Belgium is an electoral democracy with a long, stable history of peaceful transfers of power. The country is one of the strongest states in world in protecting political rights and civil liberties are legally guaranteed. While its democracy outperforms the majority of countries in the world, concerns in recent years have included the threat of terrorism and its ensuing political divisions. Furthermore, corruption scandals have also unsettled the country’s political landscape.
Institutionally, Belgium retains a monarchy that is largely ceremonial. Its prime minister is the leader of the majority party or coalition. Coalitions are quite common in Belgium as parties are not only divided ideologically, but also linguistically. In 2019, Sophie Wilmès was appointed prime minister of an interim government, while governing coalition negotiations continued. Wilmès was the first woman to hold the position in Belgium. She held this role for one year until the current prime minister, Alexander De Croo, took office.
Regions and Languages
The country of Belgium is divided into three regions and three linguistic communities, but they do not perfectly overlap. The three regions are Flanders, Wallonia, and the capital of Brussels. Meanwhile, the three language communities are Dutch, French, and German.
Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium. Although it is smaller than Wallonia, it has a larger population. The Flemish Region is a constitutional institutions within Belgium, exercising certain powers within their jurisdiction. For some residents, Flanders is more than just a geographical area or a federal institutions. Some would call it a nation. Supporters of the Flemish Movement have pursued Flemish independence, but most people living in Flanders say they are proud to be Belgian and are opposed to the dissolution of the country.
Covering the southern portion of the country, Wallonia is primarily French-speaking. It accounts for over half of Belgium’s territory, but only a third of its population. Like Flanders, it has a high degree of its own governmental autonomy within the country.
There is also a German-speaking minority in eastern Wallonia, resulting from the annexation of part of the former German Empire at the conclusion of World War I. This community represents less than 1% of the Belgian population.
“The European Capital”
In some sense, Brussels is the “capital of Europe” because it hosts a wide array of important European institutions. This includes the European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the European Union, European Council, Committee of the Regions, and the European Economic and Social Committee. In addition the region is home to eight other community agencies such as the European Defence Agency.
But why are all of these in Belgium? There is a bit of both reason and arbitrariness to it.
In the aftermath of WWII Belgium was considered more politically and geographically neutral, especially between political rivals France and Germany. Furthermore, it had limited war damage and was an active member in numerous other multilateral treaties in the postwar years.
As to the arbitrary decision, the establishment of European Economic Community and the European Community for Atomic Energy by 1958 provide further answer to this question. The decision as to where to host the officials of these institutions was overdue because of gridlock. An emergency meeting broke the stalemate by concluding the founding members would chair them in turn, starting alphabetically with Belgium. However, they never left Belgium as more and more institutions sprouted up around Brussels.
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