Nation at a Glance - Belgium

History

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. Political divisions between the Dutch-speaking Flemish 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. Its capital, Brussels, is home to numerous international organizations including the EU and NATO.

Location: Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between France and the Netherlands

Border Countries: France 556 km, Germany 133 km, Luxembourg 130 km, Netherlands 478 km

Total Area: 30,528 sq km Land: 30,278 sq km Water: 250 sq km

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

Natural resources: Construction materials, silica sand, carbonates, arable land

Land use: Agricultural land: 44.1% arable land 27.2%; permanent crops 0.8%; permanent pasture 16.1% Forest: 22.4% Other: 33.5% (2011 est.)

Ethnic groups: Flemish 58%, Walloon 31%, Mixed or other 11%

Languages: Dutch (official) 60%, French (official) 40%, German (official) less than 1%

Religions: Roman Catholic 75%, Other (includes Protestant) 25%

Population: 11,409,077 (July 2016 est.)

Administrative divisions: 3 regions (French: regions, singular - region; Dutch: gewesten, singular - gewest); Brussels-Capital Region, also known as Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest (Dutch), Region de Bruxelles-Capitale (French long form), Bruxelles-Capitale (French short form); Flemish Region (Flanders), also known as Vlaams Gewest (Dutch long form), Vlaanderen (Dutch short form), Region Flamande (French long form), Flandre (French short form); Walloon Region (Wallonia), also known as Region Wallone (French long form), Wallonie (French short form), Waals Gewest (Dutch long form), Wallonie (Dutch short form)

Economy: Belgium’s central geographic location and highly developed transport network have helped develop a well-diversified economy, with a broad mix of transport, services, manufacturing, and high tech. Service and high-tech industries are concentrated in the northern Flanders region while the southern region of Wallonia is home to industries like coal and steel manufacturing. Belgium is completely reliant on foreign sources of fossil fuels, and the planned closure of its seven nuclear plants by 2025 should increase its dependence on foreign energy. Its role as a regional logistical hub makes its economy vulnerable to shifts in foreign demand, particularly with EU trading partners. Roughly three-quarters of Belgium's trade is with other EU countries, and the port of Zeebrugge conducts almost half its trade with the United Kingdom alone, leaving Belgium’s economy vulnerable to the outcome of negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU. Belgium’s GDP grew by 1.7% in 2017 and the budget deficit was 1.5% of GDP. Unemployment stood at 7.3%, however the unemployment rate is lower in Flanders than Wallonia, 4.4% compared to 9.4%, because of industrial differences between the regions. The economy largely recovered from the March 2016 terrorist attacks that mainly impacted the Brussels region tourist and hospitality industry. Prime Minister Charles MICHEL's center-right government has pledged to further reduce the deficit in response to EU pressure to decrease Belgium's high public debt of about 104% of GDP, but such efforts could also dampen economic growth. In addition to restrained public spending, low wage growth and higher inflation promise to curtail a more robust recovery in private consumption. The government has pledged to pursue a reform program to improve Belgium’s competitiveness, including changes to labor market rules and welfare benefits. These changes have generally made Belgian wages more competitive regionally, but risk worsening tensions with trade unions and triggering extended strikes. In 2017, Belgium approved a tax reform plan to ease corporate rates from 33% to 29% by 2018 and down to 25% by 2020. The tax plan also included benefits for innovation and SMEs, intended to spur competitiveness and private investment.

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, base metals, textiles, glass, petroleum

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