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Belgium is in the heart of the European Union, a highly industrialized country, and a representative constitutional monarchy. Main characteristics of Belgium are: it is a catholic country (in 1984 75% of the population was catholic, 12% liberal (vrijzinnig)), it is linguistically divided into three language groups (Dutch, French and German). In many respects, however, it is a homogeneous country in terms of values and actual behaviour of the people. Belgium was one of the pioneers in industrialization, with heavy industry being concentrated in Wallonia. The country is meeting severe economic problems due to the economic decline of the Walloon heavy industry and unemployment is rather high (with 10% in 1994). The state debt is one of the highest in Europe, but inflation has been declining in the last few years (2.4% in 1994). The GDP per capita amounted to 19,510 US-$ in 1993. Belgium thus belongs to the group of the top 20% within EU15. Belgium has a population of 10 million people and is therefore part of the group of the middle-sized EU countries, as Portugal and Greece. Population growth is moderate due to traditionally low fertility rates. Belgium is a highly urbanized country, with a good public transport infrastructure and high percentage of people commuting to work. This in turn is possible due to the relatively small distances within the country and the location of the capital in the country's centre.

Regional Disparities

Regional disparities exist in several respects. Wallonia has a much lower population density than the Flemish region. Fertility and mortality are slightly higher. Therefore the share of people under 15 is also higher. Births out-of-wedlock are much more widespread in Wallonia than in the Flemish region. In general, economic conditions are much worse in Wallonia than in the Flemish region. Employment in industry is higher in the Flemish region; the economic activity rate in Wallonia is lower on average, especially as regards women. This is a result of higher unemployment in Wallonia: it is twice as high there as it is in the Flemish region. Especially youth unemployment is very high in Wallonia. The unemployment figures in the Brussels region are as high as in Wallonia; youth unemployment even exceeds the figures of Wallonia. Population density is nearly three times as high in Belgium as it is in the European Union as a whole. In this respect as well the differences between the Flemish and the Walloon region are also very marked, the population density of the Flemish region being more than twice as high as that of the Walloon region.

On the one hand, the Brussels region has population characterictics typical of a big urban center - low percentage of children, many elderly people, high frequency of out-of-wedlock births. On the other hand, it has some specific characteristics: the share of employment in services is 83%, and the capital, too, is faced with massive employment problems.

Territorial Structure

In 1831, Belgium was organized as a unitarian centralized state under French-speaking dominance. The federalization of the country started in the period between 1921 and 1935 when the legal and official language was no longer French alone, but both French and Dutch. Linguistic regionalization started in the 1960s, and the end of the unitary state came with the state reform of 1970-71. The process of federalization was advanced by the state reform of 1980 and the subsequent reforms of 1983 and 1988. The federalization process is not concluded. At present Belgium is divided into nine provinces with 43 arrondissements, four linguistic regions, three communities, and three regions. Statistical data are published for the territorial divisions of the Brussels-Capital region, the Flemish region and the Walloon region, for the 9 provinces, the 43 arrondissments and all municipalities. In general, however, data are published only for regions, arrondissements and municipalities, but not for the four linguistic regions and the three communities.

Map: Activity rate in the Provinces of Belgium, 1991

Table: Statistical comparisons

Statistical Sources

The largest part of data relevant for the social sciences are published by the Institut National de la Statistique (INS). The INS covers the country as a whole and all regions. Data are available in printed and - to an increasing degree - also in machine-readable form. The main statistical publications are the "Annuaire statistique de la Belgique" and the monthly "Bulletin de statistique". Special statistical series cover all fields of statistical reporting. Due to the rather decentralized statistical system many statistical data can only be obtained from national ministries (social welfare, health) or the numerous social security institutions which all publish own statistical reports.

The latest population census was carried out in 1991, but so far only 4 volumes of the 12 planned volumes have been published. Most data are available in spatial disaggregation down to municipalities in machine-readable form (on diskette) rather than in printed form.

Further reading and references

Boudart, Marina, Michel Boudart and R. Bryssinck (1990): Modern Belgium. Palo Alto, Cal.: The Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship.

Boulangé, B. and R. Cavenaile (1990): La Belgique des origines à l'état fédéral. Précis d'histoire. Namur: Editions Erasme.

Delpérée, Francis (1993): La constitution fédérale du 5 mai 1993. Bruxelles: Bruylant.

Delpérée, Francis (1994): La Belgique fédérale. Bruxelles: Bruylant.

Dorchy, Henry (1991): Histoire des Belges. Des origines à 1991. Bruxelles: De Boeck-Wesmael.

Lagasse, Charles-Etienne (1993): Les nouvelles institutions politiques de la Belgique et de l'Europe. Louvain-la Neuve: Editions ARTEL.

Mabille, Xavier (1992): Histoire politique de la Belgique. Facteurs et acteurs de changement. Ed. complétée 1992. Bruxelles: CRISP.

Matthijs, Koen (1988): Belgoscopie. Tielt: Lannoo.

Sennelle, Robert (1990): The current constitutional system, 169-200. In: Boudart, M. et al. (eds.), Modern Belgium. Palo Alto, Cal.

Voyé, Liliane et al. (1992): Belges. Heureux et satisfaits. Les valeurs des Belges dans les années 90. Bruxelles: De Boeck-Wesmael.

National Statistical Institute: Institut National de Statistique (INS), Rue de Louvain, 44, 1000 Bruxelles, +32-2-5486211, Fax +32-2-5486367.
The INS publishes an annual "Catalogue des Produits et Services de l'Institut National de Statistique" and monthly title lists (at the end of each issue of "Bulletin de Statistique").

Social Science Research Institutions:

Population and Family Study Centre (C.B.G.S.), Ministry of the Flemish Community, Markiesstraat, 1, 1000 Bruxelles +32-2-5073559, Fax +32-2-5073419.

Centre for Social Policy (CSP), University of Antwerp (U.F.S.I.A.), Prinsstraat, 13, 2000 Antwerpen, +32-3-2204331, Fax +32-3-2204325.

Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES), Département des Sciences Economiques, Université Catholique de Louvain, Place Montesquieu, 3, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, +32-10-474152, Fax +32-10-473945.

Centre de recherche et d'information socio-politiques (CRISP), rue du Congrès, 35, 1000 Bruxelles +32-2-2183226.

Social Science and Political Journals: L'année sociale (annual, ISBN 2-87263-155-0), Recherches Sociologiques (three/year, ISSN 0771-677X), Political Yearbook of Belgium (quarterly), Courrier hebdomadaire (du CRISP) (ISSN 0008-9664), Revue Belge de Sécurité Sociale (quarterly).