OFFICIAL NAME: Kingdom of Belgium
SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional Monarchy
AREA: 30,540 Sq Km (11,792 Sq Mi)
ESTIMATED 2000 POPULATION 10,145,600
LOCATION & GEOGRAPHY: Belgium is located in North West
Europe. It is bound by the Netherlands to the north, France
to the south, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast
and the North Sea to the northwest. The country's topography
is that of a great fertile low lying plain which constitutes
the north and west. South of central Belgium the terrain
consists of rolling undulating hills and valleys which rise
gradually to the east. Further south and to the east the
hills give way to the mountainous Ardennes forests. The
principal river in the southern Wallonia region is the Meuse
with its tributaries the Semois, Sambre and Ourthe while
the Scheldt with its tributaries is the principal river
for the northern Flanders region. Major Cities (pop. est.);
Brussels 136,000, Antwerp 473,000, Ghent 231,000, Charleroi
208,000, Liege 199,000 (1991). Land Use; forested 21%, pastures
21%, agricultural-cultivated 24%, other 34% (1992).
CLIMATE: Belgium has a cool and temperate climate with strong
maritime influences. The lowland areas are characterized by changing winds,
summer thunderstorms with drizzle and an overcast sky. The northwest area
is characterized by a mild climate with fog. The interior experiences more
extreme summers while winters in the upland regions are colder and have
greater frost and rain. Average annual precipitation varies from 510 to
760 mm (20 to 30 inches) to 1,200 mm (47 inches) in the hills of the south.
Average temperature ranges in Brussels are from -1 to 4 degrees Celsius
(30 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit) in January to 12 to 23 degrees Celsius (54
to 73 degrees Fahrenheit) in July.
PEOPLE: Originally the people of Belgium were of Celtic origin,
although most were wiped out during the Christian era. Belgium is now comprised
of Celtic, Roman, German, French, Dutch, Spanish and Austrian descendants.
Today Belgium is divided linguistically with two main groups (1.) the Dutch
speakers called Flemings and (2.) the French speakers called Walloons.
Other ethnic minorities include immigrants from Italy, Morocco, Turkey,
Spain, Algeria, Portugal and Zaire.
DEMOGRAPHIC/VITAL STATISTICS: Density; 327 persons per sq km
(847 persons per sq mi) (1991). Urban-Rural; 96.5% urban, 3.5% rural (1989).
Sex Distribution; 48.9% male, 51.1% female (1990). Life Expectancy at Birth;
70.0 years male, 76.8 years female (1982). Age Breakdown; 18% under 15,
23% 15 to 29, 22% 30 to 44, 17% 45 to 59, 14% 60 to 74, 6% 75 and over
(1989). Birth Rate; 12.2 per 1,000 (1989). Death Rate; 10.8 per 1,000 (1989).
Increase Rate; 1.4 per 1,000 (1989). Infant Mortality Rate; 8.6 per 1,000
live births (1989).
RELIGIONS: Mostly Christians with 90% of the population Roman
Catholic. The principal religious minority are Sunni Muslims which account
for 1.1% of the population. Other minorities include Jews, Protestants
and Orthodox Christians which are found in scattered communities.
LANGUAGES: The official languages are Flemish (Dutch), French
and German. With approximately 56% of the population speaking Dutch while
32% speak French and 1% speak German. Various dialects are spoken by the
Flemish and Walloons, although it is less common in public or formal situations
and is more common in rural areas and informal situations.
EDUCATION: Aged 25 or over and having attained: less than secondary
64.4%, lower secondary 16.0%, upper secondary 10.0%, vocational 3.7%, higher
5.9% (1977). Literacy; literate population aged 15 or over virtually 100%
MODERN HISTORY - WWII TO 1993: The unity of Belgium was threatened
by the conflict over state subsidization of Roman Catholic private schools
during the 1950's. In 1951 a national referendum showed that most Belgians
favored the return of King Leopold III, however, disorder escalated upon
the Kings return from exile which forced him to abdicate in favor of his
son Prince Baudouin. In 1960 Belgium granted Belgian Congo now Zaire independence
which resulted in some further economic hardship. New laws established
a definitive linguistic frontier causing universities to split into separate
Dutch and French speaking institutions and in 1971 the constitution was
revised to prepare the way for autonomy. An agreement was finally reached
in 1980 for autonomy for Flanders and Walloons and further amendments were
finally introduced that widened the financial and legislative powers of
the regions. In 1990 a crisis was narrowly avoided because King Baudouin
refused to approve a bill which would legalize abortions, although it had
been approved by both houses of Parliament. In 1991 there were further
disputes between the French Socialists and the Flemish Social Christian
coalition over the third stage of state reforms that included direct elections
for the regional assemblies, the right of regions to conclude international
agreements such as arms sales and more delineated functions for the Senate
and the House of Representatives. After a long awaited contract to upgrade
telephone system was submitted to the government a dispute over regional
radio and television taxes erupted between the factions and ultimately
resulted in the collapse of the government. However, Prime Minister Martens'
resignation overturned by the King so that the essential legislation could
be enacted and the situation in Zaire involving Belgian troops could be
dealt with. Immigration also became an increasingly important political
issue with the government approving a bill granting automatic citizenship
to third-generation immigrants. In Nov. 1991 elections resulted in a swing
to the far right and far left with the Flemish Liberals unable to form
a government. On Dec. 19, 1991 the King requested the French Social Christians,
led by Melchior Wathelet, to begin negotiations. Also during 1991, King
Baudouin celebrated his 60th birthday and his 40 years as head of state
while a constitutional change to allow women to accede to the throne was
also agreed to by all parties. In 1992 the Social Christian and Socialist
coalition remained in government, although Jean-Luc Dehaene was appointed
as the new prime minister in March. During 1992 the two major objectives,
namely the reform of state structures and a budget deficit reduction in
line with the Maastricht Treaty requirements, resulted in a political deadlock.
In Sept. 1992, the Dehaene called a meeting of top coalition politicians
to end the stalemate. An agreement was found that would establish Belgium
as a truly federal state with parliamentary elections held every four years
and regional assembly elections held every five years while the powers
of the Senate were to be curtailed. In 1993 some 289 days after the so-called
"St Michael's" agreements between the Social Christian and Socialist
coalition parties, the two houses of Parliament with the support of the
Green and Volksunie parties approved the constitution changes that would
turn Belgium into a federal state. In Mar. 1993 Prime Minister Dehaene
tendered his resignation which the King refused to accept after a budgetary
crisis within the government. A solution was reached by the coalition parties
on measures to reduce the deficit which included the privatization of a
number of public companies. During 1993 the number of unemployed and bankruptcies
increased dramatically while compulsory military service was also abolished.
Also in 1993 the death of King Boudouin resulted in the accession of his
younger brother Albert II to the throne on August 9, 1993.
CURRENCY: The official currency is the Euro divided into 100
ECONOMY: Gross National Product; USD $213,435,000,000 (1993).
Public Debt; USD $250,900,000,000 (1995). Imports; BF 3,791,874,000,000
(1993). Exports; BF 4,158,382,000,000 (1993). Tourism Receipts; USD $4,071,000,000
(1993). Balance of Trade; BF 65,200,000 (1992). Economically Active Population;
4,088,600 or 40.6% of total population (1992). Unemployed; 7.7% (1992).
MAIN TRADING PARTNERS: Its main trading partners are Luxembourg,
Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy and the USA.
MAIN PRIMARY PRODUCTS: Barley, Coal, Flax, Hay, Livestock, Oats,
Potatoes, Sugar Beets, Timber, Vegetables, Wheat.
MAJOR INDUSTRIES: Cement, Chemicals, Coal Mining, Diamond Cutting,
Food Processing, Glass, Iron and Steel, Light and Heavy Engineering, Paper
Goods, Petroleum Refining, Textiles.
MAIN EXPORTS: Chemicals, Cut Diamonds, Foodstuffs, Iron and Steel,
Machinery, Motor Vehicles, Petroleum Products, Textile Products.
TRANSPORT: Railroads; route length 3,568 km (2,217 mi) (1989),
passenger-km 6,396,000,000 (3,974,000,000 passenger-mi) (1989), cargo ton-km
8,052,000,000 (5,515,000,000 short ton-mi) (1989). Roads; length 128,345
km (79,750 mi) (1988). Vehicles; cars 3,864,159 (1990), trucks and buses
358,885 (1990). Merchant Marine; vessels 330 (1990), deadweight tonnage
3,116,308 (1990). Air Transport; passenger-km 6,756,000,000 (4,198,000,000
passenger-mi) (1989), cargo ton-km 686,196,000 (469,976,000 short ton-mi)
COMMUNICATIONS: Daily Newspapers; total of 46 with a total circulation
of 3,186,700 (1994). Radio; receivers 7,640,000 (1994). Television; receivers
4,200,000 (1994). Telephones; units 4,395,700 (1993).
MILITARY: 63,000 (1992) total active duty personnel with 76.2%
army, 4.6% navy and 19.2% air force while military expenditure accounts
for 1.8% (1993) of the Gross National Product (GNP).
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