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ID number:786258
Published: 05.06.2006.
Language: English
Level: College/University
Literature: n/a
References: Not used

For a small country with a high density of population [some 10m people in an area about the size of Maryland] Belgium is remarkably lacking in homogeneity. The Royaume de Belgique [in French] or Koninkrijk Belgie [in Dutch] gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830 and became a unified, centralised monarchy with a new constitution on the accession of Leopold I in 1831, but today it is effectively a tripartite state in which central government plays a diminished role. Following the last constitutional amendment in 1993, Belgium is now a federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch, consisting of three distinct autonomous regions -- Flanders [in the north and west], Wallonia [in the south and east], and Brussels Capital -- each with its own legislative body and extensive powers. At the same time Belgium is also divided into three administrative communities that reflect the three official languages: Dutch, French and German.

The root cause of what -- to the outsider at least -- looks like a recipe for bureaucratic chaos lies precisely in the fact that Belgium is split linguistically. French-speakers [ca 40%] inhabit the Walloon region, which occupies more than half of Belgium; Dutch-speakers [ca 60%] inhabit the more industrialised northwestern plains of Flanders; German-speakers [< 1%] are to be found in the region around Eupen along the border with Germany. Brussels is legally bilingual [Dutch and French] but it is in fact a predominantly French-speaking island surrounded by the Dutch-speaking province of Vlaams-Brabant. [There is also the tiny enclave of Baarle which is situated entirely within Dutch territory, but that is another story altogether]. The issue of Flemish as a language in its own right is a complete red herring; to quote the website of the Flanders Authority: 'The official language of Flanders is Dutch, although the region is rich in Flemish dialects.…

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