Head of State: King Albert II
Head of Government: Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Foreign Minister: Louis Michel
Area: 32,545 km2
Population: 10.2 million (Flemish 5.9 m., Walloons 3.3 m., German-speakers 70,000)
Language: Flemish 57.8%, French 32.4%, German 0.7%
GDP per capita: 23,010 €
GDP growth: 0.8% (2001)
Constitution - Domestic politics
Belgium is a constitutional monarchy and a federal state. The country is divided into three regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital, and for education and culture into three ‘communities’ for the Dutch, French and German language groups. The regions and communities have their own parliaments and executives.
At the federal level there is a Chamber of Representatives with 150 members directly elected by proportional representation. There is also a Senate with 71 members, 40 of whom are directly elected and 31 indirectly elected or co-opted, including the children of the king aged over 18.
The 1999 federal parliament election resulted in the formation of a new coalition government put together by Flemish Liberal Leader Guy Verhofstadt. The Verhofstadt government is comprised of the Flemish and francophone Liberals, Flemish and francophone Socialists, and the Flemish and francophone Greens.
The reduction of the large public debt has for many years been an economic policy priority. The government has indicated that it intends to introduce a rigorous budget for the 2003 election year so as to meet its Stability Programme target of a surplus on the general government accounts.
After a four per cent growth rate in 2000, the Belgian economy slowed sharply in 2001 when the rate declined to approximately one per cent. The government recently initiated a programme to lower personal income taxes and social insurance charges on employers as part of a plan to boost the rate of employment, currently one of the lowest in the EU.
Belgium is one of the original founding Member States of the European Communities and remains one of the most positively inclined countries towards further European integration. Belgian foreign policy attaches great importance to relations with African states, particularly those in the Great Lakes region, as well as with Third World countries.
Belgium’s international relations figure high on the domestic agenda. In August 2002, Belgium's Environment Minister Magda Aelvoet resigned in protest over the government’s approval of a weapons sale to Nepal, where a civil war is raging.