The country of the European institutions
Having gained its independence in 1830, Belgium quickly became one of the most advanced European countries. Constitutional monarchy, from the past made up of trade and manufacturing to today’s international functions, Belgium has found in belonging to two great cultures the stimulus to give itself a ‘European’ identity. For Belgium 2007, please check extrareference.com.
An intensely transformed territory
The Belgian territory reaches just 700 m of altitude in the Ardennes and is flat in the northern part, intensely reclaimed. The whole country is crossed by a dense network of artificial canals and navigable rivers, such as the Meuse and the Scheldt, which connects every corner with the neighboring villages and with the ports of the North Sea.
The economy is very rich in the Flemish region to the north, which has modern agriculture and is animated by the great port of Antwerp and by the commercial and financial activities that belong to this city and to others, such as the ancient and beautiful Bruges and Ghent. (in Flemish Brugge and Gent). The central region around the capital Brussels (997,000 residents), an important industrial and tertiary center, is highly developed, thanks also to the fact that the city is home to organizations such as NATO and the Council of the European Union.
The southern Walloon region, after strong growth based on mining (coal and iron) and the steel industry, which had attracted numerous immigrants, including Italians, has been struggling for some decades to reconvert its economy. These differences in development have added to that of language and have created tensions between the North and the South of the country.
The historical events
Up to the 19th century, the history of Belgium is identified with that of Flanders and the southern part of the Netherlands, which were first subjected to Spanish rule (16th-17th century) and then to that of Austria (starting from the 18th century). After a phase of French control (1792-1815) and a period of union with Holland in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-30), Belgium gained its independence in 1830, becoming a constitutional monarchy. The European states recognized its independence, but imposed permanent neutrality on it. In 1885 King Leopold II acquired the African state of Congo as his personal possession, which in 1908 became a colony.
During the First World War, despite its neutrality, Belgium was invaded by German troops and subjected to a harsh occupation. At the end of the conflict, Belgium was entrusted with Rwanda and Burundi, former German colonies, dispensing it from mandatory neutrality. Although Belgium voluntarily returned to neutrality in 1936, it was again invaded by the German army during World War II.
After the last conflict, Belgium became part of the military alliance of Western countries (NATO) and participated in the foundation of the European Union, of which it hosts important institutions such as the Council of Ministers and the Executive Commission. During the 1960s Belgium had to face a difficult process of decolonization and the exacerbation of the ancient contrast between the two main groups of its population, that is, between the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemings (to which we must add even a small German-speaking minority). To address these conflicts, Belgium has adopted – through a long and difficult process, which began in the 1970s and ended in 1993 – a federal constitution, which sees it divided into three regions.