Monday, February 20, 2006

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Belgium and More


What comes to mind if I were to utter the word Belgium? That's what I thought. What I personally know about Belgium (as I am a seasoned European Traveller) could fill the inside cover of a matchbook. Well, I know it's in Europe and I am pretty sure it's below France and I know that the Dutch people say that the Belgians are boring. Also I know they have something to do with waffles. Beyond that, I'm sad to say, I draw a blank. It just goes to underscore what an ignorant American half-wit fuck I am.

Well, since I have a Khronicles reader there I thought I'd learn a bit more about this country.

Presented for your perusement is a brief rundown on Belgium. Now you can be the star of the next party when the topic of Belgium comes up.

Introduction Geography People Government Economy Communications Transportation Military Transnational Issues


Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 and was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.


Western Europe, bordering the North Sea, between France and the Netherlands
Geographic coordinates:
50 50 N, 4 00 E

Map references:
total: 30,528 sq km land: 30,278 sq km water: 250 sq km
Area - comparative:
about the size of Maryland
Land boundaries:
total: 1,385 km border countries: France 620 km, Germany 167 km, Luxembourg 148 km, Netherlands 450 km

66.5 km
Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm exclusive economic zone: geographic coordinates define outer limit continental shelf: median line with neighbors

temperate; mild winters, cool summers; rainy, humid, cloudy
flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, rugged mountains of Ardennes Forest in southeast
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: North Sea 0 m highest point: Signal de Botrange 694 m

Natural resources:
construction materials, silica sand, carbonates

Land use:
arable land: 23.28% permanent crops: 0.4% other: 76.32% note: includes Luxembourg (2001)
Irrigated land:
40 sq km (includes Luxembourg) (1998 est.)
Natural hazards:
flooding is a threat along rivers and in areas of reclaimed coastal land, protected from the sea by concrete dikes
Environment - current issues:
the environment is exposed to intense pressures from human activities: urbanization, dense transportation network, industry, extensive animal breeding and crop cultivation; air and water pollution also have repercussions for neighboring countries; uncertainties regarding federal and regional responsibilities (now resolved) have slowed progress in tackling environmental challenges
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants
Geography - note:
crossroads of Western Europe; majority of West European capitals within 1,000 km of Brussels, the seat of both the European Union and NATO


10,364,388 (July 2005 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 16.9% (male 892,995/female 855,177) 15-64 years: 65.7% (male 3,435,282/female 3,373,917) 65 years and over: 17.4% (male 745,178/female 1,061,839) (2005 est.)
Median age:
total: 40.55 years male: 39.29 years female: 41.81 years (2005 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.15% (2005 est.)
Birth rate:
10.48 births/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Death rate:
10.22 deaths/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Net migration rate:
1.23 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2005 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.7 male(s)/female total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2005 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 4.68 deaths/1,000 live births male: 5.27 deaths/1,000 live births female: 4.06 deaths/1,000 live births (2005 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 78.62 years male: 75.44 years female: 81.94 years (2005 est.)
Total fertility rate:
1.64 children born/woman (2005 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
0.2% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
10,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
less than 100 (2003 est.)
noun: Belgian(s) adjective: Belgian
Ethnic groups:
Fleming 58%, Walloon 31%, mixed or other 11%
Roman Catholic 75%, Protestant or other 25%
Dutch (official) 60%, French (official) 40%, German (official) less than 1%, legally bilingual (Dutch and French)
definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 98% male: NA% female: NA%

Country name:
conventional long form: Kingdom of Belgium conventional short form: Belgium local long form: Royaume de Belgique/Koninkrijk Belgie local short form: Belgique/Belgie
Government type:
federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch

Capital: Brussels
Administrative divisions:
10 provinces (French: provinces, singular - province; Dutch: provincies, singular - provincie) and 3 regions* (French: regions; Dutch: gewesten); Antwerpen, Brabant Wallon, Brussels* (Bruxelles), Flanders*, Hainaut, Liege, Limburg, Luxembourg, Namur, Oost-Vlaanderen, Vlaams-Brabant, Wallonia*, West-Vlaanderen note: as a result of the 1993 constitutional revision that furthered devolution into a federal state, there are now three levels of government (federal, regional, and linguistic community) with a complex division of responsibilities

4 October 1830 (a provisional government declares independence from the Netherlands); 21 July 1831 (King Leopold I ascends to the throne)
National holiday:
21 July (1831) ascension to the Throne of King Leopold I
7 February 1831, amended many times; revised 14 July 1993 to create a federal state

Legal system:
civil law system influenced by English constitutional theory; judicial review of legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

18 years of age; universal and compulsory

Executive branch:
chief of state: King ALBERT II (since 9 August 1993); Heir Apparent Prince PHILIPPE, son of the monarch head of government: Prime Minister Guy VERHOFSTADT (since 13 July 1999) cabinet: Council of Ministers formally appointed by the monarch elections: none; the monarchy is hereditary; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the monarch and then approved by parliament note: government coalition - VLD, MR, PS, SP.A-Spirit

Legislative branch:
bicameral Parliament consists of a Senate or Senaat in Dutch, Senat in French (71 seats; 40 members are directly elected by popular vote, 31 are indirectly elected; members serve four-year terms) and a Chamber of Deputies or Kamer van Volksvertegenwoordigers in Dutch, Chambre des Representants in French (150 seats; members are directly elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation to serve four-year terms) elections:

As a result of the 1993 constitutional revision that furthered devolution into a federal state, there are now three levels of government (federal, regional, and linguistic community) with a complex division of responsibilities; this reality leaves six governments each with its own legislative assembly

Judicial branch:
Supreme Court of Justice or Hof van Cassatie (in Dutch) or Cour de Cassation (in French) (judges are appointed for life by the Government; candidacies have to be submitted by the High Justice Council)
Political parties and leaders:
Flemish parties: Christian Democrats and Flemish or CD & V [Jo VANDEURZEN]; Flemish Liberal Democrats or VLD [Bart SOMERS]; GROEN! (formerly AGALEV, Flemish Greens) [Vera DUA]; New Flemish Alliance or NVA [Bart DE WEVER]; Socialist Party.Alternative or SP.A [Caroline GENNEZ]; Spirit [Els VAN WEERT] (new party now associated with SP.A); Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) or VB [Frank VANHECKE] Francophone parties: Ecolo (Francophone Greens) [Jean-Michel JAVAUX, Evelyne HUYTEBROECK, Claude BROUIR]; Humanist and Democratic Center of CDH [Joelle MILQUET]; National Front or FN [Daniel FERET]; Reformist Movement or MR [Didier REYNDERS]; Socialist Party or PS [Elio DI RUPO]; other minor parties
Political pressure groups and leaders:
Christian, Socialist, and Liberal Trade Unions; Federation of Belgian Industries; numerous other associations representing bankers, manufacturers, middle-class artisans, and the legal and medical professions; various organizations represent the cultural interests of Flanders and Wallonia; various peace groups such as Pax Christi and groups representing immigrants
International organization participation:

Flag description:
three equal vertical bands of black (hoist side), yellow, and red; the design was based on the flag of France

Economy - overview:
This modern private enterprise economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the populous Flemish area in the north. With few natural resources, Belgium must import substantial quantities of raw materials and export a large volume of manufactures, making its economy unusually dependent on the state of world markets. Roughly three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Public debt is nearly 100% of GDP. On the positive side, the government has succeeded in balancing its budget, and income distribution is relatively equal. Belgium began circulating the euro currency in January 2002. Economic growth in 2001-03 dropped sharply because of the global economic slowdown, with moderate recovery in 2004.

purchasing power parity - $316.2 billion (2004 est.)
GDP - real growth rate:
2.6% (2004 est.)
GDP - per capita:
purchasing power parity - $30,600 (2004 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 1.3% industry: 25.7% services: 73% (2004 est.)
Labor force:
4.75 million (2004 est.)
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 1.3%, industry 24.5%, services 74.2% (2003 est.)
Unemployment rate:
12% (first half, 2004)
Population below poverty line:
4% (1989 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 3.2% highest 10%: 23% (1996)
Distribution of family income - Gini index:
28.7 (1996)
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
1.9% (2004 est.)
Investment (gross fixed):
19.1% of GDP (2004 est.)
revenues: $173.7 billion expenditures: $174.8 billion, including capital expenditures of $1.56 billion (2004 est.)
Public debt:
96.2% of GDP (2004 est.)
Agriculture - products:
sugar beets, fresh vegetables, fruits, grain, tobacco; beef, veal, pork, milk

engineering and metal products, motor vehicle assembly, transportation equipment, scientific instruments, processed food and beverages, chemicals, basic metals, textiles, glass, petroleum
Industrial production growth rate:
3.5% (2004 est.)
Electricity - production:
76.58 billion kWh (2002)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 38.4% hydro: 0.6% nuclear: 59.3% other: 1.8% (2001)
Electricity - consumption:
78.82 billion kWh (2002)
Electricity - exports:
9.1 billion kWh (2002)
Electricity - imports:
16.7 billion kWh (2002)
Oil - production:
0 bbl/day (2001 est.)
Oil - consumption:
595,100 bbl/day (2001 est.)
Oil - exports:
450,000 bbl/day (2001)
Oil - imports:
1.042 million bbl/day (2001)
Natural gas - production:
0 cu m (2001 est.)
Natural gas - consumption:
15.5 billion cu m (2001 est.)
Natural gas - exports:
0 cu m (2001 est.)
Natural gas - imports:
15.4 billion cu m (2001 est.)
Current account balance:
$11.4 billion (2004 est.)
$255.7 billion f.o.b. (2003 est.)
Exports - commodities:
machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, metals and metal products, foodstuffs
Exports - partners:
Germany 19.9%, France 17.2%, Netherlands 11.8%, UK 8.6%, US 6.5%, Italy 5.2% (2004)

$235 billion f.o.b. (2003 est.)
Imports - commodities:
machinery and equipment, chemicals, diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, oil products
Imports - partners:
Germany 18.4%, Netherlands 17%, France 12.5%, UK 6.8%, Ireland 6.3%, US 5.5% (2004)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:
$14.45 billion (2003)
Debt - external:
$28.3 billion (1999 est.)
Economic aid - donor:
ODA, $1.072 billion (2002)
Currency (code):
euro (EUR) note: on 1 January 1999, the European Monetary Union introduced the euro as a common currency to be used by financial institutions of member countries; on 1 January 2002, the euro became the sole currency for everyday transactions within the member countries
Currency code:
Exchange rates:
euros per US dollar - 0.8054 (2004), 0.886 (2003), 1.0626 (2002), 1.1175 (2001), 1.0854 (2000)
Fiscal year:
calendar year

Telephones - main lines in use:
5,120,400 (2002)
Telephones - mobile cellular:
8,135,500 (2002)
Telephone system:
general assessment: highly developed, technologically advanced, and completely automated domestic and international telephone and telegraph facilities domestic: nationwide cellular telephone system; extensive cable network; limited microwave radio relay network international: country code - 32; 5 submarine cables; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) and 1 Eutelsat
Radio broadcast stations:
FM 79, AM 7, shortwave 1 (1998)
8.075 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations:
25 (plus 10 repeaters) (1997)
4.72 million (1997)
Internet country code:
Internet hosts:
166,799 (2004)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
61 (2000)
Internet users:
3.4 million (2002)

total: 3,521 km standard gauge: 3,521 km 1.435-m gauge (2,927 km electrified) (2004)
total: 149,028 km paved: 116,540 km (including 1,729 km of expressways) unpaved: 32,488 km (2002)
2,043 km (1,528 km in regular commercial use) (2003)
gas 1,485 km; oil 158 km; refined products 535 km (2004)
Ports and harbors:
Antwerp, Brussels, Gent, Liege, Oostende, Zeebrugge
Merchant marine:
total: 53 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 1,146,301 GRT/1,588,184 DWT by type: bulk carrier 15, cargo 2, chemical tanker 2, container 8, liquefied gas 17, petroleum tanker 9 foreign-owned: 12 (Denmark 4, France 4, Greece 4) registered in other countries: 101 (2005)
43 (2004 est.)
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 25 over 3,047 m: 6 2,438 to 3,047 m: 8 1,524 to 2,437 m: 3 914 to 1,523 m: 1 under 914 m: 7 (2004 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 18 914 to 1,523 m: 2 under 914 m: 16 (2004 est.)
1 (2004 est.)

Military branches:
Land, Naval, and Air Components (2005)
Military manpower - military age and obligation:
16 years of age for voluntary military service; women comprise some 7% of the Belgian armed forces (2001)
Military manpower - availability:
males age 16-49: 2,436,736 (2005 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service:
males age 16-49: 1,998,003 (2005 est.)
Military manpower - reaching military age annually:
males: 64,263 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - dollar figure:
$3.999 billion (2003)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP:
1.3% (2003)
Transnational Issues

Disputes - international:

Illicit drugs:
growing producer of synthetic drugs; transit point for US-bound ecstasy; source of precursor chemicals for South American cocaine processors; transshipment point for cocaine, heroin, hashish, and marijuana entering Western Europe; despite a strengthening of legislation, the country remains vulnerable to money laundering related to narcotics, automobiles, alcohol, and tobacco.

Riveting. Belgium, we at the Krankiboy Khronicles salute you!


Chai said...

Funny but the Belgians think the Dutch are loud and showoffs. Really.
Also, they eat their pomme-frittes with MAYONAISE.
The have very nice chocolate (Brussels is to cocoa what Amsterdam is to diamonds).
And the road signs in Brussels are in 2 languages (French and Flemish). It's doubly hard to navigate if you speak neither.
PLUS the roundabouts there, the car entering the roundabout has right of way!!!! The reverse is true here in Melb. Not sure about Sydney.
That's all for this lesson.

Buck Fudd said...

Small, foul-tasting cabbages were named after their capital city. That's the sort of esteem their held in.

The Dutch just say they're boring because they're in the way of being next to France and thereby being more interesting themselves.

Rene Magritte, one of my all-time favourite artists was Belgian (but he fucked off to live in France). And so was Fluffy's Dad.

And they have an incredibly evil peodophile ring penetrating to the hightest levels of the police and government. Apparently.

And the EU is based there. This didn't make it any more interesting, as hoped, but by the time they figured this out it was too late to move it all to Saint Tropez.

Magical_M said...

I was going to say that Belgians put mayonnaise on their fries, but Chai BEAT ME TO IT!!

I think its weird enough to be worthy of a second mention though.

Maybe the Belgians don't think its weird. Maybe they think its normal.

Maybe they would think it weird that my dad used to put raspberry jam on his fries.

I used to think that was revolting.

However, I have been known on rare occasions to dip my fries in a McD's chocolate sundae, so I can't place judgements on anyone's eating habits.

Manic said...

Indeed we do put mayonaise on our french fries, it's the best way to eat them. You should start eating home-made mayo, maybe that'll show you how good mayo can be.
I jsut want to point out to chai, that Amsterdam isn't the mecca of diamonds, the mecca is Antwerp, Belgium.
We indeed have great chocolates, but don't forget our beers.
Me as well hate Brussels sprouts. Don't worry most people don't eat that here as well.
The Dutch are more and more interested in Belgium, we are spreading out kiddies music, so the parents need to listen to us :d.
The pedophile thingy isn't proven, the rumours about that have stopped. And the guy you're referring to is in jail, so not to worry.
The EU is indeed the most boring thing about Belgium, and all the other Europeans hate Belgians for that. Like it's our fault the EU doesn't work!

fluffy said...

Yes - my dad was Belgian. Thanks Bucky :)

ALSO - NO-ONE who eats the fat potato wedges served with chili mayo ever says anything about it other than it's delicious. Certainly nothing comes back to the kitchen about it being mention-worthy weird.

PS. Don't eat at the Napier.

timboy said...

Belgian Beer rocks- best on the planet by a country mile. Frites and Mayo is also great.

Also Mussells are good, just don't overcook them, or else they 'taste like pussy flavoured chewing gum'. Trust me, a Belgian trade unionist told me so.

BEVIS said...

Wow! You weren't kidding! That really was more than everything I always wanted to know about Belgium!