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Template:Infobox Country Belgium (Template:Pron-en, Template:Respell), officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in northwest Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts its headquarters, as well as those of other major international organizations, including NATO.[1] Belgium covers an area of Template:Convert, and it has a population of about 10.7 million people.

Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups, the Dutch-speakers, mostly Flemish, and the French-speakers, mostly Walloons, plus a small group of German-speakers. Belgium's two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region, officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish Region.[2] A small German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia.[3] Belgium's linguistic diversity and related political and cultural conflicts are reflected in the political history and a complex system of government.[4][5]

The name 'Belgium' is derived from Gallia Belgica, a Roman province in the northernmost part of Gaul that was inhabited by the Belgae, a mix of Celtic and Germanic peoples.[6][7] Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were known as the Low Countries, which used to cover a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, it was a prosperous centre of commerce and culture. From the 16th century until the Belgian revolution in 1830, many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, causing it to be dubbed the battleground of Europe[8]—a reputation strengthened by both World Wars.

Upon its independence, Belgium eagerly participated in the Industrial Revolution[9][10] and, during the course of the twentieth century, possessed several colonies in Africa.[11] The second half of the 20th century was marked by the rise of communal conflicts between the Flemings and the Francophones fuelled by cultural differences on the one hand and an asymmetrical economic evolution of Flanders and Wallonia on the other hand. These still-active conflicts have caused far-reaching reforms of the formerly unitary Belgian state into a federal state.


File:Map-1477 Low Countries.png

The Seventeen Provinces (orange, brown and yellow areas) and the Bishopric of Liège (green)

In the 1st century BC, the Romans defeated the local tribes and 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 kings. A gradual shift of power during the 8th century led the kingdom of the Franks to evolve into the Carolingian Empire.

The Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the region into Middle and Western Francia and therefore into a set of more or less independent fiefdoms which, during the Middle Ages, were vassals either of the King of France or of the Holy Roman Emperor. Many of these fiefdoms were united in the Burgundian Netherlands of the 14th and 15th centuries. Emperor Charles V extended the personal union of the Seventeen Provinces in the 1540s, making it far more than a personal union by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 and increased his influence over the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.[12]

The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) divided the Low Countries into the northern United Provinces (Belgica Foederata in Latin, the "Federated Netherlands") and the Southern Netherlands (Belgica Regia, the "Royal Netherlands"). The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish and the Austrian Habsburgs and comprised most of modern Belgium. This was the theatre of most Franco-Spanish and Franco-Austrian wars during the 17th and 18th centuries.

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 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.

File:Wappers belgian revolution.jpg

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830 (1834)
by Egide Charles Gustave Wappers,
Museum of Ancien Arts, Brussels.

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. Although the franchise was initially restricted, universal suffrage for men was introduced in 1893 (with plural voting until 1919) and for women in 1949.

The main political parties of the 19th century were the Catholic Party and the Liberal Party, with the Belgian Labour Party emerging towards the end of the century. French was originally the single official language adopted by the nobility and the bourgeoisie. It progressively lost its overall importance as Dutch became recognized as well. This recognition became official in 1898 and in 1967 a Dutch version of the Constitution was legally accepted.[13]

The Berlin Conference of 1885 ceded control of the Congo Free State to King Leopold II as his private possession. From around 1900 there was growing international concern for the extreme and savage treatment of the Congolese population under Leopold II, for whom the Congo was primarily a source of revenue from ivory and rubber production. In 1908 this outcry led the Belgian state to assume responsibility for the government of the colony, henceforth called the Belgian Congo.[14]

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. In the aftermath of the First World War, the Prussian districts of Eupen and Malmedy were annexed by Belgium in 1925, thereby causing the presence of a German-speaking minority. The country was again invaded by Germany in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg offensive and occupied until its liberation by the Allies in 1945. The Belgian Congo gained independence in 1960 during the Congo Crisis;[15] Ruanda-Urundi followed with its independence two years later.

After World War II, Belgium joined NATO as a founding member 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 European Atomic Energy Community and European Economic Community, established in 1957. 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.

Government and politics[]

Template:Further Belgium is a constitutional, popular monarchy and a parliamentary democracy.

File:Yves Leterme 01.jpg

Prime Minister Yves Leterme

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 co-opted senators and the children of the king, as senators by Right who in practice do not cast their vote. 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18][19] A 'rainbow coalition' emerged from six parties: the Flemish and the French-speaking Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens.[20] Later, a 'purple coalition' of Liberals and Social Democrats formed after the Greens lost most of their seats in the 2003 election.[21] 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[22] and opposed the invasion of Iraq.[23] Verhofstadt's coalition fared badly in the June 2007 elections. For more than a year, the country has experienced a political crisis.[24]

This crisis was such that many observers speculated on a possible partition of Belgium. From 21 December 2007 until 20 March 2008 the temporary Verhofstadt III Government was 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. On 15 July 2008 Leterme announced the resignation of the cabinet to the king, as no progress in constitutional reforms had been made.[25] In December 2008 he once more offered his resignation to the king after a crisis surrounding the sale of Fortis to BNP Paribas.[26] At this juncture, his resignation was accepted and Flemish Christian Democrat Herman Van Rompuy was sworn in as Prime Minister on 30 December 2008.[27]

After Herman Van Rompuy was designated the first permanent President of the European Council on 19 November 2009, he offered the resignation of his government to King Albert II on 25 November 2009. A few hours later, the new government under Prime Minister Yves Leterme was sworn in. On 22 April 2010, Leterme again offered the resignation of his cabinet to the king[28] after one of the coalition partners, the OpenVLD, withdrew from the government, and on 26 April 2010 King Albert officially accepted the resignation.[29]

Communities and regions[]

File:Communities of Belgium.svg

Template:Legend          Flemish & French Community / bilingual language area Template:LegendTemplate:Legend

File:Regions of Belgium.svg


Following a usage which can be traced back to the Burgundian and Habsburgian courts,[30] in the 19th century it was necessary to speak French to belong to the governing upper class, and those who could only speak Dutch were effectively second-class citizens. Late that century, and continuing into the 20th century, Flemish movements evolved to counter this situation. While the Walloons and most Brusselers adopted French as their first language, the Flemings refused to do so and succeeded progressively in imposing Dutch as Flanders' official language. Following World War II, Belgian politics became increasingly dominated by the autonomy of its two main language communities. Intercommunal tensions rose and the constitution was amended in order to minimise the conflict potentials.

Based on the four language areas defined in 1962–63 (the Dutch, bilingual, French and German language areas), consecutive revisions of the country's constitution in 1970, 1980, 1988 and 1993 established a unique federal state with segregated political power into three levels:[31][32]

  1. The federal government, based in Brussels.
  2. The three language communities:
    • the Flemish Community (Dutch-speaking);
    • the French (i.e., French-speaking) Community;
    • the German-speaking Community.
  3. The three regions:
    • the Flemish Region, subdivided into five provinces;
    • the Walloon Region, subdivided into five provinces;
    • the Brussels-Capital Region.

The constitutional language areas determine the official languages in their municipalities, as well as the geographical limits of the empowered institutions for specific matters. Although this would allow for seven parliaments and governments, when the Communities and Regions were created in 1980, Flemish politicians decided to merge both. Thus the Flemings just have one single institutional body of parliament and government is empowered for all except federal and specific municipal matters.[33]

The overlapping boundaries of the Regions and Communities have created two notable peculiarities: the territory of the Brussels-Capital Region (which came into existence nearly a decade after the other regions) is included in both the Flemish and French Communities, and the territory of the German-speaking Community lies wholly within the Walloon Region. Conflicts between the bodies are resolved by the Constitutional Court of Belgium. The structure is intended as a compromise to allow different cultures to live together peacefully.[9]

The Federal State's authority includes justice, defence, federal police, social security, nuclear energy, monetary policy and public debt, and other aspects of public finances. State-owned companies include the Belgian Post Group and Belgian Railways. The Federal Government is responsible for the obligations of Belgium and its federalized institutions towards the European Union and NATO. It controls substantial parts of public health, home affairs and foreign affairs.[34] The budget—without the debt—controlled by the federal government amounts to about 50% of the national fiscal income. The federal government employs ca. 12% of the civil servants.[35]

Communities exercise their authority only within linguistically determined geographical boundaries, originally oriented towards the individuals of a Community's language: culture (including audiovisual media), education and the use of the relevant language. Extensions to personal matters less directly connected with language comprise health policy (curative and preventive medicine) and assistance to individuals (protection of youth, social welfare, aid to families, immigrant assistance services, etc.).[36]

Regions have authority in fields that can be broadly associated with their territory. These include economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit and foreign trade. They supervise the provinces, municipalities and intercommunal utility companies.[36]

In several fields, the different levels each have their own say on specifics. With education, for instance, the autonomy of the Communities neither includes decisions about the compulsory aspect nor allows for setting minimum requirements for awarding qualifications, which remain federal matters.[34] Each level of government can be involved in scientific research and international relations associated with its powers.[37][37] The treaty-making power of the Region's and Communities' Governments is the broadest of all the Federating units of all the Federations all over the world.[38][39][40]


File:Diksmuide - Polders - IJzer.jpg

Polders along the Yser river

Belgium shares borders with France (Template:Nowrap), Germany (Template:Nowrap), Luxembourg (Template:Nowrap) and the Netherlands (Template:Nowrap). Its total area, including surface water area, is 33,990 square kilometers; land area alone is 30,528 km2. Belgium has three main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north-west and the central plateau both belong to the Anglo-Belgian Basin; the Ardennes uplands in the south-east are part of the Hercynian orogenic belt. The Paris Basin reaches a small fourth area at Belgium's southernmost tip, Belgian Lorraine.[41]

The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Further inland lies a smooth, slowly rising landscape irrigated by numerous waterways, with fertile valleys and the northeastern sandy plain of the Campine (Kempen). The thickly forested hills and plateaus of the Ardennes are more rugged and rocky with caves and small gorges. Extending westward into France, this area is eastwardly connected to the Eifel in Germany by the High Fens plateau, on which the Signal de Botrange forms the country's highest point at Template:Convert.[42][43]



Wooded landscape in the Ardennes

The climate is maritime temperate with significant precipitation in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb). The average temperature is lowest in January at Template:Convert and highest in July at Template:Convert. The average precipitation per month varies between Template:Convert for February or April, to Template:Convert for July.[44] Averages for the years 2000 to 2006 show daily temperature minimums of Template:Convert and maximums of Template:Convert and monthly rainfall of Template:Convert; these are about 1 °C and nearly 10 millimetres above last century's normal values, respectively.[45]


Phytogeographically, Belgium is shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom.[46] According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the territory of Belgium belongs to the ecoregion of Atlantic mixed forests.[47]

Because of its high population density, its location in the centre of Western Europe and inadequate political effort, Belgium faces serious environmental problems. A 2003 report suggested Belgian natural waters (rivers and groundwater) to have the lowest water quality of the 122 countries studied.[48] In the 2006 pilot Environmental Performance Index, Belgium scored 75.9% for overall environmental performance and was ranked lowest of the EU member countries, though it was only 39th of 133 countries.[49]



File:Ougree 16.jpg

Steelmaking along the Meuse River at Ougrée, near Liège

Belgium's strongly globalized economy[50] and its transportation infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region helped make it the world's 15th largest trading nation in 2007.[51][52] The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita.[53] Belgium's main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. Its main exports are automobiles, food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products and nonferrous metals.

The Belgian economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature: a dynamic Flemish economy and a Walloon economy that lags behind.[9][54] One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports an open economy and the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate member economies. Since 1922, through the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market with customs and currency union.

Belgium was the first continental European country to undergo the Industrial Revolution, in the early 19th century.[55] Liège and Charleroi rapidly developed mining and steelmaking, which flourished until the mid-20th century in the SambreMeuse valley, the sillon industriel and made Belgium one of the top three most industrialized nations in the world from 1830 to 1910.[56] However, by the 1840s the textile industry of Flanders was in severe crisis, and the region experienced famine from 1846–50.

After World War II, Ghent and Antwerp experienced a rapid expansion of the chemical and petroleum industries. The 1973 and 1979 oil crises sent the economy into a recession; it was particularly prolonged in Wallonia, where the steel industry had become less competitive and experienced serious decline.[57] In the 1980s and 90s, the economic centre of the country continued to shift northwards and is now concentrated in the populous Flemish Diamond area.[58]

By the end of the 1980s, Belgian macroeconomic policies had resulted in a cumulative government debt of about 120% of GDP. As of 2006, the budget was balanced and public debt was equal to 90.30% of GDP.[59] In 2005 and 2006, real GDP growth rates of 1.5% and 3.0%, respectively, were slightly above the average for the Euro area. Unemployment rates of 8.4% in 2005 and 8.2% in 2006 were close to the area average.[60]

From 1832 until 2002, Belgium's currency was the Belgian franc. Belgium switched to the euro in 2002, with the first sets of euro coins being minted in 1999. While the standard Belgian euro coins designated for circulation show the portrait of King Albert II, this does not happen for commemorative coins, where designs are freely chosen.



Main areas and places in Belgium

In the beginning of 2007 nearly 92% of the Belgian population were Belgian citizens, and around 6% were citizens from other European Union member countries. The prevalent foreign nationals were Italian (171,918), French (125,061), Dutch (116,970), Moroccan (80,579), Spanish (42,765), Turkish (39,419) and German (37,621).[61][62]


File:2007 07 Belgium Brussels 06 (cropped).jpg

Brussels, the capital of Belgium and largest metropolitan area in the country.

Almost all of the Belgian population is urban—97% in 2004.[63] The population density of Belgium is 342 per square kilometre (886 per square mile)—one of the highest in Europe, after that of the Netherlands and some microstates such as Monaco. The most densely inhabited area is the Flemish Diamond, outlined by the AntwerpLeuvenBrusselsGhent agglomerations. The Ardennes have the lowest density. As of 2006, the Flemish Region had a population of about 6,078,600, with Antwerp (457,749), Ghent (230,951) and Bruges (117,251) its most populous cities; Wallonia had 3,413,978, with Charleroi (201,373), Liège (185,574) and Namur (107,178) its most populous. Brussels houses 1,018,804 in the Capital Region's 19 municipalities, two of which have over 100,000 residents.[64]



Official languages:Template:LegendTemplate:LegendTemplate:Legend

Belgium has three official languages, which are in order of native speaker population in Belgium: Dutch, French and German. A number of non-official minority languages are spoken as well.

As no census exists, there are no official statistical data regarding the distribution or usage of Belgium's three official languages or their dialects. However, various criteria, including the language(s) of parents, of education, or the second-language status of foreign born, may provide suggested figures. An estimated 59%[65] of the Belgian population speaks Dutch (often colloquially referred to as "Flemish"), and French is spoken by 40% of the population. Total Dutch speakers are 6.23 million, concentrated in the northern Flanders region, while French speakers comprise 3.32 million in Wallonia and an estimated 0.87 million or 85% of the officially bilingual Brussels-Capital Region.[66][67] The German-speaking Community is made up of 73,000 people in the east of the Walloon Region; around 10,000 German and 60,000 Belgian nationals are speakers of German. Roughly 23,000 more German speakers live in municipalities near the official Community.[3][68]

File:Brussels signs.jpg

Bilingual signs in Brussels.

Both the Dutch spoken in Belgium and the Belgian French have minor differences in vocabulary and semantic nuances from the varieties spoken respectively in the Netherlands and France. Many Flemish people still speak dialects of Dutch in their local environment. Walloon, once the main regional language of Wallonia, is now only understood and spoken occasionally, mostly by elderly people. Wallonia's dialects, along with those of Picard,[69] are not used in public life.


Education is compulsory from six to eighteen for Belgians, but many continue to study until about 23 years of age. Among OECD countries in 2002, Belgium had the third-highest proportion of 18–21 year-olds enrolled in postsecondary education, at 42%.[70] Though an estimated 98% of the adult population is literate, concern is rising over functional illiteracy.[69][71] The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Belgium's education as the 19th best in the world, being significantly higher than the OECD average.[72] There are differences between the education systems in the Flemish, French and the German-speaking Communities. The Flemish Community scores relatively higher than the German-speaking and French Communities.[73]

Mirroring the dual structure of the 19th-century Belgian political landscape, characterized by the Liberal and the Catholic parties, the educational system is segregated within a secular and a religious segment. The secular branch of schooling is controlled by the communities, the provinces, or the municipalities, while religious, mainly Catholic branch education, is organized by religious authorities, although subsidized and supervised by the communities.[74]



St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral in Brussels

Since the country's independence, Roman Catholicism, counterbalanced by strong freethought movements, has had an important role in Belgium's politics.[75] However Belgium is largely a secular country as the laicist constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. During the reign of Albert I and Baudouin, the monarchy has had a reputation of deeply rooted Catholicism.

Symbolically and materially, the Roman Catholic Church remains in a favourable position. Belgium's concept of "recognized religions"[76] set a path for Islam to follow to acquire the treatment of Jewish and Protestant religions. While other minority religions, such as Hinduism, do not yet have such status, Buddhism took the first steps toward legal recognition in 2007.[74][77][78] According to the 2001 Survey and Study of Religion,[79] about 47% of the population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic Church, while Islam is the second-largest religion at 3.5%. A 2006 inquiry in Flanders, considered to be a more religious region than Wallonia, showed that 55% considered themselves religious and that 36% believed that God created the world.[80]

According to the Eurobarometer Poll in 2005,[81] 43% of Belgian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God", whereas 29% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 27% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

It is estimated that between 3% to 4% of the Belgian population is Muslim (98% Sunni) (350,000 to 400,000 people).[82][83] The majority of Belgian Muslims live in the major cities, such as Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi. The largest group of immigrants in Belgium are Moroccans, with 264,974 people. The Turks are the third-largest group, and the second-largest Muslim ethnic group, numbering 159,336.[84] There is also a small Hindu population.[citation needed] Moreover about 10,000 Sikhs are also present in Belgium.[85]

Science and technology[]


Gerardus Mercator


Georges Lemaître

Contributions to the development of science and technology have appeared throughout the country's history. The sixteenth century Early Modern flourishing of Western Europe included cartographer Gerardus Mercator, anatomist Andreas Vesalius, herbalist Rembert Dodoens and mathematician Simon Stevin among the most influential scientists.

The quickly developed and dense Belgian railway system caused major companies like La Brugeoise et Nivelles (now the BN division of Bombardier Transportation) to develop specific technologies, and the economically important very deep coal mining in the course of the First Industrial Revolution has required highly reputed specialized studies for mining engineers.

Chemist Ernest Solvay and engineer Zenobe Gramme (École Industrielle de Liège) gave their names to the Solvay process and the Gramme dynamo, respectively, in the 1860s. Bakelite was developed in 1907–1909 by Leo Baekeland. Ernest Solvay also acted as a major philantropist and gave its name to the Solvay Institute of Sociology, the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management and the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry which are now part of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. In 1911, he started a series of conferences, the Solvay Conferences on Physics and Chemistry, which have had a deep impact on the evolution of quantum physics and chemistry.

Georges Lemaître (Catholic University of Leuven) is credited with proposing the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe in 1927.

Three Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine were awarded to Belgians: Jules Bordet (Université Libre de Bruxelles) in 1919, Corneille Heymans (University of Ghent) in 1938 and Albert Claude (Université Libre de Bruxelles) together with Christian De Duve (Université Catholique de Louvain) in 1974.

Ilya Prigogine (Université Libre de Bruxelles) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1977.[86]


Despite its political and linguistic divisions that have been varied over 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.

Nowadays, to a certain extent, cultural life is concentrated within each language Community, and a variety of barriers have made a shared cultural sphere less pronounced.[9][87][88] Since the 1970s, there are no bilingual universities in the country except the Royal Military Academy, no common media[89] and no single large cultural or scientific organization in which both main communities are represented. The forces that once held the Belgians together—Roman Catholicism and economic and political opposition to the Dutch—are no longer strong.[90]

Fine arts[]


File:Jan van Eyck 091.jpg

Portrait of a Man in a Turban (oil on board, c. 1433)
by Jan van Eyck,
in National Gallery, London.

File:Emile Verhaeren01.jpg

Poet Emile Verhaeren by Theo van Rysselberghe.

Contributions to painting and architecture have been especially rich. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish,[91] the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting[92] and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture[93] are milestones in the history of art. While the 15th century's art in the Low Countries is dominated by the religious paintings of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, the 16th century is characterized by a broader panel of styles such as Peter Breughel's landscape paintings and Lambert Lombard's representation of the antique.[94] Though the Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck flourished in the early 17th century in the Southern Netherlands,[95] it gradually declined thereafter.[96][97]

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters emerged, including James Ensor, Constant Permeke, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. The avant-garde CoBrA movement appeared in the 1950s, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art.[98][99] 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.[100][101]

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.[102] In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was an emergence 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. Contemporary music in Belgium is also of repute. Jazz musician Toots Thielemans and singer Jacques Brel have achieved global fame. In rock/pop music, Telex, Front 242, K's Choice, Hooverphonic, Zap Mama, Soulwax and dEUS are well known.In the hard rock/ metal scene, bands like Channel Zero, Enthroned, Machiavel and Cyclone, spreaded their fan-base worldwide.[103]

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 and Willy Vandersteen brought the Belgian cartoon strip industry on a par with the U.S.A. and Japan.

Belgian cinema, has brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to life on-screen.[104] 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.[105] In the 1980s, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts produced important fashion trendsetters, known as the Antwerp Six.[106]



File:Binche MCL01.jpg

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',[107] 'kermesse' and other local festivals, nearly always with an originally religious or mythological 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.[108]

Other examples are the Carnival of Aalst; the still very religious processions of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Virga Jesse Basilica in Hasselt and Basilica of Our Lady of Hanswijk in Mechelen; the 15 August 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.[109]


Association football and cycling are the most popular sports in Belgium. With five victories in the Tour de France and numerous other cycling records, Belgian Eddy Merckx ranks #1 as the greatest cyclist of all time.[110] His hour speed record (set in 1972) stood for twelve years. Jean-Marie Pfaff, a former Belgian goalkeeper, is considered one of the greatest in the history of football.[111] Belgium is currently bidding with the Netherlands to host the 2018 World Cup.[112] Both countries previously hosted the UEFA European Football Championship in 2000. Belgium hosted the 1972 European Football Championships.

Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin both were Player of the Year in the Women's Tennis Association as they were ranked the number one female tennis player. 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 finished twice as runner-up in the Formula One World Championship. 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.

Sporting events annually held in Belgium include the Memorial Van Damme athletics competition, the Belgian Grand Prix Formula One, and a number of classic cycle races such as the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The 1920 Summer Olympics were held in Antwerp, Belgium.

File:Brussels waffle.jpg

Brussels waffles, commonly known as Belgian waffles outside of Belgium. Many different types of waffle are popular in Belgium.


Many highly ranked Belgian restaurants can be found in the most influential restaurant guides, such as the Michelin Guide.[113] Belgium is famous for waffles and french fries. Contrary to their name, french fries also originated in Belgium. The name "french fries" actually refers to the manner in which the potato is cut. To "french" means to cut into slivers. The national dishes are "steak and fries with salad", and "mussels with fries".[114][115][116]

Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like Callebaut, Côte d'Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler and Godiva, are world renowned and widely sold. Belgium produces over 500 varieties of beer. The Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren has consistently been rated the world's best beer.[117] The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Leuven.[118]

International rankings[]

Organization Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace Global Peace Index[119] 15 out of 144
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 17 out of 182
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 21 out of 180
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 18 out of 133



  1. Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many international organizations, including ACCT, AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, Benelux, BIS, CCC, CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, EIB, EMU, ESA, EU, FAO, G-10, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IEA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, MONUC (observers), NATO, NEA, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNECE, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIK, UNMOGIP, UNRWA, UNTSO, UPU, WADB (non-regional), WEU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO, ZC.
  2. Template:Cite web
    *Template:Cite web
    *Template:Cite web
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  3. 3.0 3.1 Template:Cite web The (original) version in German language (already) mentions 73,000 instead of 71,500 inhabitants.
  4. Template:Cite news
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  6. Bunson, Matthew (1994). Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (Hardcover 352pp ed.). Facts on File, New York. p. 169. ISBN 0 8160 2135 X Paperback 512pp, ISBN 0-8160-3182-7; Revised edition (2002), Hardcover 636pp, ISBN 0-8160-4562-3. 
  7. Footnote: The Celtic and/or Germanic influences on and origin(s) of the Belgae remains disputed. Further reading e.g.Template:Cite web
  8. Template:Cite webTemplate:Dead link—The book reviewer, Haß, attributes the expression in English to James Howell in 1640. Howell's original phrase "the cockpit of Christendom" became modified afterwards, as shown by:
      Template:Cite web—and as such coined for Belgium:
      Template:Cite web (See also The Nuttall Encyclopaedia)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Template:Cite web
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  14. Meredith, Mark (6 June 2005). The State of Africa (Hardcover 608pp ed.). Free Press. pp. 95–96(?). ISBN 0-7432-3221-6. 
  15. Template:Cite web
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  18. Template:Cite web—Follow-up on occasion of 2nd dioxin crisis: α
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  22. Template:Cite web The article shows an example of Belgium's recent African policies.
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  26., "Belgium Prime Minister offers resignation over banking deal"
  27. Belgian king asks Van Rompuy to form government Reuters
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  30. Johannes Kramer (1984) (in German). Zweisprachigkeit in den Benelux-ländern. Buske Verlag. p. 69. ISBN 3871185973. "Zur prestige Sprache wurde in den Spanischen Niederlanden ganz eindeutig das Französische. Die Vertreter Spaniens beherrschte normalerweise das Französische, nicht aber das Niedderländische; ein beachtlicher Teil der am Hofe tätigen Adligen stammte aus Wallonien, das sich ja eher auf fie spanische Seite geschlagen hatte als Flandern und Brabant. In dieser Situation war es selbstverständlich, dass die flämischen Adligen, die im Laufe der Zeit immer mehr ebenfalls zu Hofbeamten wurden, sich des Französischen bedienen mussten, wenn sie als gleichwertig anerkannt werden wollten. [Transl.: The prestigious language in the Spanish Netherlands was clearly French. The Spain's representatatives usually mastered French but not Dutch; a notable part of the nobles at the court came from Wallonia, which had taken party for the Spanish side to a higher extent than Flanders and Brabant. It was therefore evident within this context that the Flemish nobility, of which a progessively larger number became servants of the court, had to use French, if it wanted to get acknowledged as well.]" 
  31. Willemyns, Roland, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Germanic Languages (2002). "The Dutch-French Language Border in Belgium" (PDF). Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 23 (1&2): 36–49. doi:10.1080/01434630208666453. Retrieved 22 June 2007. 
  32. Each municipality of the Kingdom is part of one of the four language areas (taalgebieden in Dutch, Sprachgebiete in German), occasionally called linguistic regions (régions linguistiques in French). See the three legal versions of the Constitution:
    *Template:Cite web
    *Template:Cite web
    *Template:Cite web
      English translation, not recently updated and without legal value:
    *Template:Cite web
  33. Footnote: The Constitution set out seven institutions each of which can have a parliament, government and administration. In fact there are only six such bodies because the Flemish Region merged into the Flemish Community. This single Flemish body thus exercises powers about Community matters in the bilingual area of Brussels-Capital and in the Dutch language area, while about Regional matters only in the latter.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Template:Cite webTemplate:Dead link
  35. Charles-Etienne Lagasse (2003). Les nouvelles institutions politiques de la Belgique et de l'Europe. Namur: Erasme. p. 289. ISBN 2-87127-783-4. "In 2002, 58.92% of the fiscal income was going to the budget of the federal government, but more than one third was used to pay the interests of the public debt. Without including this post, the share of the federal government budget would be only 48.40% of the fiscal income. There are 87,8% of the civil servants who are working for the Regions or the Communities and 12,2% for the Federal State." 
  36. 36.0 36.1 Template:Cite webTemplate:Dead link
  37. 37.0 37.1 Template:Cite webTemplate:Dead link
  38. Template:Cite web
  39. C.E. Lagasse (in French). Les nouvelles institutions de la Belgique et de l'Europe. p. 603. "[Le fédéralisme belge] repose sur une combinaison unique d'équipollence, d'exclusivité et de prolongement international des compétences. (Transl.: [Belgian federalism] is based on a unique combination of equipollent and exclusiv powers prolonged ont the international scene.)" 
  40. Template:Cite web
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  46. Takhtajan, Armen, 1986. Floristic Regions of the World. (translated by T.J. Crovello & A. Cronquist). University of California Press, Berkeley.
  47. Atlantic mixed forests (PA0402), World Wildlife Fund, 2001.
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  49. Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index – Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network
  50. Belgium ranked first in the KOF Index of Globalization 2009Template:Cite web
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  56. Jean-Pierre Rioux (1989) (in French). La révolution industrielle. Paris: Seuil. p. 105. ISBN 2-02-000651-0. 
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  62. Ecodata
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  65. Native speakers of Dutch living in Wallonia and of French in Flanders are relatively small minorities that furthermore largely balance one another, hence counting all inhabitants of each unilingual area to the area's language can cause only insignificant inaccuracies (99% can speak the language). Dutch: Flanders' 6.079 million inhabitants and about 15% of Brussels' 1.019 million are 6.23 million or 59.3% of the 10.511 million inhabitants of Belgium (2006); German: 70,400 in the German-speaking Community (which has language facilities for its less than 5% French-speakers) and an estimated 20,000–25,000 speakers of German in the Walloon Region outside the geographical boundaries of their official Community, or 0.9%; French: in the latter area as well as mainly in the rest of Wallonia (3.414 − 0.093 = 3.321 million) and 85% of the Brussels inhabitants (0.866 million) thus 4.187 million or 39.8%; together indeed 100%.
  66. Flemish Academic Eric Corijn (initiator of Charta 91), at a colloquium regarding Brussels, on 2001-12-05, states that in Brussels there is 91% of the population speaking French at home, either alone or with another language, and there is about 20% speaking Dutch at home, either alone (9%) or with French (11%)—After ponderation, the repartition can be estimated at between 85 and 90% French-speaking, and the remaining are Dutch-speaking, corresponding to the estimations based on languages chosen in Brussels by citizens for their official documents (ID, driving licenses, weddings, birth, sex, and so on); all these statistics on language are also available at Belgian Department of Justice (for weddings, birth, sex), Department of Transport (for Driving licenses), Department of Interior (for IDs), because there are no means to know precisely the proportions since Belgium has abolished 'official' linguistic censuses, thus official documents on language choices can only be estimations. For a web source on this topic, see e.g. General online sources: Janssens, Rudi
  67. Template:Cite web—Strictly, the capital is the municipality (City of) Brussels, though the Brussels-Capital Region might be intended because of its name and also its other municipalities housing institutions typical for a capital.
  68. Template:Cite web
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  75. See for example Belgium entry of the Catholic Encyclopedia
  76. Template:Cite web
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  78. Template:Cite news Alternative urls:α, β, pdf 1.1 MB:γTemplate:Dead link
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  80. Inquiry by 'Vepec', 'Vereniging voor Promotie en Communicatie' (Organisation for Promotion and Communication), published in Knack magazine 22 November 2006 p. 14 [The Dutch language term 'gelovig' is in the text translated as 'religious', more precisely it is a very common word for believing in particular in any kind of God in a monotheistic sense and/or in some afterlife].
  81. Template:Cite web
  82. The many faces of Islam, TIME
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  84. Voor het eerst meer Marokkaanse dan Italiaanse migrantenTemplate:Dead link
  85. Dutch newspaper on Sikhs celebrating Maghi in BrusselsTemplate:Dead link
  86. Template:Cite web
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    *Template:Cite web (*) Free abstract for pay-per-view article byDe Broe, Marc E.; De Weerdt, Dirk L.; Ysebaert, Dirk K.; Vercauteren, Sven R.; De Greef, Kathleen E.; De Broe Luc C. (1999). "The Low Countries – 16th/17th century" (PDF). American Journal of Nephrology 19 (2): 282–9. doi:10.1159/000013462. PMID 10213829. 
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  90. Mumford, David (2008). The World Today Series. Western Europe/2007. NY Times. ISBN 1-887985-89-1. 
  91. Template:Cite web
  92. Template:Cite web
  93. Several examples of major architectural realisations in Belgium belong to UNESCO's World Heritage List:Template:Cite web
  94. Hendrick, Jacques (1987) (in French). La peinture au pays de Liège. Liège: Editions du Perron. p. 24. ISBN 287114026X. 
  95. Guratzsch, Herwig (1979) (in German). Die große Zeit der niederländische Malerei. Freiburg im Beisgau: Verlag Herder. p. 7. 
  96. Template:Cite web
  97. Template:Cite web—A general presentation of the Flemish artistic movement with a list of its artists, linking to their biographies and artworks
  98. Template:Cite web—List of Belgian painters, linking to their biographies and artworks
  99. Template:Cite webTemplate:Dead link
  100. Brussels, capital of Art Nouveau (page 1),Template:Cite web (for example)
  101. Template:Cite web
  102. Template:Cite web
  103. Two comprehensive discussions of rock and pop music in Belgium since the 1950s:
    *Template:Cite web
    *Template:Cite web
  104. Notable Belgian films based on works by Flemish authors include: De Witte (author Ernest Claes) movie by Jan Vanderheyden & Edith Kiel in 1934, remake as De Witte van Sichem directed by Robbe De Hert in 1980; De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen (Johan Daisne) André Delvaux 1965; Mira ('De teleurgang van de Waterhoek' by Stijn Streuvels) Fons Rademakers 1971; Malpertuis (aka The Legend of Doom House) (Jean Ray [pen name of Flemish author who mainly wrote in French, or as John Flanders in Dutch]) Harry Kümel 1971; De loteling (Hendrik Conscience) Roland Verhavert 1974; Dood van een non (Maria Rosseels) Paul Collet & Pierre Drouot 1975; Pallieter (Felix Timmermans) Roland Verhavert 1976; De komst van Joachim Stiller (Hubert Lampo) Harry Kümel 1976; De Leeuw van Vlaanderen (Hendrik Conscience) Hugo Claus (a famous author himself) 1985; Daens ('Pieter Daens' by Louis Paul Boon) Stijn Coninx 1992; see also Filmarchief les DVD!s de la cinémathèque (in Dutch). Retrieved on 2007-06-07.
  105. A review of the Belgian cinema can be found atTemplate:Cite webTemplate:Dead link
  106. Template:Cite web
  107. The Dutch word 'ommegang' is here used in the sense of an entirely or mainly non-religious procession, or the non-religious part thereof—see also its article on the Dutch-language Wikipedia; the Processional Giants of Brussels, Dendermonde and Mechelen mentioned in this paragraph are part of each city's 'ommegang'. The French word 'ducasse' refers also to a procession; the mentioned Processional Giants of Ath and Mons are part of each city's 'ducasse'.
  108. Template:Cite web
  109. Template:Cite web
  110. Template:Cite news
  111. "Goalkeeping Greats" Retrieved on 29 June 2008
  112. " Benelux trio to apply to host the 2018 World Cup, ESPN Soccernet Global, retrieved on 22 May 2008 from 2018 FIFA World Cup
  113. Template:Cite web
  114. Template:Cite web Republished fromVan Waerebeek, Ruth; Robbins, Maria (October 1996). Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook. Workman Publishing. ISBN 1-56305-411-6 (Paperback), ISBN 0-7611-0106-3 (Cloth). 
  115. Template:Cite web Republished fromVan Waerebeek, Ruth; Robbins, Maria (October 1996). Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook. Workman Publishing. ISBN 1-56305-411-6 (Paperback), ISBN 0-7611-0106-3 (Cloth). 
  116. Template:Cite web—Note: Contrarily to what the text suggests, the season starts as early as July and lasts through April.
  117. Whilst taste is highly subjective and individual, some international beer drinkers consider the Westvleteren 12 to be among their favourite beers. The majority of members of and, two beer rating websites, consistently rate the Westvleteren 12 as their most enjoyable beer; the 8 and the Blonde also rank highly on both sites.
  118. Template:Cite press release
  119. Template:Cite web


General online sources[]


  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web (mentioning other original sources)
  • Template:CIA World Factbook link Retrieved on 2007-06-07.
  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web
  • Template:Cite web—Reflections on nations and nation-state developments regarding Belgium
  • Template:Cite web—Historical overview over the political history of Belgium




[Also editions [1913], London, Template:OCLC; (1921) D. Unwin and Co., New York Template:OCLC also published (1921) as Belgium from the Roman invasion to the present day, The Story of the nations, 67, T. Fisher Unwin, London, Template:OCLC Template:ASIN. 


External links[]


See also: section References, subsection General online sources
General information


  • Belgium, entry on the Catholic Encyclopedia 1913, republished on Wikisource
  • Belgium, entry on the Public Diplomacy wiki monitored by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy
  • History of Belgium: Primary Documents EuroDocs: Online Sources for European History

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