Belgium, particularly Brussels, plays a very important role in European politics and economy, as many international organizations have set up their headquarters in the country. Belgium is the host for the NATO headquarters and, in 1957, became one of the founding members of the European Union. With the exception of the plenary sessions in Strasbourg, the European Commission holds its meetings in the Berlaymont building in Brussels. In addition, the EU Council also meets in Brussels and has its headquarters in the Justus Lipsius building, with the EU Council presidencies having taken place in the city since 2004. The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions are also based there.
Even though it is the capital and perhaps the most important city of the European Union, Brussels is not the largest city in Belgium. Antwerp is three times larger than Brussels when it comes to the number of inhabitants. As a result of the increasing life expectancy and a stable fertility rate, the total population in Belgium has steadily increased over the past decade, currently amounting to more than 11 million inhabitants.
The Belgian economy has been growing for most of the past decade. A constantly positive trade balance has helped the steady increase of the gross domestic product. It is estimated that GDP in Belgium will reach decade-high values by 2020, indicating that Belgium recovered from the Eurozone Crisis fairly quickly. Its inflation rate has decreased over the past years and became dangerously low in 2014, threatening a deflationary spiral. However, aggressive monetary policy measures have returned inflation to the European Central Bank's target range. Belgium has been able to maintain a strong economy through the high value of exports, making it one of the leading export countries worldwide. Belgium’s most important export partner is Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands.