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Belgium is located in Western Europe, bordered by the Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea.
Although generally flat, the terrain becomes increasingly hilly and forested in the southeast (Ardennes) region.
Climate is cool, temperate, and rainy; summer temperatures average 77°F, winters average 45°F. Annual extremes (rarely attained) are 10°F and 90°F.
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.
Today, the Belgians are divided ethnically into the Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons, with a mixed population in Brussels representing the remainder. About 70,000 German speakers reside in the east.
The population density is the second-highest in Europe, after the Netherlands.
Population : 10,213,752; urban--69%.
(pop. 950,000). Other cities--Antwerp (466,000), Ghent (230,000), Liege
Geographic coordinates : 50 50 N, 4 00 E
Map references : Europe
Area—comparative : about the size of Maryland
Land boundaries :
Coastline : 64 km
Maritime claims :
Climate : temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy
Terrain : lflat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, rugged mountains of Ardennes Forest in southeast
Elevation extremes :
Natural resources : coal, natural gas
Land use :
Irrigated land : 10 sq km including Luxembourg (1993 est.)
Natural hazards : flooding is a threat in areas of reclaimed coastal land, protected from the sea by concrete dikes.
Environment—current issues : the environment is exposed to intense pressures from human activities: urbanization, dense transportation network, industry, intense animal breeding and crop cultivation; air and water pollution also have repercussions for neighboring countries; uncertainties regarding federal and regional responsibilities (now resolved) have impeded progress in tackling environmental challenges.
agreements : party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Antarctic-Environmental
Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law
of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban,
Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber
Geography—note : crossroads of Western Europe; majority of West European capitals within 1,000 km of Brussels which is the seat of both the EU and NATO.
Belgium has existed essentially in its present form since 1830, when an uprising led to independence from The Netherlands. The country's name goes back to a Celtic tribe, the Belgae, whom Julius Caesar described as the most courageous tribe in all of Gaul. The Belgae were overwhelmed, however, by Caesar's legions around 50 BC, and for 300 years the area was a Roman province. Some scholars believe that the southern part of Belgium was the northernmost area of true Roman cultural penetration, beyond which Latin never really took hold. The proto-Dutch language, spoken by the Frankish invaders who swept through the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, took hold north of that line. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, life in the area centered on the quasi-independent trading and manufacturing towns--Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Liege, and others--that rose out of the rubble left by the Viking ravages of northern Europe. After centuries of war and many accidents of dynastic succession, the area that had come to be known as the Lowlands- -comprising the approximate modern territories of Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg--came into the possession of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor in the early 1500s.
The arrival of Protestantism polarized the Lowlands into two hostile camps. In the religious wars, the split became geo-graphic and political as the Protestants succeeded in establishing the United Provinces of the Netherlands in the north. The remaining Catholic territory after these wars is roughly equivalent to modern Belgium.
After two centuries of Spanish rule, the Austrian Hapsburgs gained control of the country after the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Napoleon annexed it to France in 1794. After his defeat in 1815, Belgium was awarded to The Netherlands. However, after 15 years of chafing against Dutch administrative and economic reforms, the Belgian people revolted and declared the independent state of Belgium in 1830. A progressive, almost republican constitution, was created, and the state was successfully launched with Leopold I, a German prince, as the first King of the Belgians.
For 84 years, Belgium remained neutral in an era of intra-European wars until German troops overran the country during their attack on France in 1914. King Albert, the constitutional commander-in-chief of the armed forces, rallied what remained of his troops and, after joining the French Army, was able to retain a tiny corner of Flemish Belgium near the sea throughout the war. Some of the fiercest battles of World War I were fought on "Flanders' Fields."
The inter-war years saw an unprecedented blooming of Flemish culture in northern Belgium and a sharpening of ethnic rivalry between the northern Dutch-speaking Flemings and the southern French-speaking Walloons. Partly as a result, in 1936, Belgium reverted to its former policy of neutrality, trying not to provide Nazi Germany with an excuse to invade. As in 1914, this failed, and Belgium was occupied by the Germans in 1940. While the cabinet and other political leaders established a government-in- exile in London, the King remained in Belgium for the entire war. The King's controversial behavior during the German occupation forced him, in 1951, to abdicate in favor of his son, Baudouin, who reigned until his death in 1993. The current King is Baudouin's brother, Albert II.
Belgium's tangled tongues date back to when Christ was a toddler and Franks were forcing Celts and Gauls into the land's southern regions, making an early form of Dutch the norm in the north. And so it remains, with French the accepted language in the south. Brussels, stuck in the middle, is one of the world's few officially bilingual capitals. The vast majority of Belgians are Roman Catholics, and despite a decline in church attendances, religious traditions still flavour much of Belgium's daily life.
Early Belgian artists are credited with inventing oil painting, so it's no wonder the place has produced more than its fair share of masterpieces. The Flemish Primitive Jan van Eyck started it all in the 15th century, Pieter Brueghel followed with his portrayals of peasant life in the 16th century, and Pieter Paul Rubens dominated early 17th century art as the leading light of the Baroque period. In Antwerp, Rubens set up a highly productive studio of painters and turned out sensational religious allegories such as his famous Descent from the Cross.
At the turn of this century, the sinuous architecture of Art Nouveau started in Brussels led by Henri van de Velde and Victor Horta. Horta was famed for his interiors which avoided straight lines - ceilings simply became curved continuations of walls. Stained glass and wrought iron were much used to accentuate this whiplash of lines. Comic strips are another Belgian forte and while there are many local favourites, Hergé, the creator of the quiffed reporter Tintin, is the most widely known.
Belgian food is highly regarded throughout Europe - some say it's second only to French. Combining French and German styles, meat and seafood are the main raw ingredients. The Belgians swear they invented frites (chips, or fries), and judging by availability, it's a claim few would contest. And though they didn't actually invent beer or chocolate, they may as well have.
Belgium, a highly developed market economy, belongs to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of leading industrialized democracies. In recent years, with a geographic area about equal to that of Maryland, and a population of just over 10 million, Belgium's GDP level has placed it in the top 20 for all countries of the world. In 1999, the per capita income was $25,576.
Densely populated Belgium is located at the heart of one of the world's most highly industrialized 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 neighbors. One of the founding members of the European Community (EC), Belgium strongly supports deepening the powers of the EC to integrate European economies. Belgium became a first-tier member of the European Monetary Union in January of 1999.
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 Belgian industrial sector can be compared to a complex processing machine: It imports raw materials and semifinished goods that are further processed and reexported. Except for its coal, which is no longer economical to exploit, Belgium has virtually no natural resources. Nonetheless, most traditional industrial sectors are represented in the economy, including steel, textiles, refining, chemicals, food processing, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, electronics, and machinery fabrication. Despite the heavy industrial component, services account for 72.5% of GDP. Agriculture accounts for only 1.4% of the GDP.
Belgian Economy in the 20th Century
For 200 years through World War I, French-speaking Wallonia was a technically advanced, industrial region, while Dutch-speaking Flanders was predominantly agricultural. This disparity began to fade during the interwar period. When Belgium emerged from World War II with its industrial infrastructure relatively undamaged, the stage was set for a period of rapid development, particularly in Flanders. The postwar boom years, enhanced by the establishment of the EU and NATO headquarters in Brussels, contributed to the rapid expansion of light industry throughout most of Flanders, particularly along a corridor stretching between Brussels and Antwerp (now the second-largest port in Europe after Rotterdam), where a major concentration of petrochemical industries developed.
The older, traditional industries of Wallonia, particularly steelmaking, began to lose their competitive edge during this period, but the general growth of world prosperity masked this deterioration until the 1973 and 1979 oil price shocks and resultant shifts in international demand sent the economy into a period of prolonged recession. In the 1980s and 1990s, the economic center of the country continued to shift northwards to Flanders.
The early 1980s saw the country facing a difficult period of structural adjustment caused by declining demand for its traditional products, deteriorating economic performance, and neglected structural reform. Consequently, the 1980-82 recession shook Belgium to the core--unemployment mounted, social welfare costs increased, personal debt soared, the government deficit climbed to 13% of GDP, and the national debt, although mostly held domestically, mushroomed.
Against this grim backdrop, in 1982, Prime Minister Martens' center-right coalition government formulated an economic recovery program to promote export-led growth by enhancing the competitiveness of Belgium's export industries through an 8.5% devaluation.
Economic growth rose from 2% in 1984 to a peak of 4% in 1989. In May 1990, the government linked the franc to the German mark, primarily through closely tracking German interest rates. Consequently, as German interest rates rose after 1990, Belgian rates have increased and contributed to a decline in the economic growth rate.
In 1992-93, the Belgian economy suffered the worst recession since World War II, with the real GDP declining 1.7% in 1993. Growth improved in 1999, with real GDP growing by an estimated 2.2% (year-on-year) versus the 2% figure recorded in 1998.
Business investment (up 4.0% in real terms) and exports (up 4.4%) provided the economy's impetus. Private consumption, held back by weak consumer confidence and stagnant real wages, grew by 1% in real terms and public consumption by 0.9%.
Foreign investment contributed significantly to Belgian economic growth in the 1960s. In particular, U.S. firms played a leading role in the expansion of light industrial and petrochemical industries in the 1960s and 1970s. The Belgian Government encourages new foreign investment as a means to promote employment. With regional devolution, Flanders, Brussels, and Wallonia are now courting potential foreign investors and offer a host of incentives and benefits.
More than 1,200 U.S. firms had invested a total of over $20 billion in Belgium by 1999. U.S. and other foreign companies in Belgium account for approximately 11% of the total work force, with the U.S. share at about 5%. U.S. companies are heavily represented in chemical, automotive assembly, and petroleum refining. A number of U.S. service industries followed in the wake of these investments--banks, law firms, public relations, accounting and executive search firms. The resident American community in Belgium now exceeds 20,000. Attracted by the EU 1992 single-market program, many U.S. law firms and lawyers have settled in Brussels since 1989. Other foreign firms, particularly French ones, have invested locally for the same reason.
On May 1, 1998, Belgium became a first-tier member of the European Monetary Union. On January 1, 1999, the definitive exchange rate between the Euro and the BF was established at BF 40.33. Belgium will gradually shift from the use of the BF to the use of the Euro as its currency by January 1, 2002. To minimize confusion the old BF currency and the new Euro will only overlap for a period of 2 months. After that, the BF will be withdrawn from circulation and can only be changed into Euros at the local offices of the National Bank of Belgium.
About 80% of Belgium's trade is with fellow EC member states. Given this high percentage, it seeks to diversify and expand trade opportunities with non-EC countries. Belgium ranks as the 10th-largest market for the export of U.S. goods and services. If goods in transit to other European countries are excluded, Belgium still ranks as the 12th-largest market for U.S. goods.
Bilaterally, there are few points of friction with the U.S. in the trade and economic area. The Belgian authorities are, as a rule, anti-protectionist and try to maintain a hospitable and open trade and investment climate. The U.S. Government focuses its market-opening efforts on the EC Commission and larger EC member states. In addition, the EC Commission negotiates on trade issues for all member states, which, in turn lessens bilateral trade disputes with Belgium.
The social security system, which expanded rapidly during the prosperous 1950s and 1960s, has numerous programs, including a medical system, unemployment insurance coverage, child allowances, invalid benefits and other benefits and pensions. With the onset of a recession in the 1970s, this system became an increasing burden on the economy and accounted for much of the government budget deficits. Unemployment, which declined from a high of 14.3% in 1984 to an average of 8.5% in 1999, has become less of a problem recently. However, more than 60% of the unemployed have been so for over 2 years and over 80% for at least one year.
The national unemployment figures mask considerable differences between Flanders and Wallonia. Unemployment in Wallonia is mainly structural, while in Flanders it is cyclical. Flanders' unemployment level equals only half that of Wallonia. In general, sunset industries (mainly coal and steel) dominate in Wallonia and sunrise industries (chemicals, high-tech, and services) in Flanders.
From the second half of 1999 onward, Belgian unemployment figures declined substantially to 8.5%, one percentage point below the European average. Labor market participation also increased significantly from 54% in 1993 to 58.5% in 2000. In some sectors, labor shortages are already beginning to appear. To partly offset the increased labor costs which go with a tight labor market, the Belgian Government introduced stock option legislation for salaried employees in 1999.
Although Belgium is a wealthy country, it overspent income and undercollected taxes for years. The Belgian Government reacted with poor macroeconomic policies to the 1973 and 1979 oil price hikes: it hired the redundant work force into the public sector and subsidized ailing industries--coal, steel, textiles, glass, and shipbuilding--in order to prop up the economy. As a result, cumulative government debt reached 121% by the end of the 1980s (versus a cumulative U.S. federal public debt/GNP ration of 31.2% in 1990). However, thanks to Belgium's high personal savings rate, the Belgian Government managed to finance the deficit from mainly domestic savings, which minimized the deleterious effects on the overall economy.
The main objective of Belgian Government economic policy in recent years has been to attain a budget deficit of 3% by the end of 1997, a goal that was successfully attained. This was one of the five criteria for membership into the first-tier group of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) under the Maastricht treaty. Historically, Belgium has done relatively better on its budget in times of cyclical downswings. The total budget deficit in 1999 (federal, regional plus social security) amounted to 1.2% of GDP. This represents a substantial decrease from the 7.1% deficit recorded in 1992, as well as a significant difference from the expected figure of 2%, well within the Maastricht criterion.
Belgium cannot possibly bring its accumulated debt down from the 1999 level of 113% of GDP to the Maastricht target of 60%. In order to meet the "substantial progress" criterion" for its debt, Belgium has run a substantial primary surplus (excluding interest payments), reaching 6.2% of GDP in 1999.
Belgium is an hereditary constitutional monarchy. The present King, Albert II, succeeded his brother, King Baudouin, who died July 31, 1993. Albert took the oath of office to become King on August 9, 1993.
As titular head of state, the King plays a ceremonial and symbolic role in the nation. A main political function is to designate a political leader to attempt to form a new cabinet after an election or the resignation of a cabinet. In conditions where there is a "constructive vote of no-confidence," the government has to resign and the Lower House of Parliament proposes a new Prime Minister to the King. The King also is seen as playing a symbolic unifying role, representing a common national Belgian identity.
The Belgian Parliament consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives (the Chamber). The House has 150 directly lected members. The Senate has 71 members. The executive branch of the government consists of ministers and secretaries of state (junior ministers) drawn from the political parties which form the government coalition. Formally, the ministers are appointed by the King. The number of ministers is limited to 15, and they have no seat in Parliament. The Cabinet is chaired by the Prime Minister. Ministers head executive departments of the government.
The allocation of powers between the Parliament and the Cabinet is somewhat similar to that of the United States--the Parliament enacts legislation and appropriates funds--but the Belgian Parliament does not have the same degree of independent power that the U.S. Congress has. Members of political parties represented in the government are expected to support all bills presented by the Cabinet.
The House of Representatives is the "political" chamber that votes on motions of confidence and budgets. The Senate deals with long-term issues and votes on an equal footing with the Chamber on a range of matters, including constitutional reform bills and international treaties.
The Prime Minister and his ministers administer the government and the various public services. As in Great Britain, ministers must defend their policies and performance in person before the Chamber.
Entry Requirements/Visa Requirements/Validity/Costs
American Citizens do not need a visa when they travel to Belgium for business or for personal travel. The stay in the Schengen area should not exceed 90 days in a 6 month period. Please note that the American visitor will need to present a valid American passport (validity at least 6 months), proof of sufficient funds and a return airline ticket.
The Schengen visa is valid for the following 15 european countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. A Schengen visa issued by an Embassy or Consulate of the above countries allows the holder to travel freely in all of these countries.
If you are not a US citizen and you don't know whether you need a visa, please contact the Embassy or the Consulate General.
Where should you apply?
In principle, you should apply in person at the Embassy or Consulate General in whose jurisdiction you reside.
If you cannot make a personal appearance
and you have to send in your application by mail, the following requirements
What should submit?
Cost of visa application
The visa application fee is non-refundable, wether your visa is actually issued or not.
The current Belgian visa application fees :
The above fees are to be paid in cash (exact change please), certified check or money order. Personal checks are not accepted.
A Schengen visa is issued free of charge to the spouse and children of european Union nationals. The spouse should present a marriage certificate (duly translated into English when necessary) and the E.U.-citizen's passport. The minor children should present a birth certificate.
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