Officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a sovereign state in Western Europe. It is a small, densely populated country which covers an area of 30,528 square kilometres (11,787 sq mi) and has a population of about 11 million people. Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who live in the East Cantons located around the High Fens area, and bordering Germany.
Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (along with parts of Northern France and Western Germany) were known as the Low Countries; it once covered a somewhat larger area than the current Benelux group of states. The region was called Belgica in Latin, after the Roman province of Gallia Belgica. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, the area of Belgium was a prosperous and cosmopolitan centre of commerce and culture. From the 16th century until the Belgian Revolution in 1830, when Belgium seceded from the Netherlands, the area of Belgium served as the battleground between many European powers, causing it to be dubbed the “Battlefield of Europe,” a reputation strengthened by both world wars.
Today, Belgium is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of governance. It is divided into three regions and three communities, that exist next to each other. Its two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region is an officially bilingual (French and Dutch) enclave within the Flemish Region. A German-speaking Community exists in eastern Wallonia. Belgium’s linguistic diversity and related political conflicts are reflected in its political history and complex system of governance, made up of six different governments.
Upon its independence, declared in 1830, Belgium participated in the Industrial Revolution and, during the course of the 20th century, possessed a number of colonies in Africa. The second half of the 20th century was marked by rising tensions between the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking citizens fueled by differences in language and culture and the unequal economic development of Flanders and Wallonia. This continuing antagonism has led to several far-reaching reforms, resulting in a transition from a unitary to a federal arrangement during the period from 1970 to 1993. Despite the reforms, tensions between the groups remain, if not increased; there is significant separatism particularly among the Flemish; controversial language laws exist such as the municipalities with language facilities; and the formation of a coalition government took 18 months following the June 2010 federal election, a world record. Belgium is a founding member of the European Union, Eurozone, NATO, OECD and WTO, and a part of the trilateral Benelux Union. Its capital, Brussels, hosts several of the EU’s official seats as well as the headquarters of many major international organizations such as NATO. Belgium is also a part of the Schengen Area. Belgium is a developed country, with an advanced high-income economy and is categorized as “very high” in the Human Development Index.