well covered in Vernon Mallinson, Power & Politics in Belgian Education, 1815–1961 (1963).

History
Henri Pirenne, Histoire de Belgique, 7 vol. (1900–32), remains the standard scholarly history. A general history covering the period from the late Middle Ages to the present is Bernard A. Cook, Belgium: A History (2002).The period of Burgundian Netherlands to 1795 is discussed in the context of political history by Henri Pirenne, Early Democracies in the Low Countries: Urban Society and Political Conflict in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (1963, reissued 1971; originally published in French, 1910); and from a social and economic perspective by Herman van der Wee, The Growth of the Antwerp Market and the European Economy (Fourteenth–Sixteenth Centuries), 3 vol. (1963); Herman van der Wee (ed.), The Rise and Decline of Urban Industries in Italy and in the Low Countries: Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times (1988); Herman van der Wee and Eddy van Cauwenberghe (eds.), Productivity of Land and Agricultural Innovation in the Low Countries, 1250–1800 (1978); and Janet L. Polasky, Revolution in Brussels, 1787–1793 (1987).Belgian history from 1795 to the present is covered in E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries, 1780–1940 (1978). Another general work on this period is Émile Cammaerts, The Keystone of Europe: History of the Belgian Dynasty, 1830–1939 (1939), on the foundation and development of independent Belgium. Aspects of Belgian foreign policy and colonial policy are addressed by Jonathan E. Helmreich, Belgium and Europe: A Study in Small Power Diplomacy (1976); Daniel H. Thomas, The Guarantee of Belgian Independence and Neutrality in European Diplomacy, 1830's–1930's (1983); and Martin Ewans, European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State and Its Aftermath (2002). The World War I period is covered in Larry Zuckerman, The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I (2004). Modern social and economic history is discussed in Guido L. de Brabander, Regional Specialization, Employment, and Economic Growth in Belgium from 1846 to 1970 (1981); Robin L. Hogg, Structural Rigidities and Policy Inertia in Inter-war Belgium (1986); and Ron J. Lesthaeghe, The Decline of Belgian Fertility, 1800–1970 (1977).Alexander B. Murphy

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Universalium. 2010.

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