Belgium Country Profile
For such a small country, Belgium has been a major European battleground over the centuries.
Occupied by Germany during the First and Second World Wars, it has experienced an economic boom in the past 50 years to become a model Western European liberal democracy.
However, there has also been a growing divide between the mainly Dutch-speaking north and the mainly French-speaking south, as well as concerns about the growth of Islamic extremism among immigrant communities in the capital, Brussels.
Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), making it the polyglot home of an army of international diplomats and civil servants.
Geography of Belgium
Belgium is situated in the west of Europe, bordered to the north by the Netherlands, to the east by Germany and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and to the south and the west by France. Although its surface area of 30,528 km2 makes it a small country, its location has made it the economic and urban nerve centre of Europe.
Belgium spans 2 degrees in latitude, from 51 degrees 30 minutes N at Meerle (northernmost point) to 49 degrees 30 minutes N at Torgny (southernmost point). In longitude, it spans less than 4 degrees, from 2 degrees 33 minutes E to 6 degrees 24 minutes E.
The geography of Belgium shows it to have three major areas: lower Belgium (up to 100m above sea level), central Belgium (between 100 and 200m above sea level) and upper Belgium (from 200 to over 500m above sea level).
Population of Belgium
On 1 January 2016, the population of Belgium was 11,267,910. That number is fairly evenly distributed between the sexes, although women outnumber men by approximately 200,000. The population density is 363 people per km2 (2015), although the north of the country is much more densely populated than the south.
The 18-64 age group, i.e. largely the working population, numbers 6,919,768 and accounts for the bulk of the population. 2,062,561 Belgian residents are aged over 64. Within this group, 1,860 people are 100 or older. The number of people aged 18 or under is 2,285,581. The age pyramid (French (link is external) – Dutch (link is external)) clearly indicates an ageing population.
In 2011, the life expectancy was 77 for men and 82 for women. In 2013, the number of deaths was 109,295. Cardiovascular disease was the biggest cause of mortality (31,308). Cancer was responsible for 28,717 deaths, while respiratory diseases claimed the lives of 11,363 people.
In 2013, there were also 124,864 births. The fertility rate was 1.74 children per woman in 2014. The fertility rate of non-Belgian women living in Belgium (2.32) is significantly higher than that of Belgian women.
As regards marital status, 4,255,406 of Belgium’s inhabitants are married (2016). 685,451 people have lost their partner and 1,011,113 people are divorced. At the end of 2010, approximately 180,000 people were living together under a cohabitation contract (legal cohabitation). This group also includes siblings who have entered into a cohabitation agreement. Between 2003 and the end of 2010, some 17,000 men and women entered into a same-sex marriage. In 2008, there were 4,822,301 households in Belgium, of which 1,646,553 were single-person households.
There are 953,329 couples without children. Couples with children number 1,057,481 (2015 figures).
The distribution of Belgium’s residents by region is as follows (2016): 6,477,804 live in the Flemish Region, 3,602,216 live in the Walloon Region (including 75,222 from the German-speaking Community (2010)) and 1,187,890 reside in the Brussels-Capital Region.
1,057,666 inhabitants are of a different nationality (i.e. not Belgian) (2010). In 2015, French were the largest group of non-Belgian nationality, numbering 159,352, followed by Italians and Dutch nationals, who numbered 156,977 and 149,199 respectively. Moroccans were in fourth position, with 82,009, followed by Poles (68,403).
Tourism in Belgium
Whether you’re looking for a weekend break or a longer trip, Belgium has a lot to offer to tourists.
If you enjoy walking, sports and the outdoors, the Ardennes, which are the green heart of Belgium, are your place to go. If you prefer the beach or enjoy cycling, you will not be able to resist the call of our seaside!
Our prestigious art cities are magnificent, even if you are not a fan of history, architecture or culture.
Belgians love gastronomy. They love good food and will invite you to taste their special beers and cheeses and obviously also their chocolate, bonbons, endives, beef stew, speculaas and the like. And the fries are simply legendary.
But above all, Belgium is a place of fun: it has a very vibrant cultural scene (exhibits, concerts, festivals, theatre, dance, etc.) and its night live is one big celebration.
Belgium is a small country but it holds a special place.
Belgium is situated at the heart of Europe. This is a basic observation but the importance of its central geographical location between the most important countries in Western Europe needs to be highlighted. At the risk of seeming paradoxical, Belgium was in a way already playing a “European” role even before it became “Belgian”. Just look at the past roles of Bruges and Antwerp in international trade, Leuven’s role as a university town and the part Liège played during the industrial revolution.
This tradition of openness continues today. Belgium is still a hub for international contacts. More than 1,000 public and private international organisations (international institutions, diplomatic missions, lobby groups, think tanks, multinationals,…) have set up headquarters or have a permanent secretariat in Belgium. Of particular note is the presence in Belgium, in addition to the institutions of the European Union, of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and the General Secretariat of the Benelux.
However, in addition to the foreign presence within Belgium, Belgium is also represented abroad. Belgium is an exporting country today, but it has always had an active foreign policy. Our country has 132 diplomatic and consular posts abroad, as well as a number of offices representing Communities and Regions.
Facts About Belgium
- Capital: Brussels
- Population 11.5 million
- Area 30,528 sq km
- Major languages Dutch, French
- Life expectancy 79 years (men), 84 years (women)
- Currency euro
- Major religion Christianity
Belgium Monarch: King Philippe
King Philippe succeeded to the throne in July 2013 on the abdication of his father, the 79-year-old Albert II, who stepped down on health grounds.
Respect for the monarchy is one of the few factors that crosses the communal divide in Belgium, and King Albert exercised his constitutional authority in advising political leaders on the formation of a government during the 2010-2011 parliamentary stalemate.
Belgium Prime minister: Charles Michel
Following elections, Reform Movement leader Charles Michel formed a right-wing coalition in October 2014, becoming at 38 the country’s youngest prime minister since 1841.
His liberal party comes from the French-speaking community, but the other three parties in the coalition represent Flemish speakers – including the nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which came first in the elections.
Belgian broadcasting mirrors the unique political and linguistic nature of the country. The cultural communities, rather than the federal authorities, are responsible for regulating radio and TV.
Some key dates in Belgium’s history:
- 1830 – Declaration of independence from Netherlands.
- 1914-18 First World War – Occupied by Germany.
- 1940-45 Second World War – German occupation.
- 1993 – Constitution changed to recognise division of country into three administrative regions: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels.
- 2002 – Euro replaces Belgian franc.
- 2016 March – Islamic State suicide bombers kill 35 people in attacks on Brussels.