• Official name: Koninkrijk Belgie / Royaume de Belgique / Konigreich Belgien (Kingdom of Belgium)
• Location: Western Europe
• International organisations: Council of Europe, European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, United Nations, Western European Union, World Trade Organisation
• Borders: France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands
• Coastline: North Sea
• Land area: 30,510 Km2
• Population: 10,700,000
• Annual GDP (PPP) per capita: US$36,600 (2009 CIA estimate). World ranking: 22
• Ethnicity: Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%. There is a small German minority in the eastern border area.
• Languages: Dutch, French and German are the official languages. (The language spoken in Flanders is identical to Dutch and is officially called Dutch, but some people in Flanders prefer to call it Flemish.) The French-speakers are usually called Walloons, a word related to "Gaul." English is widely understood.
• Religion: Over 70% of Belgians are at least nominal Catholic Christians, but religious practice has declined radically. There are small Protestant, Jewish and Moslem minorities.
• Form of government: Constitutional monarchy and federal parliamentary democracy. Belgium is divided into ten provinces. These are grouped into three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels), which have their own legislatures and substantial autonomy. In addition Belgium is divided into three Communities (Flemish, Walloon and German), which have jurisdiction over some cultural matters.
• Capital: Brussels (Bruxelles, Brussel)
• Constitution: The current Belgian Constitution came into effect on 14 July 1993
• Head of state: King Albert II assumed the throne on 9 August 1993.
• Head of government: The Prime Minister, appointed by the King. The Prime Minister is the leader of the majority coalition in the legislature (though sometimes not actually a party leader), and is accountable to it.

Legislature: Belgium has a bicameral legislature, the Federal Parliament (Federale Parlement / Parlement Federale / Foderales Parlament). The Chamber of People's Representatives (Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers / Chambre des Representants / Abgeordnetenkammer) has 150 members, elected for four-year terms by proportional representation. The Senate (Senaat / Senat / Senat) has 71 members. Forty members are elected for four-year terms by proportional representation. These then elect another 31.
• Electoral authority: The Belgian Interior Ministry administers national elections.
• Freedom House 2011 rating: Political Rights 1, Civil Liberties 1
• Transparency International Corruption Index: 71% (22 of 178 countries rated)
• Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom 2010 Index: 96.0% (14 of 178 countries rated)
• Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom 2010 Index: 70.2% (32 of 178 countries rated)

Political history

Most of the lands which now constitute Belgium were acquired by the Spanish Habsburgs in the early 16th century. When the northern Netherlands became independent, the southern regions remained under Spanish, and later Austrian, Habsburg rule until 1794, when they were incorporated into the French empire. In 1815, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo outside Brussels, the area became part of a united Kingdom of the Netherlands under the Dutch king. In 1830 the Belgians rebelled against rule by the Protestant Dutch, and the Kingdom of Belgium was created, with Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as king. The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by all the powers. It was Germany's violation of Belgian neutrality in 1914 that brought Britain and France into the First World War. Belgium was again occupied by the Germans in 1940-45.

After the Second World War Belgium abandoned its neutrality, and became an enthusiast for both the Atlantic Alliance and European unity. The headquarters of both NATO and EU are located in Brussels. At the same time, the unity of the Belgian state has been weakened by Flemish and Walloon parochialism, and in 1993 a new federal Constitution was adopted, devolving most domestic legislative power to Flemish and Walloon parliaments. Brussels, which is a bilingual city, became a separate region.

Belgian politics, historically based on class lines, are now also arranged on linguistic lines. Thus, there is a Flemish Socialist Party Alternative and a Walloon Socialist Party, a Flemish liberal party, the Flemish Liberals and Democrats, and a Walloon liberal party, the Reformist Movement, a Flemish Christian-democrat party, the Christian-Democratic and Flemish Party, and a Walloon Christian-democrat party, the Democratic Humanist Centre. There are even Flemish and Walloon Green parties: Agalev and Ecolo respectively. There are also rival ethnic-chauvinist parties, the Flemish Interest and the Walloon National Front. The Flemish Block advocates the dismemberment of Belgium as well as the exclusion of immigrants.

All this, combined with Belgium's system of proportional representation, makes forming Belgian governments very difficult. The Christian Democrats were dominant from 1958 to 1999, but they lost office in 1999 to a centre-left coalition of Liberals, Socialists and Greens under Guy Verhofstadt. The June 2007 election produced a deadlocked result and a prolonged grovernment crisis, not resolved until March 2008, when a new Christian Democrat government was formed by Yves Leterme. He was succeeded by Herman Van Rompuy in December 2008, but following Van Rompuy's election as President of the Europea Council in December 2009 Leterme returned to office. The elections of June 2010 produced another deadlocked parliament, which was followed by an even longer crisis. Leterme remained in office in a caretaker capacity while the parties quarrelled. It took the European debt crisis to end the deadlock: in December 2011 Elio Di Rupo, a Francophone Socialist, formed a government which included Socialists, Liberals and Christian Demovcrats.

Updated January 2012