Belgium Demographics and Economic Geography

By | December 21, 2021

Western European state. The population has increased in both large administrative regions defined on a linguistic basis (the Flemish one, Vlaams Gewest / Région flamande, and the Walloon one, Waals Gewest / Région wallonne) which, together with the Brussels-Capital region, articulate the federal system of Belgium. However, the factors behind these increases are fundamentally different. In the Flemish region, the contribution of the foreign population was decisive, rising according to official statistics from 288,375 residents to 481,882 (+ 67.1%) in the decade 2004-14; in the Walloon region, on the other hand, foreigners only increased by 12.6% in the same period. These different trends are explained by the more attractive economic conditions in the Flemish area, which mainly welcomes citizens of those communities from countries without a Belgian or French colonial past (Turks, former Yugoslavs, Poles, Romanians, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis). Instead, immigrants from French-speaking colonies (Congolese, Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians) continue to favor Brussels as the gateway to the country.

The different trends in the foreign population are offset by opposite growth rates for the population with Belgian citizenship, which increased much more in the French-speaking area than in the Flemish, with the result that the overall increases in the two areas are quite similar (respectively, 5, 8% and 6.6%). On the other hand, the Brussels-Capital region is growing much more, which statistics, both social and economic, present as an eccentric reality compared to the Belgian context; here the overall increases are much more consistent, with residents growing by 16.4% in the same period 2004-14. Furthermore, one third of foreigners present throughout the Belgian territory are concentrated in Brussels, both from poor countries in search of a better future, both from realities more fortunate to work in one of the numerous structures of the European Union and NATO. The different extraction of this massive foreign presence is among the causes of the contrasts between the central districts of the city, plagued by high rates of unemployment and crime, and the suburban belt, which has the highest wages and housing costs in the whole of Belgium (the municipalities of WoluweSaint-Pierre and Ixelles emerge, located close to the large international offices and federal institutions).

Divisions of Belgium

The expansion of the urban area of ​​Brussels, with its particular linguistic situation, continues to be at the center of political tensions between Flemings and Walloons. Many of its French-speaking citizens, to escape the deterioration of the quality of life and the rising costs of the capital, settle in the district inhabited mainly by Flemings, going to form enclaves linguistics that are beginning to claim their own political representation. For these reasons, the recent separation of the Brussels-Hal-Vilvoorde (BHV) constituency with the establishment of a Dutch-speaking constituency for these last two towns, which is part of the program to strengthen the federal structure of the country sanctioned in 2012, has provoked heated protests among French-speaking citizens, but also discontent among Flemish nationalists, who fear a slow, but inexorable ‘institutionalization’ of the French-speaking presence in historically Flemish areas. In fact, the linguistic division continues to constitute a factor of enormous importance in the political and social life of Belgium, and indeed there is a growing worsening of the political conflict between the communities. However, Belgium confirms itself as a highly urbanized country (97.5 of the total population), but the other cities are very distant from the populous Brussels, which in its metropolitan area is now close to 2 million residents (also by virtue of the presence of organisms of the ‘European Union): Antwerp is the second city, with 510,610 residents, Ghent the third with 251,133. The imbalance is not only demographic and the hypertrophy of the capital is becoming more and more a problem for the country. In fact, this unbalanced urban configuration is reflected in an equally unbalanced economic structure, with the Brussels-Capital region which, firmly connected to the urban, manufacturing and financial complex positioned along the Brussels-Antwerp axis, centralizes much of the advanced economic activity of the Country.

The economy suffered heavily from the international financial crisis that exploded in 2007 and its aftermath continues to be felt. The number of unemployed has grown continuously since 2008, reaching 8.5% in 2013, and the public debt continues to remain among the highest in Europe. Energy needs are still largely guaranteed by nuclear power, but two of the seven reactors currently in operation are expected to shut down in 2015, with the prospect of definitively abandoning nuclear energy production in 2025.

History. – At the turn of the first decade of the 21st century, tensions between the French-speaking region of Wallonia and the Flemish region of Flanders, increasingly oriented towards separatism, deeply shaken Belgian politics. A question of confrontation was above all the hypothesis of splitting the only bilingual electoral district of Belgium, that of Brussels-Hal-Vilvoorde (BHV), into a Flemish and a bilingual college, which the French speakers were opposed to.

The major political forces of Belgium were, in the two Flemish and French-speaking declensions, the traditional Christian-democratic, liberal and social-democratic parties: the CD&V (Christen-democratisch en Vlaams, Christian-democrats and Flemings) and the CDH (Center démocrate humaniste, Humanist Democratic Center); the Open-VLD (Open Vlaamse liberalen en democraten, Flemish liberals and democrats) and the MR (Mouvement réformateur, Reform movement); the PS (Socialist Party, Socialist Party) and the SP.A (Socialistische partij anders, Different Socialist Party). Alongside them, two Flemish parties, nationalist and right-wing, had established themselves: the N-VA (New Flemish alliance, Nuova alleanza fiamminga) e lo xenofobo e antieuropeo VB (Flemish interest, Interest fiammingo). For Belgium 2017, please check

After the elections of June 2007, which saw a bad result of the Open-VLD, the party of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the consultations for the composition of a new government were complicated by the conflicts between the parties on autonomy in fiscal matters and on policies. social to be granted to the regions. They ended only in March 2008 with the formation of a government led by the Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme and supported by CD&V, CDH, Open-VLD, MR, PS.

Having overcome the difficulties caused by the financial crisis that exploded in 2008 – in the medium term, less acute in Belgium than in other European countries – and by the necessary adoption of austerity measures, a government crisis opened in April 2010, due to disagreements between majority parties on the question of the BHV constituency. In the early elections of June 2010, the N-VA emerged as the largest party (17.4%), although the Socialists of the PS (13.7%) and the SP.A (9.2%), together, took more seats.

For the next eighteen months, the parties failed to agree to form a new government. In this period, however, important measures were approved, such as the public debt settlement plan (Sept. 2010) and the prohibition for Muslim women to wear full veils (July 2011), a ban that accentuated tensions with the Islamic community.

In October 2011 the main Belgian political parties (excluding the N-VA) finally reached an agreement on the sixth reform of the state (Accord papillon) and in December, 541 days before the elections, Elio Di Rupo (PS) managed to form a new government, a coalition between PS, SP.A, CD&V, CDH, Open-VLD, MR. With the institutional reform, in addition to the transfer of political and financial powers to the regions, the split of the BHV constituency was also approved (July 2012).

On 21 July 2013, King Albert II abdicated in favor of his son Philip.

Despite the controversy over tolerance towards the far right, the elections of May 2014 rewarded the N-VA (20%), led by the mayor of Aversa Bart De Wever. After a few months of negotiations, in October 2014, a new center-right government (MR, N-VA, CD&V, Open-VLD) took office, led by Charles Michel (MR): a coalition composed, excluding of the MR, by Flemish parties alone which many considered destined for instability.

On the foreign policy front, the international role of Belgium remained important: while the improvement of relations with the United States, which had cracked in 2003 due to the Belgian opposition to the war in ῾Irāq, in 2011 the Belgium participated in the intervention NATO military in Libya.

Belgium Demographics