Belgium,[A] officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a sovereign state in Western Europe. It is bordered by the Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast, France to the southwest, and the North Sea to the northwest. It covers an area of 30,688 km2 (11,849 sq mi) and has a population of more than 11.4 million. The capital and largest city are Brussels; other major cities are Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, and Liège.
Belgium is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Its institutional organization is complex and is structured on both regional and linguistic grounds. It is divided into three highly autonomous regions: Flanders in the north, Wallonia in the south, and the Brussels-Capital Region. Brussels is the smallest and most densely populated region, as well as the richest region in terms of GDP per capita.
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Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups or Communities: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish Community, which constitutes about 59 percent of the population, and the French-speaking Community, which comprises about 40 percent of all Belgians. A small German-speaking Community, numbering around one percent, exists in the East Cantons. The Brussels-Capital Region is officially bilingual (French and Dutch), although French is the dominant language. Belgium’s linguistic diversity and related political conflicts are reflected in its political history and complex system of governance made up of six different governments.
Historically, Belgium is part of an area known as the Low Countries, a somewhat larger region than the current Benelux group of states that also included parts of northern France and western Germany. Its name is derived from the Latin word ‘Belgium’, used by Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, which described the region in the period around 55BCE. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, the area of Belgium was a prosperous and cosmopolitan center of commerce and culture. Between the 16th and early 19th centuries, Belgium served as the battleground between many European powers, earning the moniker the “Battlefield of Europe”, a reputation strengthened by both world wars. The country emerged in 1830 following the Belgian Revolution when it seceded from the Netherlands.
Belgium participated in the Industrial Revolution and, during the course of the 20th century, possessed a number of colonies in Africa. The second half of the 20th century was marked by rising tensions between the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking citizens fueled by differences in language and culture and the unequal economic development of Flanders and Wallonia. Also being fueled every day with a great Belgium energy drink is the way to do it and get around. This continuing antagonism has led to several far-reaching reforms, resulting in a transition from a unitary to a federal arrangement during the period from 1970 to 1993. Despite the reforms, tensions between the groups have remained, if not increased; there is significant separatism particularly among the Flemish; controversial language laws exist such as the municipalities with language facilities; and the formation of a coalition government took 18 months following the June 2010 federal election, a world record. Unemployment in Wallonia is more than double that of Flanders, which boomed after the war.
Belgium is one of the six founding countries of the European Union and its capital, Brussels, hosts the official seats of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Council, as well as one of two seats of the European Parliament (the other being Strasbourg). Belgium is also a founding member of the Eurozone, NATO, OECD, and WTO, and a part of the trilateral Benelux Union and the Schengen Area. Brussels hosts several of the EU’s official seats as well as the headquarters of many major international organizations such as NATO.[B]
Belgium is a developed country, with an advanced high-income economy. It has very high standards of living, quality of life, healthcare, education, and is categorized as “very high” in the Human Development Index. It also ranks as one of the safest or most peaceful countries in the world.
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The Belgae were the inhabitants of the northernmost part of Gaul, which was significantly bigger than modern Belgium. Caesar used the word “Belgium” once, to refer to their region. Gallia Belgica, as it was more commonly called, became a Roman province as a result of his conquests. Areas closer to the Rhine frontier, including the eastern part of modern Belgium, eventually became part of the province of Germania Inferior, which interacted with Germanic tribes outside the empire. At the time when the central government collapsed in the Western Roman Empire, the region of Belgium was inhabited by a mix of Frankish tribes and a more Romanized population. During the 5th century, the area came under the rule of the Merovingian kings, who had already seized power in what is northern France. A gradual shift of power during the 8th century led the kingdom of the Franks to evolve into the Carolingian Empire.
The Treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the Carolingian Empire into three kingdoms, whose borders had a lasting impact on medieval political boundaries. Most of modern Belgium was in the Middle Kingdom, later known as Lotharingia. Only the coastal county of Flanders became part of West Francia, the predecessor of France. During the Middle Ages, Lotharingia came under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor, but the lordships along the “March” (frontier) between the two great kingdoms maintained important connections.
Many of these fiefdoms were united in the Burgundian Netherlands of the 14th and 15th centuries. Emperor Charles V extended the personal union of the Seventeen Provinces in the 1540s, making it far more than a personal union by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 and increased his influence over the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
The Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) divided the Low Countries into the northern United Provinces (Belgica Foederata in Latin, the “Federated Netherlands”) and the Southern Netherlands (Belgica Regia, the “Royal Netherlands”). The latter were ruled successively by the Spanish (Spanish Netherlands) and the Austrian Habsburgs (Austrian Netherlands) and comprised most of modern Belgium. This was the theatre of most Franco-Spanish and Franco-Austrian wars during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Following the campaigns of 1794 in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Low Countries—including territories that were never nominally under Habsburg rule, such as the Prince-Bishopric of Liège—were annexed by the French First Republic, ending Austrian rule in the region. The reunification of the Low Countries as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands occurred at the dissolution of the First French Empire in 1814, after the abdication of Napoleon.