Belgium is located in North-West Europe, sharing borders with the Netherlands
, Luxembourg, Germany
and France. It is a constitutional monarchy and federal parliamentary democracy. The country is characterized by a linguistic divide between the Flemish-speaking region of Flanders and the French-speaking region of Wallonia.
The bilingual city of Brussels is the Belgian capital, home to the foremost institutions of the European Union
, as well as the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Belgiumís ideal strategic location in the heart of a heavily industrialised region has made it a vital European trading hub. Belgium also enjoys a close relationship with the United States
. The two countries are important trading partners and Belgium imported almost 30 billion dollars of goods from the United States in 2011
Visitors will quickly come into contact with the nationís world famous beer and confectionary scene
. They will also find ample evidence of Belgiumís former glory as a centre for coal and steel production. Belgium was the second nation to experience the Industrial Revolution after the United Kingdom
Those days have come to an end however, with traditional heavy industry in serious decline. Today, efforts are moving in a different direction, focusing more on commerce and new technology. Belgium was ranked as the fourth leading European country for new solar PV capacity installations in 2011
In comparison to its neighbors, Belgium has not suffered adversely due to the onset of the financial crisis. In September 2012, the country had an unemployment rate of 7.4%
. This represents the twentieth lowest rate of unemployment in the European Union. A 2011 WTO ranking of the largest exporting countries listed Belgium as the tenth-largest merchandise exporter worldwide
For such a small country, Belgium has a big sporting reputation. Looking at statistics regarding the female tennis players with the most Grand Slam tournament titles in 2012
, two Belgians are in the top 12. Together, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters have won 11 titles.
Photo: istockphoto.com / cofkocof