Constitutional monarchy in northwest Europe. It is limited to the north with Holland and the North Sea, to the east with Germany and Luxembourg and to the south and southwest with France. It has an extension of 30,528 km2. Brussels is the capital and the most important city.
Territory and resources :
The country has three main physiographic regions: the coastal plain formed by dunes and polders, the central plateau crossed by countless rivers and the highlands of the Ardennes. Along the northern coast there is an area of land protected by dikes, built between the 13th and 15th centuries. The main rivers are the Schelde and the Meuse, which are born in France and are navigable when passing through Belgium.
The climate near the sea is humid and temperate. Inland, far from the sea, it is more rigorous. The rains reach an average of 699 mm per year and the average temperature is 8.3 ºC. The most important forests are those of oak, beech and elm. The area was reforested with pine forests.
Population and government:
The population is made up of two ethnic groups. Flemish, of Germanic origin, who inhabit the northern half of Belgium, called Flanders and who speak Flemish or Dutch, and the Walloons, of Celtic origin, who speak French and inhabit the southern half, called Wallonia. There is a minority of Germans who live in the east of the country.
Belgium had a population in 1993, of 10,100,631 inhabitants and a density of 330 inhab / km2, being one of the highest in Europe. The main cities are: Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.
About 90% of the population is Catholic, although the cult is in decline. Other religions are Protestantism and Judaism.
In 1963, a law established three official languages: Flemish in the north, French in the south and German in the east. In and around Brussels, French and Flemish are officially recognized.
Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. The current sovereign is King Albert II. The Belgian Constitution was proclaimed in 1831, with subsequent changes aimed at forming a federal state. The monarch designates ministers and judges. The parliament is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Belgium is one of the most industrialized European nations. Its gross domestic product in 1994 was $ 227.9 billion, equivalent to $ 19,000 per capita income.
Belgium is not entirely self-sufficient in agricultural products, however it is in livestock. The land is explored intensively. Livestock and crops for daily consumption are the main activities.
Historically coal was the main resource in the country, but currently its reserves have been depleted and production has fallen since 1980. Many mines have closed. Belgium is among the largest producers of iron and steel. The heavy industry is based on the production of steel, coal, chemicals and oil, controlled by six trusts. The textile industry, which dates back to the Middle Ages, produces cotton, wool, linen, and synthetic fabrics and its chemical industry is a world leader. Other important industries are the naval and the construction of railway equipment. Diamond cutting is one of the most important in the world.
The national currency is the Belgian franc.
A week after World War I broke out, German troops crossed the border into Belgium, ignoring their neutrality. The government resisted the invasion and asked for help from France, Britain and Russia. One million Belgians fled the country and more than 80,000 died. The September 1918 Allied offensive liberated the country’s coast. By the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, Belgium incorporated 989.3 km2 of territory and 64,500 inhabitants.
Despite the enormous damage caused by the war, Belgium has achieved a remarkable recovery. The vote for men was introduced in the country, neutrality was abandoned and, in 1920, a military alliance was signed with France.
In 1936, Belgium returned to neutrality, being attacked for the second time by Germany, in May 1940. French and British troops helped it but were defeated due to the superiority of the invading forces. Leopoldo III surrendered and was arrested. The Belgian cabinet, exiled in Paris, refused to acknowledge the defeat, depriving the king of his governmental rights. After the fall of France, the Belgian government that was in exile moved to London. In 1944, he returned to Belgium after the German eviction and Parliament elected Prince Charles as president.
Belgium was politically disorganized because of the confrontation between the Christian Social party (Catholics) and the coalition of liberals, socialists and communists, and the question of the return of King Leopoldo. In 1945, Parliament agreed to leave Leopoldo out of power. Belgium returned to recover its previous position among the great mercantile nations of the world.
In 1950, a referendum was called on the return of King Leopoldo. After obtaining an affirmative answer from 57.6% of the voters, several conflicts occurred, organized by the opposition. Leopoldo then agreed to hand over power to his son, Prince Balduíno.
Belgium was a constituent member, in 1952, of the European Coal and Steel Community and contributed to the founding, in 1957, of the European Economic Community (today the European Union).
In 1960, Belgium proclaimed the independence of the colony of the Belgian Congo (Zaire, present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo). In 1962, Belgian UN administrators, in charge of the territory of Rwanda – Urundi, achieved independence from Rwanda and Burundi.
The rivalry between Flemish and Walloons generated frequent disturbances during the 1960s, causing the fall of several governments in the following years. In the 1980s, social – Christians formed governments and, in 1989, Parliament approved a program to transfer power to the three ethnolinguistic regions. Belgium ratified the Maastricht Treaty on the European Union in 1992. In May 1993, Belgium became a federal country. When King Baldwin died without leaving any descendants, he was succeeded by his brother Alberto II in 1993.