A brief history of Brussels & Belgium

As a capital many times over (of the federal state, of the French Community of Belgium, of the Flemish Community and of the Brussels-Capital Region), Brussels is also the political and administrative capital of the European Union. The Brussels-Capital Region, which has a French-speaking majority but is bilingual, French – Flemish, for administrative purposes, is made up of 19 municipalities, including the city of Brussels, and has about 1 million inhabitants. It is surrounded by a belt of Flemish municipalities where Dutch is the official language for all government administration. Six of them are known as municipalities ‘à facilité’, which enjoy a particular linguistic status, the inhabitants can ask for French translation of official documents (estimated total across the whole agglomération : 1.4 million inhabitants). Brussels is home to many foreigners, on the one hand because of the presence of the European institutions and NATO, and on the other and because of its immigrant population. Brussels is known the world over for the richness of its architectural and artistic heritage, but it also has some fine green spaces in the form of parks and the Forêt de Soignes close by.

Political regime: constitutional monarchy

Seven kings

The great powers recognised the separation of the Netherlands and Belgium. In 1831, the German prince Leopold de Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha became the first sovereign of Belgium, a constitutional kingdom. His son Leopold II succeeded him in 1865. Under his reign, the country acquired the Congo as a colony. 1914-1918 : despite its policy of neutrality, Belgium was occupied by Germany in the First World War. Under the orders of King Albert I, the Belgian army stopped the invader on the Yser front. 1940-1945 : from 1936, Belgium again conducted a policy of neutrality. Hitler’s Germany invaded the territory in May 1940. After 18 days of combat, King Leopold III decided to capitulate. Following the outcome of the royal question which emerged after the war, Leopold III surrendered the throne in 1951 to his son, Baudouin I, who reigned until his death in 1993. His brother, King Albert II, succeeded him.

Since 21st July 2013, following King Albert's abdication, his oldest son, Filip I, became the seventh King of Belgium.


A federal state

Belgium today is a Federal State with decentralised power, made up of the communities and the regions. The decision-making power no longer rests exclusively with the Federal Government. Various bodies exercise autonomous control over the responsibilities specific to them. The laws of the federal parliament apply to all Belgians, while those of the parliaments of the communities and regions (called ‘decrees’) apply only to their inhabitants. The federal ministers are competent across the entire national territory, while the ministers of a community government are competent only in the territory of their community.

The power of the Federal State is divided amongst the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The communities and regions have separate executive and legislative power. The French Community exercises its responsibilities in the Walloon provinces (except the German-speaking ones) and in Brussels, with the Flemish Community exercising its power in the Flemish provinces and in Brussels, and the German-speaking community in the municipalities in the German-language region.

The 3 Regions (Flanders, Wallonie and Brussels-Capital) have responsibilities in the areas which affect the occupation of the territory in the wide sense of the term (economy, employment, agriculture, housing, public works, energy, transport - except the SNCB - the environment, regional and town planning…).

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