Belgium

Introduction Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830; it was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country 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.
History

The area of present-day Belgium has seen significant demographic, political and cultural upheavals over the course of two millennia. In the first century, the Romans, after defeating the local tribes, created the province of Gallia Belgica. A gradual immigration by Germanic Frankish tribes during the 5th century, brought the area under the rule of the Merovingian kingdom, which evolved into the Carolingian Empire in the 8th century. During the Middle Ages small feudal states emerged, many of which rejoined as the Burgundian Netherlands in the 14th and 15th centuries. Emperor Charles V completed the union of the Seventeen Provinces in the 1540s, and unofficially also controlled the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.[14]

The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) divided the area into the northern United Provinces ('federate' Belgica Foederata in Latin) and the Southern Netherlands ('royal' Belgica Regia). The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish and the Austrian Habsburgs and comprised most of modern Belgium. Until independence the area was sought after by numerous French conquerors and was the theatre of most Franco-Spanish and Franco-Austrian wars during the 17th and 18th centuries.[15] Following the campaigns of 1794 in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Low Countries — including territories that were never nominally under Habsburg rule, such as the Prince-Bishopric of Liège — were annexed by the French First Republic, ending Spanish-Austrian rule in the region. The reunification of the Low Countries as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands occurred at the dissolution of the First French Empire in 1815.

The 1830 Belgian Revolution led to the establishment of an independent, Catholic, and neutral Belgium under a provisional government and a national congress. Since the installation of Leopold I as king in 1831, Belgium has been a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. Initially an oligarchy ruled mainly by the Catholic Party and the Liberals, the country had evolved towards universal suffrage by World War II with the rise of the Belgian Labour Party and trade unions playing a strong role. French, once the single official language and adopted by the nobility and the bourgeoisie, had by then lost its overall importance as Dutch had become recognized as well. However, it was not until 1967 that an official Dutch version of the Constitution was accepted.[16]

The Berlin Conference of 1885 gave the Congo Free State to King Leopold II as his private possession. In 1908, it was ceded to Belgium as a colony, henceforth called the Belgian Congo. Belgian control of the Congolese population, particularly under Leopold II, was savage, and the country was plundered of resources such as ivory and rubber.[17]

Germany invaded Belgium in 1914, as part of the Schlieffen Plan, and much of the Western Front fighting of World War I occurred in western parts of the country. Belgium took over the German colonies of Ruanda-Urundi (modern day Rwanda and Burundi) during the war, and they were mandated to Belgium in 1924 by the League of Nations, of which it was a founding member. The Treaty of Versailles had subjected several German border towns, most notably Eupen and Malmedy, to a plebiscite, which led to their annexation by Belgium in 1925, thereby causing the presence of a small German community. Belgium was again invaded by Germany in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg offensive, and occupied until its liberation by Allied troops in the winter of 1944–1945. The Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960 during the Congo Crisis; Ruanda-Urundi followed two years later.

After World War II, Belgium joined NATO as a founder member, headquartered at Brussels, and formed the Benelux group of nations with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Belgium became one of the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951,and of the 1957 established European Atomic Energy Community and European Economic Community. The latter is now the European Union, for which Belgium hosts major administrations and institutions, including the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the extraordinary and committee sessions of the European Parliament.

Geography 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: 30,528 sq km
land: 30,278 sq km
water: 250 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: 66.5 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: geographic coordinates define outer limit
continental shelf: median line with neighbors
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: construction materials, silica sand, carbonates
Land use: arable land: 27.42%
permanent crops: 0.69%
other: 71.89%
note: includes Luxembourg (2005)
Irrigated land: 400 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 20.8 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 7.44 cu km/yr (13%/85%/1%)
per capita: 714 cu m/yr (1998)
Natural hazards: flooding is a threat along rivers and 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, extensive 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 agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
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
Politics

Belgium is a constitutional, popular monarchy and a parliamentary democracy.

In the 19th century, the Francophile political and economic elite treated the Dutch-speaking population as second class citizens. At the end of the 19th century, and during much of the 20th century, the Flemish movement evolved to counter this situation. Following World War II, Belgian politics became increasingly dominated by the autonomy of its two main language communities. Intercommunal tensions rose and even the unity of the Belgian state became scrutinized.[5] Through constitutional reforms in the 1970s and 1980s, regionalization of the unitary state led to a three-tiered federation: federal, regional, and community governments were created, a compromise designed to minimize linguistic, cultural, social and economic tensions.[18]

The federal bicameral parliament is composed of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. The former is made up of 40 directly elected politicians and 21 representatives appointed by the 3 community parliaments, 10 coopted senators and as senators by Right who in practice do not cast their vote, currently Prince Philippe, Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent, children of the King. The Chamber's 150 representatives are elected under a proportional voting system from 11 electoral districts. Belgium is one of the few countries that has compulsory voting, and thus holds one of the highest rates of voter turnout in the world.[19]

The King (currently Albert II) is the head of state, though with limited prerogatives. He appoints ministers, including a Prime Minister, that have the confidence of the Chamber of Representatives to form the federal government. The numbers of Dutch- and French-speaking ministers are equal as prescribed by the Constitution.[20] The judicial system is based on civil law and originates from the Napoleonic code. The Court of Cassation is the court of last resort, with the Court of Appeal one level below.

Belgium's political institutions are complex; most political power is organized around the need to represent the main cultural communities. Since around 1970, the significant national Belgian political parties have split into distinct components that mainly represent the political and linguistic interests of these communities. The major parties in each community, though close to the political centre, belong to three main groups: the right-wing Liberals, the socially conservative Christian Democrats, and the Socialists forming the left-wing. Further notable parties came into being well after the middle of last century, mainly around linguistic, nationalist, or environmental themes, and recently smaller ones of some specific liberal nature.

A string of Christian Democrat coalition governments from 1958 was broken in 1999 after the first dioxin crisis, a major food contamination scandal that led to the establishment of the Belgian Food Agency.[21][22] A 'rainbow coalition' emerged from six parties: the Flemish and the French-speaking Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens.[23] Later, a 'purple coalition' of Liberals and Social Democrats formed after the Greens lost most of their seats in the 2003 election.[24] The government led by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt from 1999 to 2007 achieved a balanced budget, some tax-reforms, a labour-market reform, scheduled nuclear phase-out, and instigated legislation allowing more stringent war crime and more lenient soft drug usage prosecution. Restrictions on withholding euthanasia were reduced and same-sex marriage legalized. The government promoted active diplomacy in Africa[25] and opposed the invasion of Iraq.[26] Verhofstadt's coalition fared badly in the June 2007 elections. Since then the country has been experiencing a long-lasting political crisis.[27] This crisis is such that many observers have speculated on a possible partition of Belgium. Since December 21, 2007 the Verhofstadt III Government has been in office. This coalition of the Flemish and Francophone Christian Democrats, the Flemish and Francophone Liberals together with the Francophone Social Democrats was an interim government until 20 March 2008. On that day a new government, led by Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, the actual winner of the federal elections of June 2007, was sworn in by the King.

In its 2007 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Belgium (along with Finland and Sweden) 5th out of 169 countries

People Population: 10,392,226 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 16.5% (male 873,130/female 836,785)
15-64 years: 66.1% (male 3,467,044/female 3,406,030)
65 years and over: 17.4% (male 746,969/female 1,062,268) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 41.1 years
male: 39.9 years
female: 42.4 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.12% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 10.29 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 10.32 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 1.22 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.043 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.018 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.703 male(s)/female
total population: 0.959 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 4.56 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 5.13 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 3.96 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.92 years
male: 75.75 years
female: 82.24 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.64 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.2% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 10,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: less than 100 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Belgian(s)
adjective: Belgian
Ethnic groups: Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%
Religions: Roman Catholic 75%, other (includes Protestant) 25%
Languages: Dutch (official) 60%, French (official) 40%, German (official) less than 1%, legally bilingual (Dutch and French)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Kingdom of Belgium
conventional short form: Belgium
local long form: Royaume de Belgique/Koninkrijk Belgie
local short form: Belgique/Belgie
Government type: federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy
Capital: name: Brussels
geographic coordinates: 50 50 N, 4 20 E
time difference: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October
Administrative divisions: 10 provinces (French: provinces, singular - province; Dutch: provincies, singular - provincie) and 3 regions* (French: regions; Dutch: gewesten); Brussels* (Bruxelles) capital region; Flanders* region (five provinces): Antwerpen (Antwerp), Limburg, Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders), Vlaams-Brabant (Flemish Brabant), West-Vlaanderen (West Flanders); Wallonia* region (five provinces): Brabant Wallon (Walloon Brabant), Hainaut, Liege, Luxembourg, Namur
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
Independence: 4 October 1830 (a provisional government declared independence from the Netherlands); 21 July 1831 (King LEOPOLD I ascended to the throne)
National holiday: 21 July (1831) ascension to the Throne of King Leopold I
Constitution: 7 February 1831; amended many times; revised 14 July 1993 to create a federal state
Legal system: based on 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); note - is head of an interim government until the end of March when it is hoped a new government will be formed
cabinet: Council of Ministers are formally appointed by the monarch
elections: none; the monarchy is hereditary and constitutional; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the monarch and then approved by parliament
note: government formation talks have been prolonged, but the current interim goverment consists of French and Flemish Christian Democrats or CD&V and CDh, Liberals or Open VLD and MR, and French Socialists or PS
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; to 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 10 June 2007 (next to be held no later than June 2011)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - CDV/N-VA 19.4%, Open VLD 12.4%, MR 12.3%, VB 11.9%, PS 10.2%, SP.A-Spirit 10%, CDH 5.9%, Ecolo 5.8%, Groen! 3.6%, Dedecker List 3.4%, FN 2.3%, other 2.8%; seats by party - CDV/N-VA 9, Open VLD 5, MR 6, VB 5, PS 4, SP.A-Spririt 4, CDH 2, Ecolo 2, Groen! 1, Dedecker List 1, FN 1 (note - there are also 31 indirectly elected senators); Chamber of Deputies - percent of vote by party - CDV/N-VA 18.5%, MR 12.5%, VB 12%, Open VLD 11.8%, PS 10.9%, SP.A-Spirit 10.3%, CDH 6.1%, Ecolo 5.1%, Dedecker List 4%, Groen! 4%, FN 2%, other 2.8%; seats by party - CDV/N-VA 30, MR 23, VB 17, Open VLD 18, PS 20, SP.A-Spirit 14, CDH 10, Ecolo 8, Dedecker List 5, Groen! 4, FN 1
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
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 government; candidacies have to be submitted by the High Justice Council)
Political parties and leaders: Flemish parties: Christian Democratic and Flemish or CDV [Etienne SCHOUPPE]; Dedecker List [Jean-Marie DEDECKER]; Flemish Liberals and Democrats or Open VLD [Bart SOMERS]; Groen! [Mieke VOGELS] (formerly AGALEV, Flemish Greens); New Flemish Alliance or N-VA [Bart DE WEVER]; Social Progressive Alternative or SP.A [Caroline GENNEZ]; Spirit [Geert LAMBERT] (new party now associated with SP.A); Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) or VB [Bruno VALKENIERS]
Francophone parties: Ecolo (Francophone Greens) [Jean-Michel JAVAUX, Isabelle DURANT, Claude BROUIR]; Humanist and Democratic Center or CDH [Joelle MILQUET]; National Front or FN [Michel BELACROIX]; Reform Movement or MR [Didier REYNDERS]; Socialist Party or PS [Elio DI RUPO]; other minor parties
Political pressure groups and leaders: Christian, Socialist, and Liberal Trade 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 participation: ACCT, ADB (nonregional members), AfDB, Australia Group, Benelux, BIS, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G- 9, G-10, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OIF, OPCW, OSCE, Paris Club, PCA, Schengen Convention, SECI (observer), UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL, UNRWA, UNTSO, UPU, WADB (nonregional), WCL, WCO, WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Dominique STRUYE DE SWIELANDE
chancery: 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 333-6900
FAX: [1] (202) 338-4960
consulate(s) general: Los Angeles, New York
consulate(s): Atlanta
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Sam FOX
embassy: Regentlaan 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
note: the design was based on the flag of France
Culture

Belgian cultural life is concentrated within each language community,[11][76][77] and a variety of barriers have made a shared cultural sphere less pronounced. There has been since the 1970s no bilingual universities except the Royal Military Academy, no common media, and no single large cultural or scientific organization in which both main communities are represented. Despite its political and linguistic divisions that have been strongly changing during the centuries, the region corresponding to today's Belgium has seen the flourishing of major artistic movements that have had tremendous influence on European art and culture.

Fine arts

Contributions to painting and architecture have been especially rich. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish,[78] the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting,[79] and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture[80] are milestones in the history of art. Famous names in this classic tradition include the Flemish artists Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and, Pieter Brueghel the Elder as well as Lambert Lombard and Theodore de Bry from Liège. The historical artistic production of the Flemish before the early seventeenth century Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck is often not distinguished from that of the Dutch nor of the Walloons. In the southern Netherlands it gradually declined thereafter, although high quality tapestry continued to be created until well into the eighteenth century.[81][82]

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters emerged, including Egide Wappers, James Ensor, Constant Permeke and René Magritte. The avant-garde CoBrA movement appeared in the 1950s, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art.[83][84] The multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre and the painter Luc Tuymans are other internationally renowned figures on the contemporary art scene. Belgian contributions to architecture also continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, who were major initiators of the Art Nouveau style.[85][86]

The vocal music of the Franco-Flemish School developed in the southern part of the Low Countries and was an important contribution to Renaissance culture.[87] The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the appearance of major violinists, such as Henri Vieuxtemps, Eugène Ysaÿe and Arthur Grumiaux, while Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1846. The composer César Franck was born in Liège in 1822. Belgium has also produced music of contemporary note. The first Belgian singer to successfully pursue an international career is Bobbejaan Schoepen, pioneer of varieté and pop music.[88] Jazz musician Toots Thielemans has achieved global fame, as have the singers Jacques Brel and Italy-born Adamo.[89] In rock/pop music, Telex, Front 242, K's Choice, Hooverphonic, Zap Mama, Soulwax and dEUS are well known.[90]

Belgium has produced several well-known authors, including the poet Emile Verhaeren and novelists Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon, Suzanne Lilar and Amélie Nothomb. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé is the best known of Franco-Belgian comics, but many other major authors, including Peyo (the smurfs), André Franquin, Edgar P. Jacobs, Marc Sleen, and Willy Vandersteen brought the Belgian cartoon strip industry on a par with the U.S.A. and Japan.

Belgian cinema, often influenced by the Dutch or French, has brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to life on-screen.[91] The absence of a major Belgian cinema company, however, has forced several talented directors to emigrate, such as Carl Colpaert or participate in low-budget productions such as Marc Didden's Brussels by Night (1983).[92] Other Belgian directors include André Delvaux, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; well-known actors include Jan Decleir and Marie Gillain; and successful films include Man Bites Dog and The Alzheimer Affair.[93] In the 1980s, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts produced important fashion trendsetters, known as the Antwerp Six.[94]

Folklore

The Gilles of Binche, in costume, wearing wax masks

Folklore plays a major role in Belgium's cultural life: the country has a comparatively high number of processions, cavalcades, parades, 'ommegangs' and 'ducasses',[95] 'kermesse', and other local festivals, nearly always with an originally religious background. The Carnival of Binche with its famous Gilles, and the 'Processional Giants and Dragons' of Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons are recognized by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.[96] Other examples are the Carnival of Aalst; the still very religious processions of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Virga Jesse in Hasselt, and Hanswijk in Mechelen; the August 15 festival in Liège; and the Walloon festival in Namur. Originated in 1832 and revived in the 1960s, the Gentse Feesten have become a modern tradition. A major non-official holiday is the Saint Nicholas Day, a festivity for children and, in Liège, for students.[97]

Sports

Football (soccer) and cycling are especially popular amongst Belgians. Eddy Merckx is widely considered the greatest cyclist ever,[98] given five victories of the Tour de France and numerous other bicycle races records; his hour speed record set in 1972 stood for twelve years. Belgium has produced two female tennis champions who repeatedly ranked number one of the world, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.

The Spa-Francorchamps motor-racing circuit hosts the Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix. The Belgian driver Jacky Ickx won eight Grands Prix and six 24 Hours of Le Mans, and twice finished as runner-up in the Formula One World Championship. Thierry Boutsen also won three races in 1989 and 1990. Belgium also has a strong reputation in motocross; world champions include Roger De Coster, Joël Robert, Georges Jobé, Eric Geboers, Joël Smets and Stefan Everts.

The 1920 Summer Olympics were held in Antwerp, Belgium.

Belgium has played a major part in the promotion and development of Duathlon. More specifically Benny Vansteelant has made a lasting legacy conquering a stunning 8 World Champion titles and 5 European Champion titles.

Cuisine

Belgium is well known for its cuisine.[99][100] Many highly ranked restaurants can be found in the high-impact gastronomic guides, such as the Michelin Guide.[101] Belgian food is, like the country itself, a mix of Germanic and Latin influences. Belgians have a reputation for loving waffles and French fries; contrary to the name of the latter, both dishes originated in Belgium. The national dishes are steak-fries with salad, and mussels-fries.[102][103][104] Other local dishes include the Mitraillette. A challenge for a television program caused no less than 307 different local or regional dishes to be presented on a 118-metre long table in Tivoli Park in Mechelen on 1 September 2007.[105]

Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Callebaut, Côte d'Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas, Guylian and Godiva, are world renowned and widely sold.

Belgium produces over 500 varieties of beer. The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Inbev based in Belgium.

Economy 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. Roughly three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Public debt is more than 85% of GDP. On the positive side, the government has succeeded in balancing its budget, and income distribution is relatively equal. Belgium began circulating the euro currency in January 2002. Economic growth in 2001-03 dropped sharply because of the global economic slowdown, with moderate recovery in 2004-07. Economic growth and foreign direct investment are expected to slow down in 2008, due to credit tightening, falling consumer and business confidence, and above average inflation. However, with the successful negotiation of the 2008 budget and devolution of power within the government, political tensions seem to be easing and could lead to an improvement in the economic outlook for 2008.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $378.9 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $442.8 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 2.7% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $36,500 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 1.1%
industry: 24.5%
services: 74.4% (2007 est.)
Labor force: 5.03 million (2007 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 2%
industry: 25%
services: 73% (2007 est.)
Unemployment rate: 7.6% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line: 15.2% (2007 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 3.4%
highest 10%: 28.4% (2006)
Distribution of family income - Gini index: 28 (2005)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 3.5% (2007 est.)
Investment (gross fixed): 21.4% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $217 billion
expenditures: $217.4 billion (2007 est.)
Public debt: 86.1% of GDP (2007 est.)
Agriculture - products: sugar beets, fresh vegetables, fruits, grain, tobacco; beef, veal, pork, milk
Industries: engineering and metal products, motor vehicle assembly, transportation equipment, scientific instruments, processed food and beverages, chemicals, basic metals, textiles, glass, petroleum
Industrial production growth rate: 3% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 80.84 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 38.4%
hydro: 0.6%
nuclear: 59.3%
other: 1.8% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 82.99 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - exports: 8.024 billion kWh (2005)
Electricity - imports: 14.33 billion kWh (2005)
Oil - production: 9,000 bbl/day (2006)
Oil - consumption: 591,000 bbl/day (2006 est.)
Oil - exports: 523,400 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 1.109 million bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 16.61 billion cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2005 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 17.27 billion cu m (2005)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006)
Current account balance: $11.04 billion (2007 est.)
Exports: $328.1 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products, foodstuffs
Exports - partners: Germany 19.7%, France 16.9%, Netherlands 12%, UK 7.9%, US 6.2%, Italy 5.2% (2006)
Imports: $320.9 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, oil products
Imports - partners: Netherlands 18.3%, Germany 17.3%, France 11.2%, UK 6.6%, Ireland 5.7%, US 5.4% (2006)
Economic aid - donor: ODA, $1.5 billion (2006)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $16.5 billion (2007 est.)
Debt - external: $1.313 trillion (30 June 2007)
Stock of direct foreign investment - at home: $633.5 billion (2006 est.)
Stock of direct foreign investment - abroad: $485.1 billion (2006 est.)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $422.7 billion (2006)
Currency (code): euro (EUR)
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
Exchange rates: euros per US dollar - 0.7345 (2007), 0.7964 (2006), 0.8041 (2005), 0.8054 (2004), 0.886 (2003)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 4.719 million (2006)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 9.66 million (2006)
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: country code - 32; landing point for a number of submarine cables that provide links to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia; satellite earth stations - 7 (Intelsat - 3) (2007)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 7, FM 79, 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 hosts: 3.195 million (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 61 (2000)
Internet users: 4.8 million (2005)
Transportation Airports: 43 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 27
over 3,047 m: 6
2,438 to 3,047 m: 7
1,524 to 2,437 m: 4
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 9 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 16
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 15 (2007)
Heliports: 1 (2007)
Pipelines: gas 1,562 km; oil 158 km; refined products 535 km (2007)
Railways: total: 3,536 km
standard gauge: 3,536 km 1.435-m gauge (2,950 km electrified) (2006)
Roadways: total: 150,567 km
paved: 117,442 km (includes 1,747 km of expressways)
unpaved: 33,125 km (2004)
Waterways: 2,043 km (1,528 km in regular commercial use) (2006)
Merchant marine: total: 68 ships (1000 GRT or over) 3,786,089 GRT/6,074,664 DWT
by type: bulk carrier 20, cargo 5, chemical tanker 2, container 9, liquefied gas 16, passenger 1, petroleum tanker 10, roll on/roll off 5
foreign-owned: 9 (Denmark 3, France 1, Germany 1, Greece 4)
registered in other countries: 123 (Bahamas 15, Bermuda 3, Cyprus 1, France 6, Gibraltar 3, Greece 16, Hong Kong 4, Liberia 1, Luxembourg 9, Malta 10, Marshall Islands 1, Mozambique 2, Netherlands 2, Netherlands Antilles 1, Panama 11, Portugal 9, Russia 6, Sierra Leone 1, Singapore 8, St Kitts and Nevis 1, St Vincent and The Grenadines 9, Vanuatu 4) (2007)
Ports and terminals: Antwerp, Gent, Liege, Zeebrugge
Military Military branches: Belgian Armed Forces: Land Operations Command, Naval Operations Command, Air Operations Commands (2005)
Military service age and obligation: 16 years of age for voluntary military service; women comprise approx. 7% of the Belgian armed forces (2001)
Manpower available for military service: males age 16-49: 2,436,736
females age 16-49: 2,369,463 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 16-49: 1,998,003
females age 16-49: 1,940,918 (2005 est.)
Manpower reaching military service age annually: males age 18-49: 64,263
females age 16-49: 61,402 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 1.3% (2005 est.)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: none
Illicit drugs: growing producer of synthetic drugs and cannabis; 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; despite a strengthening of legislation, the country remains vulnerable to money laundering related to narcotics, automobiles, alcohol, and tobacco; significant domestic consumption of ecstasy