Western European state. With a present population of 10,296,350 residents according to the 2001 census and 10,419,000 according to 2005 estimates, Belgium is confirmed as one of the most densely populated countries in the world (341.3 residents / km 2), surpassed in Europe only by the Netherlands, where they exclude some microstates whose density is not very significant due to the smallness of the territorial surface. Parallel to what has happened in all developed countries, population growth over the last three decades of the 20th century. and early 21°, has slowed down considerably as a result of the marked contraction in the birth rate, which in 2005 dropped to a value (10.48 ‰) almost equal to that of mortality (10.22 ‰): the even if minimal annual increase of registered population (0.15 %) is almost exclusively due to the migratory contribution. But also the currents of immigration, very consistent up to the 1960s, have progressively tapered off (especially due to the gradual disposal of coal mines), as evidenced by the stationary number of immigrants and permanently resident foreigners, which stood in the early years of the 21st century. sec. between 900,000 and 850,000.
According to anycountyprivateschools, the singularly high density and the marked tendency of the residents towards territorial concentration and agglomeration have led to an almost total urbanization (the urban population, in 2001, reached the very high value of 97.4 %, lower, in Europe, only to that of the United Kingdom), divided into numerous large cities, without however any of these reaching, even with its agglomeration, the multi-million dollar values found in the metropolises of other Western European countries (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy). By far the most populous city remains the capital, Brussels, which has grown in population and functions since hosting some of the most important institutions of the European Union: 1,004.ab. in 2004 in the urban agglomeration complex, which also includes Schaerbeek, Anderlecht, Molenbeek and numerous other smaller urban organisms, and which largely overflows from the administrative limits of the Brussels region. Followed by the great port city of Antwerp (449,000 residents In 2003, but 1,100,000 million in the entire agglomeration, including the airport suburb of Deurne and many others), Ghent (226,000 residents), Liège (185,000 residents), Bruges (117,000 residents), Namur (105,000 residents).
Thanks to its position in the so-called European ridge, the heart of one of the most industrialized regions in the world, Belgium has excellent transport infrastructures, which make its economy very open and integrated with that of neighboring states; Consequently, the country maintains a rather strong position in world trade, and its main activity consists in the import of intermediate and semi-finished goods which are transformed and re-exported: exports, equal to about two thirds of GDP, are destined for 75% to European countries (mostly belonging to the EU, notably Germany and France). Foreign investments in the industrial sector are particularly significant, especially in the chemical, petrochemical and car assembly sectors. Overall, secondary activities, very diversified and made up mostly of traditional activities (textiles, oil, chemicals, agri-food, pharmaceuticals, mechanics), in 2001 employed about a quarter of the active population and contributed 26.5% to the formation of GDP. The electrotechnical and electronic sectors, located in the Brussels region and the Antwerp area, and the telecommunications sector are growing. Metallurgy (especially in Wallonia) still plays a very important role, despite the dependence on foreign countries for the supply of raw material: the largest steel plants are located in the Liège and Charleroi basins, while other plants are in the provinces of Flemish and Luxembourg Brabant.
For its part, the service sector contributes over 72 % to the formation of the GDP, occupying an almost equal share of the workforce (75%); in particular, strong increases were recorded in the financial, insurance, business services and transport sectors, with the related related activities.
The primary sector, on the other hand, underwent a sharp contraction: it employs just 0.8 % of the active population, and its contribution to the formation of GDP fell to 1.3 % of the total. However, agriculture remains very productive, thanks to the modernization achieved through new intensive cultivation techniques and the radical renewal of the agricultural machinery park. In addition to traditional crops (cereals, potatoes, sugar beet, greenhouse vegetables), the sector is essentially aimed at livestock farming (in 2004: 2.7 million cattle, 6.4 million pigs, 34.2 million birds), whose production is largely in excess (exceeds 200% the share destined for internal consumption). Fishing remains of little importance (30,628 t of catch in 2002) and the exploitation of limited forest resources (4,765,000 m 3 of wood in 2003).
The main source of electricity is always nuclear, which with seven reactors in operation covers more than two thirds of the national needs (this is one of the highest percentages in the world); the remaining percentage of energy is produced by coal and gas plants. The Belgian trade balance shows a large surplus. Main export goods are vehicles and parts, pharmaceutical products, various machinery, diamonds and other precious stones, chemical products as well as high-technology products (in 2003 l ‘ 8 % of total exports).
The Belgian economy, affected by the international economic situation, experienced a period of stagnation, and the growth of the gross domestic product, which in the 1990s had averaged 2 % per annum, fell to 1 % in 2001 and to 0, 7 % in 2002, and then recovered slightly in 2003 and 2004. The unemployment rate has risen, which in 2003 was around 12%, national average value that masks a profound territorial difference between Flanders and Wallonia: in the latter region, where the coal and steel industries predominate, unemployment is structural, and in December 2003 the rate reached 18 %; in Flanders, where the economy is more oriented towards the chemical industry, high-tech activities and services, it is less than half of the overall figure for the country. The government has tried to improve the employment situation, both directly, by creating new jobs (especially in the health sector, where it was necessary to intervene due to the growing demand linked to the progressive aging of the population), and indirectly, by trying to stimulate the job creation through a reduction in the tax burden on income from work and a reduction in taxes on lower wages. The conditions of public finance remain serious, with a debt which in 2001 was equal to 107.5% of GDP. The government has also tried to encourage the return of capital brought abroad by Belgian citizens and which they would like to reinvest in the national economy: it has been calculated that the illegally exported capital, particularly to Luxembourg, was around 160 billion euros. An element of concern was also the bankruptcy (2001) of the national airline Sabena, already in precarious conditions and further damaged by the air traffic crisis following the attack on the Twin Towers.