Belgium, Brussels in particular, 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, Belgium was 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 mid-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, amounting to more than 11 million inhabitants nowadays.
The Belgian economy has been growing for the past decade. A constantly positive trade balance has helped the steady increase of the gross domestic product, and it is estimated that GDP in Belgium will reach decade-high values by 2020. Belgium recovered from the global financial crisis fairly quickly, its inflation rate has decreased over the past years and it is estimated to level off between 1.8 percent and 2 percent from 2020. 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.