Foreign policy and defense
After the two world wars, Belgium was a
strong advocate of close cooperation between the Western
powers. The country was a founding member of both the
NATO defense alliance in 1949 and the EU's predecessor
to the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. Today,
Brussels is considered the capital of Europe and is the
seat of the EU's main body.
In the Belgian capital there is the European
Commission, the EU Council of Ministers and, to some
extent, the European Parliament. Belgium wants to deepen
political cooperation within the EU, including in
defense and security policy.
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Belgium for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
NATO also has its headquarters in Brussels, and the
NATO headquarters in Europe is located in southern
Belgium, near Mons. Relations with the US have generally
been good. The Belgians have known a "debt of gratitude"
to the United States that helped to liberate the country
from the Germans during the Second World War. But the
relationship became strained when Belgium opposed the
US-led war on Iraq in 2003. In addition, a disputed war
crimes law with "universal jurisdiction" (see Democracy
and Rights) caused tensions when it led to allegations
against, among others, former US President George HW
Bush. The United States threatened to move NATO's
headquarters from Brussels, but in 2003 the law was
rewritten to include only Belgian and foreign nationals
residing in Belgium.
Relations with the former colonies in Africa became
problematic in 1988, following Belgian criticism of
human rights violations in Zaire (former Belgian Congo,
after 1997 Democratic Republic of Congo). Soldiers were
sent to Zaire on a couple of occasions to protect and
evacuate Belgian citizens. The relationship improved
since the Congolese President Mobutu was overthrown in
1997. The Belgian government apologized in 2002 for the
1961 assassination of Congo's First Prime Minister
Patrice Lumumba, saying that Belgium bore a "moral
responsibility" for his death in connection with a
military coup. The murder took place with Brussels' fond
memory during the chaotic period that followed since the
colonial power rapidly withdrew from Congo in 1960.
Belgium's defense forces were halved in the 1990s. In
1995 the military duty was abolished and instead they
went on to hold a significantly smaller occupational
army. Belgium is one of the five core countries of the
European rapid-fire force Eurocorps, and in recent years
has participated in NATO- and UN-led operations in, for
example, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of
Congo and Sudan.
In Brussels there is the secretariat for the Benelux
Union, a cooperation between Belgium, the Netherlands
and Luxembourg which has existed in various forms since
the 1940s. Belgium and Luxembourg are also part of the
Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (UEBL or BLEU).
Functions that Benelux and UEBL were supposed to have
largely been taken over by the EU, but both unions
remain and have been updated with new agreements in the
FACTS - DEFENSE
10 350 men (2017)
The air Force
5 850 men (2017)
1 350 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
0.9 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
1.7 percent (2017)
The financial market is concerned that the budget deficit is not being
attacked because of the problems of government formation, and the king asks
Acting Prime Minister Yves Leterme to set a budget for 2011.
Abuse is investigated
The Catholic Church in Belgium is shaken by an investigation that has shown
that priests have for decades committed extensive sexual abuse of children.
No socialist-led government
Elio Di Rupo, leader of the Walloon Socialist Party PS, gives up his attempts
to form a coalition government.
No nationalist-led government
Party leader for Nationalist Party N-VA Bart De Wever has no success in
trying to form government and the assignment goes on to PS leader Elio Di Rupo.
Nationalists win new elections
The Flemish Nationalist Party N-VA is unexpectedly the largest in the House
of Representatives. The party wins in Flanders with about 28 percent of the
vote. The second largest is the French-speaking socialists in PS, who receive
just over 36 percent of the votes in Wallonia and Brussels. The election results
preclude difficulties in forming a majority government. N-VA gets 27 seats, PS
26, MR 18, CD&V 17, Socialist Party-Different (SP-A) 13, VLD 13, VB 12, CDH 9,
Ecolo 8, Green 5, LDD 1 and the People's Party (PP) 1.
The government is falling
26th of April
Parliament is dissolved and elections are announced for June. Leterme
continues to lead an expedition ministry. Despite concerns about a growing
government debt, the electoral movement is dominated by the constant dispute
over the language issue and the position of the regions.
New government crisis
Prime Minister Yves Leterme submits his resignation application after the
Flemish Liberals in the VLD left the coalition, protesting that no solution has
been reached in the conflict over the distribution of power between regions and
the federal state.
Veil prohibition is adopted
The House of Representatives votes for a ban on comprehensive veil and
similar clothing in public places. Amnesty International condemns it as a
violation of freedom of expression and religion.