Belgium has two large groups of people, Flemish and Walloon, and the division between them has characterized the entire country’s modern history. Flemish people live in Flanders in the north and speak Dutch, though the language here is called Flemish. In Wallonia, which makes up the southern half of the country, you speak French. There is also a small group of German speakers and German is the country’s third official language.
Brussels is a mainly French-speaking enclave surrounded by Flanders. Officially, the capital has been bilingual since 1981, but around 80 percent of residents speak French.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Belgium, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
More than half of the Belgians live in Flanders. About one third live in Wallonia and one tenth in Brussels. The distribution of languages is almost 60 percent Dutch-speaking and about 40 percent French-speaking. The approximately 75,000 German-speaking Belgians (about 0.7 percent of the population) live in the Eupen-Malmedy area of eastern Wallonia.
Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. The urban areas have largely grown together and nowadays only over two out of a hundred Belgians live in the countryside. The population growth rate is low. The population increase that exists is largely due to immigration.
One-tenth of Belgium’s residents are foreign nationals, and two-thirds come from other EU countries. There is also a large group of Moroccans. Most of the foreign nationals live in Brussels, where just over a quarter of the residents are foreigners. A large proportion are diplomats, journalists and officials within the EU and other organizations or companies. Belgium is also one of the countries in the EU that receives the most asylum seekers.
When Belgium was founded in 1830, French was the only official language. The French have long held a completely dominant position and only those who mastered French could attain high positions in society. It laid the foundation for the language barriers that continue to create problems in Belgium. In order to strengthen the position of their own language, Flemish people in the 19th century joined the standardization of the language in the Netherlands. They demanded to use their language in their own region’s schools, administration and the judiciary. In 1898 Flemish were equated with French in Belgium.
The language boundary between Dutch (Flemish) and French has not changed during historical times. It runs across the country in an east-west direction just south of Brussels. The territorial and linguistic divide characterizes all activities in Belgium: political parties are divided in two according to the language boundary, the schools’ education is conducted in the respective region’s languages and the official languages are different depending on where in the country you are located. There is no nationwide TV channel or any newspaper with public broadcasting. The constant struggle of the two language groups about how power, influence and tax revenue should be distributed has often paralyzed the political decision-making process.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
about 90% Belgians (of which just over half Flemish and almost half Walloon), Moroccans, Italians, Turks, Dutch, French and the other about 10%
Number of residents
11 372 068 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
98.0 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
10.8 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
9.5 per 1000 residents (2016)
0.4 percent (2017)
1.7 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.7 percent (2017)
81 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
83 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
79 years (2016)
Dutch (Flemish), French and German are official languages
Government assignment to Verhofstadt
Christian Democrat Yves Leterme is again forced to give up government formation (see August 2007), and King Albert turns to the outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who belongs to the liberal VLD. After doubt, Verhofstadt agrees to form a transitional government for up to three months. Belgium has been without government for six months.
The conflict over the regions is exacerbated
Flemish parties propose the removal of an exception rule that allows French speakers to vote for “their” parties in the Brussels suburbs that have traditionally been Flemish-speaking. Tens of thousands of Walloon people have moved out of central Brussels to these suburbs, where voters under the original regional laws are allowed to vote only on Flemish parties. The proposal is seen as a provocation by the Walloon parties who leave Parliament in protest.
New attempt to form government
Christian Democratic leader Yves Leterme is given a new assignment to try to form a coalition. The country has been without government for 100 days.
Leterme gives up trying to form government
Flemish Christian Democrat and CD&V leader Yves Leterem gives up his attempts to form government. A major stumbling block in government formation is that the Walloon parties oppose plans to increase the power of the regions at the expense of the federal central government. There is speculation that Belgium may fall apart and cease to exist as a nation.
Christian Democrats largest in parliamentary elections
When elections for parliament are held, the largest party becomes Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V), which is part of an election alliance with the Flemish nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA). The Alliance, which has promised increased regional autonomy, receives just under one fifth of the votes and 30 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives. A new right-wing party, Lista Dedecker (LDD), which demands even greater independence for Flanders, is unexpectedly entering Parliament. Despite this “competition” in the issue of self-government, the separatist Flemish interest (VB) holds the positions as the largest nationalist party. The two environmental parties Green and Ecolo are progressing strongly and together are getting three times as many mandates as before. CD&V’s leader, Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme, is commissioned to form a government.