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Belgium is located on the North Sea coast of the european mainland. The country is home to many of the European Union’s major institutions, placing the country politically as well as geographically at the centre of Europe. The State has been persistently criticised for it’s response to asylum-seekers as well as for its controversial laws prohibiting the wearing of religious clothing.
Belgium borders the North Sea and shares borders with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The country sits at the crossroads of Western Europe and the majority of West European capitals are within 1,000 km of the capital, Brussels.
Population and Language
The population of Belgium is around 10.8 million, comprised of approximately 58 per cent Flemings (Dutch speakers) and 31 per cent Walloons (French speakers). Belgium incorporates three communities - Flemish, French and German-speaking - and three regions: Flanders in the north where the official language is Dutch; Wallonia in the south where French is the official language and Brussels, the capital, where French and Dutch share official language status. Wallonia also has a 70,000-strong German-speaking minority.
History and Politics
Once part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a nationalist revolution in 1830 laid the foundation for an independent state. Originally officially French speaking, the country gradually adjusted to the current multi-lingual situation. Belgian neutrality was a key factor in the balance of power in Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite this, Belgium was occupied in both the First and Second World Wars, enduring significant brutality in each. Post war, Belgium was confronted by numerous crises in the African territories it had acquired during the nineteenth century and was forced into granting them independence. In recent decades, Belgium has emerged as a key player of the European Union and a central hub for a number of international organisations.
Belgium today is a federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. There has been a growing divide between the mainly Dutch-speaking north and the mainly French-speaking south, with some even speculating that the country could break up. Several governments have already been brought down by the tensions between the two communities. Outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme handed in his resignation in April 2010 after the government collapsed when a key coalition partner pulled out in a row over francophone rights in Dutch-speaking areas near Brussels. Following elections in June, the separatist New Flemish Alliance emerged as the largest single grouping from the vote, although the French and Flemish Socialists together had more seats overall.
Negotiations to form a new government hit an impasse, and the country still did not have a government a year after the election.
Belgium has a civil law system.
Belgium has few natural resources, imports large quantities of raw materials and has a high export to GDP ratio. About three-quarters of Belgium's trade is with other EU countries, with Germany one of its most important trading partner.
Media and Civil Society
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, which are generally respected by the government. Belgium is sixth in Freedom House’s table of Global Press Freedom Rankings.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
According to Amnesty International, reception conditions for asylum-seekers are inadequate, and the NGO has also expressed concern over the forcible return of rejected asylum-seekers to Iraq. There have been allegations of excessive use of force by the police and there are concerns that a draft law banning the full-face veil in public would violate freedoms of expression and religion. Belgium ratified the the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 16 December 1991, the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict on 6 May 2002, and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography on 17 March 2006.
- Hauser Global Law School Program, Globalex, "Research Guide to Belgian Law"
- UNICEF: Belgium Country Page
- BBC: Belgium Country Profile
- Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2010
- Index Mundi: Belgium Country Profile