Population and society
With 370 residents per square kilometer, Belgium is the second largest country in Europe by population density, surpassed only by the Netherlands. Flanders and Wallonia are regions with a similar geographical extension, however the majority of the population is concentrated in the former: just over 6.4 million people live there, while Wallonia has about 3.5 million residents. The third region, that of Brussels-capital, is inhabited by over 1 million people. For Belgium society, please check homosociety.com.
The ethno-linguistic distribution does not completely coincide with the political one: in Wallonia there is a German-speaking minority of about 73,000 residents, and in the Brussels-capital region there are approximately 77% of French-speaking residents. There are also Flemish and French speaking minorities in the two regions of Flanders and Wallonia. Linguistic demography is a politically sensitive issue, so much so that not even the Belgian census gives exact data: it is estimated that in the country the Flemish-speaking citizens are about 60% of the total, 39% of the residents speak French and the German language is used. by about 1% of the population. As in many other European countries, the average age of the Belgian population is slowly increasing.
Freedom and rights
The level of rootedness of democracy in Belgium is very high. This is due to the strongly pluralistic political structure which, paradoxically, is also one of the first causes of instability of the country. The particular Belgian federalism puts the state, regions and communities on the same level, facilitating communication between the ruling class and citizens and thus allowing a better governability of the territory. At the same time, however, this entails a high political, cultural and economic fragmentation, which often holds back the government agenda and polarizes the public debate. The fragmentation of the country is also reflected in the media landscape, regulated at EU and not federal level. There are three television channels and three public radio stations that cover the entire national territory and which broadcast, respectively, in Dutch, French and German: an almost unique peculiarity in the European panorama. There are also many private radios with regional or local broadcasting. The Internet penetration rate is very high, equal to about 84 %% in 2014 (against 60% in Italy and 95.5% in the Netherlands). Around 90% of households also have access to cable television. The media system is therefore free and articulated, also as regards the printed media.
Since 1988 the management of the school system has been delegated to the three communities of the country. In this way, the institutional bodies of the regions have gained the opportunity to adapt education and teaching to the peculiarities of the labor market of their own territory. On the other hand, a unified national study program is envisaged for obtaining the final compulsory school certificates.
Economy, energy and environment
Among the European countries that have suffered to a lesser extent from the global financial and economic crisis, in recent years Belgium has seen its public debt increase in an uncontrolled manner in relation to GDP. Indeed, it has gone from a debt / GDP ratio of 88% in 2007 to 106.6% in 2015, and therefore to one of the highest debts in Europe, after Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus. Thus, one of the country’s major economic policy concerns of the 1990s re-emerged. Furthermore, the Belgian wage system provides for an automatic adjustment mechanism of wages to prices and for this reason inflation is often higher than the Eu average.. For 2015, however, this mechanism was suspended, as were federal funds to regional governments, in order to promote greater fiscal fairness between areas of the country. Another important reform carried out by the current government is a fiscal reallocation worth 7.2 billion euros, which will lighten the cost of labor, reducing the social contribution from the employer from 33% to 25%.
More than many other European countries, Belgium has been able to adapt the concept of ‘single market’ to its economy, transforming itself into one of the most open and competitive markets in the world. Commercial integration stands out above all in the relations of economic interdependence between Belgium and the neighboring EU countries – Germany, France and the Netherlands – with which the country has more than 40% of its total trade.
Driving the Belgian economy, as for all advanced economies, are the services, in which many foreign companies are involved. The major production sectors of the industry are those of chemical products (including pharmaceuticals) and light engineering (auto components, electronic equipment, etc.).
Belgium is significantly dependent on energy imports, which amounted to almost 90% of its primary consumption in 2014. Most of the internal energy demand is covered by the import of oil and its derivatives, followed by that of natural gas. The country currently has seven active nuclear power plants, but nevertheless has to buy a significant share of electricity abroad. The extreme situation faced during the winter of 2014, with a lack of energy availability due to the closure of two reactors, led the central government to extend the use of two nuclear power plants, destined to shut down in 2015, until 2025. The program of gradual exit from nuclear power, planned in 2003, has so far been disregarded to meet the country’s energy needs.
High-tech sectors are growing. With this in mind, there are more and more science parks, research centers, laboratories, universities and business parks across the country. All this, together with the efficiency of the workforce, means that manufacturing productivity is above the European average.