Belgium is a country located in Western Europe which shares borders with the Netherlands (north), Germany (east), Luxembourg (southeast), France (southwest), and the North Sea (northwest), covering 11,787 square miles with a population of over 11.4 million people. Brussels is the largest city and the capital of the nation, as well as being the most densely-populated area of Belgium; the country is divided into three regions: Flanders (north), Wallonia (south), and the Brussels-Capital Region. Two main linguistic groups exist in the country: the Flemish Community (Dutch, 59 per cent of the population), and the French-speaking Community (40 per cent).
Belgium is structured around a federal constitutional monarchy whose government uses a parliamentary system; it is a developed country with a strong economy and high standard of living and safety.
It is one of six countries who founded the European Union, and currently houses the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Council, as well as a seat of the European Parliament in Brussels. In addition, Belgium is a founding member of the Eurozone, NATO, OECD, and WTO, and makes up a part of the trilateral Benelux Union, and the Schengen Area.
The Executive Branch
Executive power is vested in the Federal Government of Belgium. The Prime Minister is head of the government, with each minister overseeing a particular ministry; secretaries of state deputise to the ministers and assist in running their ministries. No single party across linguistic lines is able to hold an absolute majority of seats in the Belgian Parliament, with the government made up of a coalition of parties.
The number of ministers who make up the Council of Ministers is limited to just 15; these are divided equally between French-speaking and Dutch-speaking ministers, in keeping with Article 99 of the Belgian Constitution (the Prime Minister is exempt from this quota), and thus government meetings must be conducted through multiple interpreters. The Prime Minister, along with his ministers, are responsible for administering the government, as well as the Federal Public Services of Belgium – they must defend their policies and performances before the Chamber. An additional “inner chamber” also exists, which is composed of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers, who meet to make crucial decisions in Belgian politics.
The Legislative Branch
A constitutional monarchy, Belgium is also a federal parliamentary democracy featuring a bicameral federal parliament. The Belgian parliament is made up of a Senate and a Chamber of Representatives. The Senate is composed of 50 senators, each of whom is appointed by parliaments of the communities and regions, along with 10 co-opted senators. The majority of the Senate's members were directly elected prior to 2014. The 150 representatives in the Chamber are elected using a proportional voting system which stems from 11 electoral districts. Voting is compulsory in Belgium.
The King of Belgium (currently Philippe) acts as the head of state but, like many contemporary monarchies, he has limited power. However, he can appoint ministers (as well as a Prime Minister) who are subsequently approved by the Chamber of Representatives to form the federal government of Belgium. The judicial system of Belgium is based on civil law and the Napoleonic code. The ‘last resort’ court is known as the Court of Cassation, which is one level higher than the Court of Appeal.
The Belgian Federal State has authority over matters of justice, defence, federal police, nuclear energy, social security, monetary policy, and public debt (including public finances). The Belgian Post Group and Belgian Railways are owned by the State. The government is responsible for many aspects of public health, home affairs and foreign affairs, and oversees the fulfilment of Belgium’s obligations towards the European Union and NATO.
Communities and regions
Linguistically-determined geographical boundaries form the perimeters of each community’s authority within Belgium; communities are differentiated by culture, education, and the use of their particular language (Dutch, French or German), while health policy and assistance to individuals (youth services, social welfare, family aid, and immigrant services) are all overseen by each community individually. Regions within the nation are responsible for broader aspects such as economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, public works, energy, transport, housing, the environment, town and country planning, nature conservation, credit and foreign trade.