Belgium is a federal state divided into three regions: Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north, francophone Wallonia in the south and Brussels, the bilingual capital, where French and Dutch share official status. There is also a small German-speaking minority of some 70 000 in the eastern part of the country.
Belgium’s landscape varies widely: 67 kilometres of seacoast and flat coastal plains along the North Sea, a central plateau and the rolling hills and forests of the Ardennes region in the southeast.
Brussels hosts several international organisations: most of the European institutions are located here as well as the NATO headquarters.
Independent since 1830, Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. The two houses of Parliament are the Chamber of Representatives, whose members are elected for a maximum period of four years, and the Senate or upper house, whose members are elected or co-opted. Given its political make-up, Belgium is generally run by coalition governments.
Among the best known Belgians are Georges Rémi (Hergé), creator of the Tintin comic-strip, writers Georges Simenon and Hugo Claus, composer and singer Jacques Brel and cyclist Eddy Merckx. Painters like James Ensor, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte are the modern-day successors of Rubens and the other Flemish masters of yesteryear.
Belgium is famous for its chocolates, which are appreciated the world over. A favourite dish is mussels and chips (French fries) which, according to legend, are a Belgian invention. The country also produces over 1 000 brands of beer.