General info on Belgium

Belgium is a country of approximately 10 million people, 11,800 square miles (about the size of Maryland), situated between the Netherlands to the north, Germany and Luxembourg to the east, France to the south, and the North Sea to the west. The capital city of Belgium is Brussels, which is also the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, spoken by about 60% of the population (those in Flanders and Brussels); French, spoken by about 39% of the population (those in Wallonia and Brussels); and German, spoken by about 1% of the population in the eastern part of the country.

Although Belgium has a very long and rich history, it is a relatively new country. Belgium received its independence in 1830 from the Netherlands. It is a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The current King is Albert II, the sixth in the Belgian dynasty. He is married to Princess Paola Ruffo di Calabria; they have three children: Prince Philippe, who married Mathilde d’Udekem d’Acoz; Princess Astrid, married to Archduke Lorenz of Austria; and Prince Laurent who married Claire Coombs.

Belgian government is divided into five levels of authority: the Federal government; the Communities (French-speaking, Dutch-speaking, German-speaking); three Regions (Flemish, Walloon, and Brussels-Capital); the Provinces, of which there are 10; and the lowest level, the municipalities, of which there are 589.

The Federal Government is responsible for defence, law and order, social security, agriculture, justice, general foreign affairs and monetary and fiscal policy. The three Communities are responsible for culture, language, education, welfare and health care within each Community. The Regions are responsible for all matters fully or party related to specific areas, such as economic policy, energy policy, scientific policy, public works, public transport, and town and country planning.

Belgium is one of the twenty seven members of the European Union, as well as a member of NATO. The NATO headquarters are located in Brussels and SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) is located in Mons in the southern part of Belgium.