GEOGRAPHY OF BELGIUM Location: Western Europe, bordering theNorth Sea, between France and theNetherlands Area Total: 30,528 km Country comparison to the world: 141 Land: 30,278 sq km Water: 250 sq km Area – comparative: About the size ofMaryland Land boundaries: Total: 1,385 km Border countries: France 620 km, Germany167 km, Luxembourg 148 km, Netherlands450 km Coastline: 66.5 km
RELIGION IN BELGIUM The predominate religion in Belgium in Belgium isChristianity; the largest denomination isCatholicism, with roughly 57% of the populationbelonging to the Catholic Church, 1.7% toProtestantism, and 0.3% to Orthodox ChristianChurches in the 2000s. Belgium abides by separation of Church and Stateand freedom of religion; the State may not forceanyone to follow a specific religion, nor can it askanyone which religion he/she follows. Islam is the second biggest religion; 6% of thepopulation is Muslim (3.9% in Flanders, 4% inWallonia, 25.5% in Brussels), or even 8.1% as of2011 (counting all the immigrants with Islamicbackground). A 2006 inquiry in Flanders revealed that 55% of itscitizens claimed they are religious, while 36%believe that God created the world. A 2011 survey by Ipsos MORI indicated that 49% ofthe population follows Christianity, 6% followsIslam, 4% follows unnamed other religions, 2%follows Buddhism, 31% is non-religious, and 8%declined to answer.
RELIGION STATISTICS Roman Catholic: 75% Other (includes Protestant): 25%
BACKGROUND OF BELGIUM’S POLITICAL SYSTEM The political system of Belgium functions in a structure of a federal parliamentaryrepresentative democratic constitutional monarchy, with the King of the Belgians as Head ofState and the PM of Belgium as head of government in a multi-party structure. The government exercises executive power; federal legislative power is vested in both thegovernment and the two chambers of parliament, the Senate and the Chamber ofRepresentatives. The federation is comprised of (cultural/political) communities and (territorial) regions. The political institutes of Belgium are complicated. Belgium, with an astonishing number of political bodies and institutes on a small land of 30,500square kilometers, claims the European record of the most expensive political structure: at least57 ministers and state secretaries stretch across six different governments, enclosed by sevenparliaments and a dozen local governments. This complex political structure is considered to have led to the constant communitarian clashes(and additionally as a major cause of the accelerating national debt-issue) in the country. Most political power is prepared around the necessity to represent the key cultural (andpolitical) communities.
BACKGROUND OF BELGIUM’S POLITICAL SYSTEM(CONT.) Since about 1970, the major national Belgian political parties have separated intoindividual representations for every communities’ benefit, defense of theirideologies aside. These parties belong to three key political families, but are close to the centre: theright-wing Liberals, the social conservative Christian Democrats, and the left-wingSocialists. Other notable newer parties are the Green parties, and currently (chiefly inFlanders), the nationalist and far-right parties. Politics in Belgium is influenced by lobby groups, including trade unions andemployers’ organizations, like the Federation of Belgian Enterprises. Majority rule is frequently overruled by a de facto confederal decision makingprocedure in which the minority, i.e., French speakers, are entitled to essentialprotections by specialty majorities (2/3 overall and majority in both of the two maincommunities).
GOVERNMENT OF BELGIUM Capital (and largest city): Brussels* Official language(s): Dutch, French,German Demonym: Belgian Government: Federal parliamentaryconstitutional monarchy King: Albert II Prime Minister: Elio Di Rupo Legislature: Federal Parliament Upper house: Senate Lower house: Chamber ofRepresentatives *While the Brussels region is the de factocapital, the City of Brussels municipality isthe de jure capital
MAIN POLITICAL PARTIES Main Flemish parties: Christian Democratic and Flemish (Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams, CD & V) Groen (Groen) Libertarian, Direct, Democratic (Libertair, Direct,Democratisch, LDD) New Flemish Alliance (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie,N-VA) Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VlaamseLiberalen en Democraten, Open Vld) Socialist Party – Differently (Socialistische PartijAnders, sp.a) Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang, VB) Main French-speaking parties: Ecolo Francophone Democratic Federalists (FédéralistesDémocrates Francophones, FDF) Humanist Democratic Centre (Centre démocratehumaniste, CdH) Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS) Reformist Movement (Mouvement Réformateur, MR) Citizens’ Movement for Change (Mouvement desCitoyens pour le Changement, MCC) German-speaking parties: Christian Social Party (Christlich-Soziale Partei,CSP) Party for Freedom and Progress (Partei für Freiheitund Fortschritt, PFF) ProDG (Pro deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft)
CONSTITUTION Belgium’s constitution, the country’s principal source of law and its basis ofthe political structure, went into effect on 7 February 1831. It has been amended various times, but the most significant changes werecarried out only in 1970 and 1993. In 1970, in reaction to a rising civil clash between the Dutch-speaking andFrench-speaking communities in Brussels, the Government proclaimed that“the unitary state, its structure and functioning as laid down by law, hadbecome obsolete”. The new constitution acknowledged the reality of strong communitarian andregional distinctions within Belgium, but wanted to settle those distinctions bya distribution of power to the communities and the regions. In 1993, the parliament authorized a legal package that turned Belgium into afull-fledged federal state.
ALBERT II Born 6 June 1934 at the Stuyvenberg Castle. Current King of the Belgians since 9 August1993; succeeded his older brother, KingBaudouin, who passed away without issue. Is a member of the royal house of Belgium,previously called Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Is the uncle of the current ruling Grand Duke ofLuxembourg, Henri. Is the second son of King Leopold III (1901-1983) and his first wife, Astrid of Sweden(1905-1935). His godparents were Prince Felix ofLuxembourg and his paternal grandmother,Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. Is the first cousin of King Harald V of Norway,Princess Astrid of Norway, and PrincessRagnhild of Norway.
ELIO DI RUPO Born 18 July 1951 in Morlanwelz. Current PM of Belgium; assumedoffice on 6 December 2011 and leadsthe Di Rupo I Government. Also the current leader of theSocialist Party (PS). First Francophone to hold the postsince Paul Vanden Boeynants in1979; also Belgium’s first socialist PMsince Edmond Leburton’s departurefrom office in 1974. Also the first Belgian PM of non-Walloon or Flemish descent and theonly openly homosexual leader of anEU member state.
PARTI SOCIALISTE Francophone social-democratic political party; founded in 1978. Second biggest party in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives andthe biggest Francophone party as of the 2010 general election. Led by Elio Di Rupo, current PM of Belgium, as of 6 December 2011. Also supplies the Minister-Presidents of the Walloon region andFrench Community (Rudy Demotte), the Brussels-Capital Region(Charles Picqué), and the German-speaking Community (Karl-HeinzLambertz) of Belgium. Known as the Sozialistische Partei (SP) in the German-speakingcommunity. Frequently participates in governing coalitions; rules most localauthorities due to the extremely fragmented nature of Belgium’spolitical institutes, especially in Francophone areas. Has concurrently managed five provincial executive bodies in theyears since 1999: the Government of the French Community, theWalloon Government, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region,plus the COCOF, a local subsidiary of the French CommunityGovernment in Brussels, and the Government of the German-speaking Community. The party, or its members, have on occasion been tried for criminalactivities and political scandals, regarding mostly corruption andfinancial scam, such as the Cools assassination, the Agusta scandal,the Dassault Affair, the Carolorégienne affair, and the ICDI affair; theCarolorégienne affair led to Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe’sresignation as Minister-President of the Walloon region. Member of Socialist International (International affiliation), Party ofEuropean Socialists (European affiliation), and Progressive Alliance ofSocialists and Democrats (EP group).