National motto: L'union fait la force
and Eendracht maakt macht (Dutch)
(Translation: Unity provides strength)
|Official languages||Dutch, French, German|
|Prime Minister||Guy Verhofstadt|
- % water
- Total (Year)
|From the Netherlands
|Currency||Euro¹, Belgian euro coins|
|Time zone||UTC +1|
|National anthem||La Brabançonne|
|(1) Prior to 1999: Belgian franc|
Belgium (België in Dutch, Belgique in French, and Belgien in German) is a small country located in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea.
Geographically and culturally, Belgium is at the crossroads of Europe, and during the past 2,000 years has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of different races and cultures. Consequently, Belgium is one of Europe's true melting pots with Celtic, Roman, Germanic, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Austrian cultures having made an imprint.
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. Belgium is now a federal state.
Since the country's federalisation there are many governmental entities; apart from the Federal Government there is a subdivision according to language in communities, with the French speaking Community, The Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community, and another subdivision (see also the next section) with the Walloon Region, the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region. However, the Flemish Community and The Flemish Region have been joined together to form one government, see Flanders.
For example, a school building in Brussels would be regulated by the regional government of Brussels. The school as an institution however would fall under the regulations of either the Flemish government, if the primary language of teaching is Dutch, or the French Community government, if the primary language is French. It's a complex but peaceful compromise that allows distinctly different cultures to live together.
Belgium is divided into 3 federal regions; 2 regions are each divided into 5 provinces, together 10. Between brackets is the local name of each province, in either French or Dutch:
Each province is further divided into smaller municipalities, called gemeenten in Dutch and communes in French (see List of Belgian municipalities).
Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the southeast (Ardennes) region, where one can find Belgium's highest point, the Signal de Botrange at 694m. The climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 25°C / 77°F, winters average 7.2°C / 45°F. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are -12.2°C / 10°F and 32.2°C / 90°F.
Densely populated Belgium is located at the heart of one of the world's most highly industrialised regions. The first country to undergo an industrial revolution on the continent of Europe in the early 1800s, Belgium developed an excellent transportation infrastructure of ports, canals, railways, and highways to integrate its industry with that of its neighbours. One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports deepening the powers of the EU to integrate European economies. Belgium became a first-tier member of the Euro, the single European currency, in January 1999 and the Belgian franc was completely replaced by euro coins and banknotes in early 2002.
With exports equivalent to about two-thirds of GNP, Belgium depends heavily on world trade. Belgium exports twice as much per capita as Germany and five times as much as Japan. Belgium's trade advantages are derived from its central geographic location, and a highly skilled, multilingual, and productive work force.
The population density is the second-highest in Europe, after the Netherlands.
There are three official languages, Dutch, French and German. More than half of the country is Dutch speaking (55%), French is the second largest (44%), German is spoken by a minority (1%). Brussels, the capital, is mostly French speaking, but officially French/Dutch bilingual.
This country is well known for its art, its great architecture, its beer, its food, and its chocolate.
The beer with the most prestige is that of the Trappist[?] monks. Technically, it is an ale and traditionally each abbey's beer is served in its own glass (the forms, heights and widths are different). The inhabitants of this country have a reputation for loving French fries. The fried potato strips are sold at many small shops and stands (often at train stations) and are known locally as frieten in Dutch and frites in French (not identified as French, though).
Many great French authors went to Belgium for refuge.