In 1998, according to one estimate, the Belgian population amounted to 10. 141. 000 residents, the result of an ever slower growth and almost exclusively due to the migratory contribution, which, moreover, is now a marginal phenomenon, as demonstrated by the stationary nature of the quota constituted by immigrants and permanently resident foreigners (911,900 people in 1997, equal to about 9 % of the total population). The very high average density and the tendency of the residents to agglomerate mean that almost all (97%) of the population is considered urban, even if no agglomeration reaches one million residents. From this point of view, therefore, the territorial structure of the country changes very gradually, favoring the smaller centers, but without significantly reducing the population of the larger ones.
According to iamaccepted, the reform of the state in the federal sense, now fully operational, seems to have shifted the focus of tensions from the level of conflict between linguistic communities to the economic level, which is, moreover, one of the substantial components of that conflict. The industrial restructuring has almost come to completion: the active population in the sector, in 1992, had already fallen to just over a quarter of the total, but since then the process has continued, and with it the reduction in the number of assets. At the same time, the extraordinary growth of the tertiary sector continued unabated, with strong increases in the financial, insurance, business services and transport sectors, with the related related activities. By now reduced to a minimum is, however, the active population in agriculture.
Overall, despite the difficulties and significant social disturbances, the result of the restructuring process is generally considered positive, even if unemployment, particularly high in the early 1990s, remains not insignificant (especially in Wallonia) and affects mainly the Young people.
The early nineties, as in the rest of the industrialized countries, recorded a general decline in production in Belgium, recovered from 1994: in the long term (1980 – 95) the average annual increase in production was 1, 6 %, while it was of ‘ 1, 3 % in 1996 ; per capita GDP started to grow again, reaching (1997) $ 26,420. The competitiveness of the Belgian system seems confirmed by the trend of the trade balance, in balance or in slight deficit until 1992, in surplus in the following years, sometimes for considerable amounts (and without considering the invisible items, which in the case of Belgium represent a very substantial item). At the same time, however, the severity of the conditions of public finance (with a public debt equal to about 130 % of GDP) has imposed a process of divestment and privatization of a series of public-capital economic activities from 1993 onwards; however the results achieved were not such as to cause a radical change in the situation.
The material aspects of the economic difficulties are reflected in different ways in the three federated regions in which the country is divided: the most affected is Wallonia, especially due to the contraction of industrial activities (steel, metalworking); also in Flanders the closure of industrial plants (metallurgy) and the radical restructuring have had negative consequences for the population; as for the Brussels region, on the other hand, the problems seem more of a socio-political nature than of an economic crisis, given that the capital continues to be the heart of the tertiary sector which, as mentioned, is improving its performance.
In general terms, therefore, the critical and largely cyclical aspects seem to converge to feed a negative perception of the conditions of the Belgium which, perhaps, has no correspondence in the real conditions of the country, but which, among other things, suffices to discussion of the stability of the state also in its new federal structure. The European perspective, in this context, remains absolutely central for the Belgium and for all its regional components.