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Whitaker's Almanack: Belgium

Information on Belgium

See also QFINANCE article

Koninkrijk Belgie/Royaume de Belgique/Königreich Belgien – Kingdom of Belgium

Whitaker's Almanack Definitions

  • Area – 30,528 sq. km
  • Capital – Brussels; population, 1,892,000 (2009 est)
  • Major cities – Antwerp, Bruges, Charleroi, Ghent, Liège
  • Currency – Euro (€) of 100 cents
  • Population – 10,438,353 rising at 0.06 per cent a year (2012 est); Fleming (58 per cent), Walloon (31 per cent) (est)
  • Religion – Christian (Roman Catholic 45 per cent, Protestant 1 per cent), Muslim 4 per cent (est).
  • Language – Dutch (Flemish), French, German (all official)
  • Population density – 359 per sq. km (2010)
  • Urban population – 97.4 per cent (2010 est)
  • Median age (years) – 42.3 (2011 est)
  • National anthem – 'La Brabançonne' ['The Song of Brabant']
  • National day – 21 July (Accession of King Leopold I, 1831)
  • Death penalty – Abolished for all crimes (since 1996)
  • CPI score – 7.5 (2011)

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Climate and Terrain

There are two distinct regions: the west is generally low-lying and fertile, while in the east the forested hills of the Ardennes are more rugged with poorer soil. Elevation extremes range from 0m on the North Sea coast to 694m (Signal de Botrange). The polders near the coast, which are protected against floods by dykes, cover an area of around 500 sq. km. Average temperatures range from 2°C in January to 18°C in July.

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History and Politics

Belgium is a constitutional monarchy with a hereditary monarch as head of state. Amendments to the constitution since 1968 have devolved power to the regions. The national government retains competence only in foreign and defence policies, the national budget and monetary policy, social security, and the judicial, legal and penal systems. The bicameral legislature, the Federal Chambers, consists of a senate and a Chamber of Representatives. The latter has 150 members, directly elected by proportional representation for a four-year term. The senate has 71 members, who serve a four-year term; 40 are directly elected, the Flemish and French communities receive ten members each and the German community one, with the remaining ten co-opted by the elected members.

There are three language communities: Flemish, Francophone and Germanophone. Each community has its own assembly, which elects the community government. At this level, Flanders is covered by the Flemish community assembly; most of Wallonia is covered by the Francophone community assembly, and areas of Wallonia lying in the German-speaking communities of Eupen and Malmédy are covered by the Germanophone community assembly; Brussels is covered by a joint community commission of the Flemish and Francophone community assemblies.

At regional level, Belgium is divided into the three regions of Wallonia, Brussels and Flanders. Each region has its own directly elected assembly and government.

The ten provinces of Belgium are: Antwerp, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Hainaut, Liège, Limburg, Luxembourg, Namur, Walloon Brabant and West Flanders. In addition, 589 communes form the lowest level of local government.

Early elections were held in June 2010 and the New Flemish Alliance, a Flemish separatist party, emerged as the largest party in what was a heavily contested Chamber of Representatives. Negotiations over budget and immigration issues, and voting rights between the French-speaking and Flemish communities, continued for a record 541 days before Socialist Party leader Elio Di Rupo formed a coalition government comprising of the country's principal parties; Di Rupo was sworn into office in December 2011.

Minister-President of the Brussels Capital Government, Charles Picqué
Minister-President of the Flemish Community and Flemish Region, Kris Peeters
Minister-President of the French Community and Walloon Region, Rudy Demotte
Minister-President of the German-speaking Community, Karl-Heinz Lambertz

HEAD OF STATE

HM The King of the Belgians, King Albert II, born 6 June 1934; acceded 9 August 1993
Heir, HRH Prince Philippe Léopold Louis Marie, born 15 April 1960

SELECTED GOVERNMENT MEMBERS as at May 2012

Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo
Deputy Prime Ministers, Joëlle Milquet (Interior); Laurette Onkelinx (Social Affairs and Public Health); Didier Reynders (Foreign Affairs); Steven Vanackere (Finance and Sustainable Development)
Defence, Pieter De Crem

EMBASSY OF BELGIUM

17 Grosvenor Crescent, London SW1X 7EE
T 020-7470 3700 E london@diplobel.fed.be W www.diplomatie.be/london
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, HE Johan Verbeke, apptd 2010

BRITISH EMBASSY

Avenue d'Auderghem 10, Oudergemlaan, 1040 Brussels
T (+32) (2) 287 6211 E info@britain.be W ukinbelgium.fco.gov.uk
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, HE Jonathan Brenton, apptd 2010

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Defence

The headquarters of NATO, and of its Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, are in Belgium.

Aged 16–49, 2010 estMalesFemales
Available for military service2,359,2322,291,689
Fit for military service1,934,9571,877,268

Military expenditure – US$5,136m (2011)

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Economy and Trade

Belgium has a free-market economy with highly diversified industrial and commercial sectors. With few natural resources, industry is based largely on processing imported raw materials for export. This makes the economy dependent on the state of world markets; public debt remained close to 100 per cent of GDP in 2011, although the Belgian GDP grew by around 2 per cent the same year. The banking sector was severely affected by the international banking crisis and government bailouts caused the budget deficit to worsen, although the deficit has since been reduced to around 4 per cent of GDP.

Principal industries are engineering and metal products, vehicle assembly, transport equipment, scientific instruments, food processing and beverages, chemicals, base metals, textiles, glass, petroleum and diamonds. Industry accounts for 21.6 per cent of GDP and 25 per cent of employment. There is a large service sector, partly owing to the location in Brussels of EU institutions, NATO headquarters and a number of other international organisations. The service sector accounts for 77.7 per cent of GDP. There is a small agricultural sector (0.7 per cent of GDP).

Around three-quarters of trade is with other EU states, especially Germany, France and the Netherlands. External trade statistics relate to Luxembourg as well as Belgium, as the two countries formed an economic union in 1921.

GNI – US$477,643m; US$45,910 per capita (2010)
Annual average growth of GDP – 2 per cent (2011 est)
Inflation rate – 3.1 per cent (2011 est)
Population below poverty line – 15.2 per cent (2007 est)
Unemployment – 8.3 per cent (2010 est)
Total external debt – US$1,399,000m (2011)
Imports – US$390,176m (2010)
Exports – US$411,272m (2010)

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

Trade – US$21,097m surplus (2010)
Current Account – US$4,891m surplus (2010)

Trade with UK20102011
Imports from UK£12,940,306,643£15,383,714,421
Exports to UK£16,981,334,281£18,726,103,530

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Communications

Airports – The main airports are at Antwerp, Brussels, Liège and Ostend

Waterways – There are 2,043km of inland waterways, of which 1,528km are in regular commercial use; ship canals link Ostend and Zeebrugge with Bruges and Ghent, Ghent with Terneuzen in the Netherlands, Brussels with Charleroi and Willebroek Rupel, and Liège with Antwerp. The Meuse (Maas), Sambre and Schelde rivers form an integral part of the network. The major inland ports are located in Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp

Roadways – There are 153,595km of roadways, including 1,763km of motorways

Railways – The rail system is run by Belgian National Railways and, at 3,233km, the network is one of the densest in the world

Telecommunications – 4.64 million main lines and 12.154 million mobile phones subscriptions (2010); there were 8.113 million internet users in 2009

Internet code and IDD – be; 32 (from UK), 44 (to UK)

Major broadcasters – Major television broadcaster include French-language RTBF and Dutch-language VRT

Press – Major newspapers include Dutch-language daily Het Nieuwsblad and French-language daily Le Soir

WPFI score – 4,00 (14)

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Education and Health

Nursery schools provide free education for children from two-and-a-half to six years of age. The official school-leaving age is 18.

Gross enrolment ratio (percentage of relevant age group) – primary 105 per cent; secondary 111 per cent; tertiary 67 per cent (2009 est)
Health expenditure (per capita) – US$5,104 (2009)
Hospital beds (per 1,000 people) – 6.6 (2004–9)
Life expectancy (years) – 79.51 (2011 est)
Mortality rate – 10.57 (2011 est)
Birth rate – 10.06 (2011 est)
Infant mortality rate – 4.33 (2011 est)

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