Western Europe

 

Andorra

The Principality of Andorra is a small state bordering France and Spain in the Pyrenees.  Due to its relatively isolated location, Andorra remained an outsider in European history, with few ties to the outside world except for those with France and Spain.  Since the end of the 20th century, however, this isolation has ended as a result of a booming tourist industry and developments in transport and communication.  Andorra’s political system was modernised in 1993, when the Principality established its first constitution and became a member of the United Nations and the Council of Europe.

The 140 or so of our compatriots who reside in Andorra are mainly active in the real estate, insurance and hotel industries, as well as the travel sector and the sale of regional Belgian products.  Every year approximately 250,000 Belgians travel to Andorra, a significant number for this small state.

Benelux

Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg maintain very good relations in diverse areas. The entry into force of the new Benelux Union Treaty on 1 January 2012 was an important step in deepening cooperation related to three key themes: the internal market and economic union, sustainable development, and justice and home affairs.

Croatia

Belgium is delighted that on July 1st, 2013 Croatia became the 28th Member State of the European Union.
Belgium’s bilateral relations with Croatia are excellent. Belgium’s major peacekeeping role in East Slavonia during the wars of the former Yugoslavia remain imprinted in the Croatian memory, as well as Belgium’s efforts during its Presidency of the European Union in 2010, which allowed Croatia to progress towards European integration. Bilateral economic and commercial relations remain modest, however, but the accession of Croatia to the European Union can be a factor of positive development.

Republic of Cyprus

The bilateral relations between our two countries have deepened since the opening of the Embassy of Belgium in Nicosia and the arrival of the first Ambassador of Belgium in 2004, which added significant momentum. Some 25,000 Belgian tourists visit the island each year.

The intra-Cypriot negotiations, conducted within a UN framework, are aimed at the reunification of the island and the creation of a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, with a single sovereignty, a single citizenship and a single legal personality and political equality between the two communities as laid down in the relevant Security Council resolutions. Belgium supports the parties in their efforts to seek a compromise and encourages them to continue to invest in the negotiations with courage and determination. Any measures that are likely to improve the climate on the ground are welcome and receive Belgium’s support.

However, the political agenda is currently dominated by the banking crisis which plunged Cyprus in deep turmoil and made necessary an EU and IMF financial bail out, accompanied by a severe reform plan.

Germany

Germany is not only the largest EU Member State with circa 80 million inhabitants; over the past twenty years its political and economic importance has also increased. Germany has made a major contribution to the European unification process. The peaceful German reunification (in 1991) represented an important sign for countries in Central Europe (Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary etc.) to engage in a process that led to their accession to the EU in 2006.  

Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank’s headquarters, became the EU’s financial and monetary centre, in addition to London.

There are many ties linking Belgium and Germany.  These deepened and gained a new qualitative dimension following the creation, in 1951, of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union. Regardless of the government coalitions in both our countries, our views on European and international issues are usually quite similar. There are frequent contacts at various levels such as the annual German-Belgian conference.

Furthermore, Germany is a major factor in the Belgian economy. As far as exports are concerned, Germany is our largest market. Belgium is Germany’s eighth largest market. Traditionally German companies, for example in the petrochemical and automotive industry, with their sizeable investments, provide tens of thousands of jobs in our country.

Germany also offers a wide range of options for Belgian tourists: beaches on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, mountains such as those in Bavaria, the Black Forest, and culture in cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich. A network of high-speed trains (ICEs) connects the tourist centres.

France

For obvious and well-known historical reasons there is perhaps no other country that is closer to ours. France is our big sister and our southern neighbour, fourteen times the size of Belgium and with six times as many inhabitants. There is obviously the linguistic affinity too: Belgium and the French Community are members of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). The expression ‘when it rains in Paris it drizzles in Brussels’ is quite significant. Belgium is France’s third largest customer and third largest supplier. Conversely France is Belgium’s second largest customer and third largest supplier. Investments in both directions are also crucial: they involve thousands of companies, subsidiaries and acquisitions and account for 200,000 jobs in both countries. The number of Belgians in France is estimated to be 150,000 and the number of French nationals in Belgium at 160,000. France also continues to be the top tourist destination for Belgians. Cross-border cooperation via three European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation is also important. All this explains the extensive Belgian diplomatic network in France: in addition to the Embassy there are three Consulate Generals and twelve Honorary Consulates, as well as numerous representatives of the federated entities. Moreover, the geographical proximity of both capital cities ensures broad and regular bilateral contacts at a high governmental level. Our southern neighbour also demonstrates increasing understanding of the Belgian federal state structure. This country continues to be one of Belgium’s privileged negotiating partners, not only in the EU but also through the French position in the UN (Security Council), NATO, the G8 and the G20.

Greece

Belgium maintains close bilateral relations with Greece, based on numerous similarities: closeness of their independence, similar-sized populations, geographical location at the crossing of different cultures, etc.

There is substantial agreement between the two countries, especially regarding European policy.

The two countries are convinced of the need for a deepening of the European Union and the continuation of the enlargement process (support for the accession of the Western Balkan countries as well as Iceland and Turkey).

In the context of the unprecedented economic and financial crisis that Greece is experiencing, Belgium wishes to be a reliable and constructive partner. Our country is determined to support Greece in its efforts, also through very specific initiatives. Belgium is thus supporting Greece in the sectoral reforms currently underway, by making available to the European Commission in Athens and the Greek authorities experts and technical assistance in various fields (public health, asylum and migration, finance, etc.)

A significant Greek community (around 30,000 people) lives in Belgium and contributes to the good relations between the two countries.

Ireland

The first Irish nationals to come to our regions were clergymen who were involved in Christianisation. In 1608 an Irish college was founded at the University of Leuven. During World War I, thousands of Irish soldiers lost their lives in the battles fought out in our country. The Peace Park in Messines commemorates this.

Ireland’s EU membership in 1973 heralded a new era in Belgian-Irish relations. Political relations are extremely harmonious. King Albert’s state visit to Ireland in 2007 was a success, and Ireland’s EU Presidency in the first half of 2013 offers the opportunity for deepening relations.

In economic terms, Ireland experienced strong growth after its accession to the EU. Between 1995 and 2008 it was even nicknamed the ‘Celtic Tiger’ due to its rapid economic growth (5 to 9% per year) and the many foreign investors that were attracted by the country’s highly appealing investment climate.

In addition to major investors such as the United States and the United Kingdom, Belgian companies also established themselves in Ireland (e.g. in the banking sector, metalworking and transport). Belgium is currently Ireland’s sixth largest supplier.  Finally, increasing numbers of Belgian tourists have visited Dublin in recent years.

Italy

With an extraordinarily rich history, Italy in its current form has only existed since 1861. Its experiment with fascism (1922-1943) led to a brief territorial expansion and to the end of the monarchy in 1946. The last queen was in fact the Belgian Princess Marie-José. Besides being a founding member of NATO and the EU, Italy is also a member of the G8 and continues to be the third largest European economy. The international financial crisis calls for tough austerity measures and comprehensive reforms (pensions and the labour market, etc.). The country is around ten times larger than Belgium and has almost six times as many inhabitants. However there is a major socio-economic fault line that divides north and south. In the collective memory, the Marcinelle mining disaster (1956: 262 deaths, including 136 Italians) and the Heysel tragedy (1985: 39 deaths including 32 Italians) endure. Nevertheless, our country’s image continues to be exceptional, due for example to the successful integration of approximately 300,000 Italians following WW II, including of course our serving Prime Minister. Queen Paola (since 1993), Princess of Liège (since her marriage in 1959) with a Belgian grandmother on her father’s side, also makes a major contribution. Various institutes, foundations, the Academia Belgica, as well as agreements, ensure cultural and scientific cooperation. There are also frequent high-level visits. The number of Belgians registered in Italy easily reaches 7,000. From an economic perspective, Italy continues to be a leading partner in terms of mutual investments and commercial matters and is Belgium’s sixth largest export country and eighth largest supplier.     

Liechtenstein

The Principality of Liechtenstein borders Switzerland to the west and south, and Austria to the east.  It covers 160 km2 and has approximately 35,000 inhabitants.  The capital city is Vaduz. It is the smallest German-speaking country in the world and the only country that lies entirely in the Alps.  It is a member of EFTA, of the European Economic Area and of the Schengen area, but not of the European Union.

The Belgian ambassador in Bern, whose jurisdiction includes Liechtenstein, travels several times a year to this small state to maintain bilateral relations. Ad hoc meetings are also arranged with political leaders.

Luxembourg

Since a long time Belgium and Luxembourg maintain extensive and excellent bilateral relations.  The Belgian-Luxembourg Administrative Commission (CABL - BLAC) meets twice a year as part of the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, abbreviated to UEBL/BLEU, to discuss the following matters: the UEBL/BLEU’s economic situation, cooperation on international issues and bilateral dossiers such as rail links.

In the CABL/BLAC, preparations are also made for the ‘Gaichel’ summits, in which the Belgian and Luxembourg governments hold a joint ministerial council meeting with all the ministers involved in bilateral or international cooperation.

There is close cooperation between Belgium and Luxembourg in the field of military operations, for example, and police and customs services from both countries perform joint operations and exchange information. The countries also always participate in each other’s trade missions.

Malta

Malta is a southern European archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  It covers just 316 km2, making it one of the smallest but also one of the most densely populated countries in the world. 

As a result of its location, Malta has been strategically important throughout history and has been ruled by a succession of foreign rulers, such as the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the French, the British and so on.   The latter granted Malta independence in 1964; ten years later, in 1974, Malta became a republic but continued to be part of the British Commonwealth.  In 2004 Malta became a member of the EU.  It is also a member of the Schengen area. 

Belgium has a bilateral agreement with Malta to avoid double taxation, an agreement to protect investments, an aviation agreement, an agreement related to public health and a police cooperation agreement.  Increasing numbers of Belgian tourists are discovering Malta.

Belgium’s image in Malta generally evokes art, technical knowledge and cordial bilateral relations. To illustrate this we can cite the example of the series of tapestries that were made by Belgian weavers in Brussels in 1697 and donated to St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta. In 2006 they were restored by a specialist Belgian workshop before being returned to Malta.

Monaco

Monaco is a principality that has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297, with few exceptions.  Everyone has heard of Grace Kelly, the American actress who became Princess of Monaco by marriage; she was the mother of the current head of state, Prince Albert II.  Monaco’s sovereignty was officially recognised by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861. Since 1993, Monaco has been a full member of the United Nations.  France is responsible for its defence, despite the Principality’s independence and the fact that it exercises its own foreign policy. 
Monaco is the second smallest and most densely populated country in the world.

The number of Belgians resident in Monaco represents the Principality’s sixth largest colony of foreigners.  Bilateral relations are extremely cordial, and the Principality and Belgium continue the fight against money-laundering practices. Both countries have an administrative agreement related to this matter, and Monaco wants to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate internationally on this issue.

Belgium is Monaco’s fourth largest supplier and twelfth largest customer.

The Netherlands

Bilateral relations between Belgium and its northern neighbour have been extensive and excellent for a long time now. The language community between the Netherlands and the Flemish part of Belgium adds a special dimension to these relations. There is a long tradition of cooperation at all governmental levels, particularly at the local level in the border regions. At the federal level, there is regular consultation and even structural cooperation in a number of dossiers, including in the area of defence, home affairs, justice and foreign affairs. Both countries regularly consult in the context of the Benelux, the European Union and other multilateral organisations.

Economic relations between Belgium and the Netherlands are of great importance. The Netherlands is Belgium’s second largest trading partner after France, and a large number of mutual corporate investments have been made. It is important to foster a good understanding and to strive to work together where appropriate, especially in the areas of infrastructure, mobility, port policy and energy policy.

Currently, there are several bilateral dossiers mainly involving infrastructure projects with, on the Belgian side, sometimes exclusively Flemish, sometimes mixed, competences: The Scheldt Treaties, the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, the Iron Rhine, the Brussels-Amsterdam HSL link.  There are also extensive and necessary relations in terms of police and judicial cooperation.

Approximately 35,000 Belgian nationals live in the Netherlands.

Austria

For centuries this country was a great power under the Habsburg dynasty. However after two world wars, Austria has been reduced to a, quite homogeneous, federal state,. less than three times the size of Belgium and with a smaller population (8.5 million). Austria only regained its independence in 1955, when it also adopted a neutral position. In the same year, it became a member of the UN and Vienna became home to the UN’s third headquarters (in addition to New York and Geneva). It is still not a formal NATO member today and only became a member of the EU in 1995 (along with Finland and Sweden). Its ties with our country are obvious from a historical perspective: the period of the Austrian Netherlands (18th century) and the many dynastic ties between both royal houses to this very day (Their Royal Highnesses Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz). In 2006, the King and Queen paid a state visit to Austria. The registered Belgian community there consists of around 2,000 individuals. Trade relations are relatively modest: Austria is our seventeenth largest customer and our twenty-third largest supplier. The country has coped well with the consequences of the crisis in these difficult economic and financial times.

Portugal

The historical ties between Belgium and Portugal date back to the Burgundian period. In the late Middle Ages, the Azores, Portuguese territory since their discovery, were known as the Flemish Islands! In the 19th century, there were dynastic ties between both royal houses of Saxe-Coburg.

In recent history the so-called Carnation Revolution of 1974 heralded the end of the dictatorship (in place since 1926) and the end of its African Colonies a year later. This paved the way for EU membership in 1986 (along with Spain). Portugal is approximately three times the size of Belgium but has a similar-sized population. Commercial relations are modest: Portugal is our twenty-fifth largest customer and our thirty-fourth largest supplier. This is also true in terms of our investments and the size of the Belgian community (circa 2,500 people). The country has been hard-hit by the international financial crisis and is adhering to a tough fiscal and economical reform plan in consultation with the EU and the IMF. This has led to major social and political tensions.

San Marino

San Marino is a microstate completely surrounded by Italy located on the Italian peninsula on the north-eastern side of the Apennines.  It spans just 61 km2 and is home to around 30,000 people. Due to its location it has only been able to retain its independence by maintaining good relations with its surrounding superpowers, with the Holy See, and ultimately with unified Italy, with which it continues to maintain privileged relations.  Apart from the Order of Malta, there is just one embassy in San Marino: that of Italy.  San Marino is not a member of the EU.

San Marino is the world’s oldest surviving sovereign and constitutional republic.  It was originally a community of monks founded in the 4th century (3 September 301).  The Constitution of San Marino, drafted in 1600, is considered by some to be the oldest written constitution still in force.  However, San Marino has no real formal constitution but is instead ruled by the Leges Statutae Republicae Sancti Marini, a series of six books written in Latin from the late 16th century, which describes, inter alia, the country’s political system.

The country prospers mainly from the financial sector, industry, services and tourism.  In terms of GDP per capita, it is one of the richest countries in the world.  Although San Marino is a sovereign state and has its own foreign policy its defence falls under the responsibility of Italy.

San Marino is served by the Embassy of Belgium in Rome. Every year a small number of Belgian tourists visit the microstate of San Marino from the surrounding areas of Italy

Slovenia

The independence of Slovenia that was proclaimed on 25 June 1991 was recognised by Belgium on 15 January 1992. The first Belgian ambassador to be accredited at Ljubljana presented his credentials on 21 October 1999.  

Slovenia is the only ex-Yugoslavian State today that is part of the EU (1 May 2004). In March of the same year it also became a member of NATO. The European Union and NATO form the main and, one could say, natural framework, within which Slovenian and Belgian diplomats interact. These relations are particularly strong within the EU, particularly as Slovenia adopted the euro on 1 January 2007 – making it the first Member State to adopt the euro since it came into circulation – and to become part of Schengen area (22 December 2007).

This interaction between Belgium and Slovenia within these Euro-Atlantic institutions was preceded and accompanied by the conclusion of a series of bilateral agreements. These include: the Preventive Double Taxation Agreement (ratified in 2002); UEBL agreement aimed at encouraging the reciprocal protection of investments (2002), Cooperative Police Agreement (2004). In terms of bilateral trade exchanges in 2010, Belgian exports to Slovenia for this year amounted to 452.9 million euros and imports from Slovenia amounted to 158.8 million euros.

The excellent bilateral relations were further enhanced by the visit of Prime Minister Leterme to Slovenia in August 2010, as part of the Belgian Presidency of the EU.     

Spain

For two centuries (1515 – 1715) the Southern Netherlands were controlled by Spain, making relations between both countries indelible. The links between both royal houses and particularly Queen Fabiola (since 1960) uphold this proximity. Sixteen times as large as Belgium and with over four times as many inhabitants, Spain qualifies as one of the larger EU Member States. After the death of Generalissimo Franco (1975), the country made the transition to a democracy that went hand in hand with major economic progress, including development of the tourist sector. In 1986, Spain became a member of the EU along with Portugal and Greece. It maintains important ties with Latin America.

The international economic and financial crisis has hit Spain hard, including in the real estate sector. Public finances and levels of unemployment are preoccupying. Politically the country is highly decentralised, the best-known examples being Catalonia and the Basque Country’s statutes of autonomy.

Spain is our country’s seventh largest customer, but with a declining trade surplus. Approximately 300 companies in Spain are linked to Belgium in various ways (being subsidiaries, direct owners or shareholders). The Belgian community is made up of approximately 30,000 of our compatriots. This explains a network of three Consulate Generals and ten Honorary Consulates.

Vatican City State

The term ‘vatican’ has existed since ancient times, when it referred to a marshy area on the right bank of the Tiber river.  Vatican City was created in 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Pact between the Vatican and Italy.  Vatican City is recognised worldwide as a sovereign state, which is not to be confused with the Vatican itself.  Its population numbers approximately 800 people, 450 of whom possess Vatican City State nationality (but just half of whom live there); the rest are either temporary or permanent residents. 

The term ‘Holy See’ refers to the Pope and the Roman Curia.  Vatican City encompasses the Vatican itself (the Basilica, the Papal Palace, museums and gardens etc.) and a series of offices and buildings in Rome and the surrounding area that enjoy extraterritorial status.  Vatican City serves the Holy See.  The latter also handles Vatican City’s international relations.  Belgium has an embassy there, which we call the Embassy to the Holy See.  Already in 1832, King Leopold I accredited Ambassador Vilain XIIII to the Holy See in order to consolidate the then still precarious position of the Kingdom of Belgium.

In April 2012, Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders conducted a successful visit to the Holy See. He held bilateral contacts with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State to the Holy See. It was the first time that a Belgian minister of foreign affairs had paid a visit to the Pope’s most important representative at the Vatican and at the highest political level. This reflects the desire to deepen the dialogue with the Holy See to achieve better mutual understanding, particularly of social themes. The development of this dialogue is greatly appreciated by both Belgium and the Holy See

The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) is right on our doorstep, especially since the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994. London is thus a popular destination for both tourists and business people.

The ties between our countries run far deeper, however: common commitment to the parliamentary democracy, political and civil rights. Warrant of our country’s neutrality both in 1914 and 1940, UK entered twice into war along with Belgium. Many British people feel a bond with our country as a result of our cooperation during the two world wars. They still pay frequent visits to the British military cemeteries (e.g. ‘Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery’ in Zonnebeke or Saint Symphorien military cemetary near Mons) or war monuments in towns like Ypres.

The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of World War I in 2014 offers the opportunity to highlight the calibre of our bilateral relations. We are partners in the EU and in NATO. Our political relations with the United Kingdom are significant.

In economic terms, Belgium and the United Kingdom are important partners. Belgium is the UK’s fourth largest customer and its fourth largest supplier. British companies in Belgium are numerous and highly visible. We should not overlook, though, the fact that there are also 170 or so Belgian companies based across the Channel.

Switzerland

The Swiss Confederation, which consists of twenty-six cantons and is home to many international institutions, maintains very good bilateral relations with Belgium. This is illustrated by regular contacts between high-level officials and Minister Didier Reynders’s visit to Switzerland in September 2012. Every year many distinguished Belgians and top Belgian business people also participate in the World Economic Forum organised in the Swiss municipality of Davos.

Switzerland is a wealthy, industrialised country with one of the most stable economies in the world. Around one hundred and fifty Swiss enterprises operate in Belgium, and the Belgian presence in Switzerland is also diverse. It is not only at the economic level that cooperation between both countries is highly valued, but also at the academic level. Furthermore Switzerland is happy to profile itself as a promoter of green energy given the current trend in energy-conscious societies.

In 2012 Switzerland demonstrated its respect for Belgium in an exceptionally dignified manner by offering its compassionate assistance to the victims of the coach crash in Sierre and their family members.

Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)

Denmark

In 1973, Denmark was the first Nordic country to become a member of the EU.

Relations between Belgium and Denmark date back to the 16th century, when our artists were invited by the Danish monarchs. Their works can still be seen for example in Kronborg castle in Helsingor (cf. Hamlet). At the end of World War II, hundreds of Belgian children were placed with Danish families. The CoBrA art movement, that united artists from Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, yielded a remarkable innovation in art in the 1950s.

Furthermore, Denmark and Belgium maintain excellent relations within the EU and NATO. The recent EU Presidencies of Belgium (2nd half of 2010) and Denmark (1st half of 2012) were characterised by harmonious cooperation. Both countries play an active role in the ‘Westerwelle Future of Europe Group’ on the EU’s future.

No doubt that the relations between the Danish and Belgian royal families are an important asset for our bilateral relations. 

As far as economic relations are concerned, the seventy Danish companies with branches in Belgium are particularly worth mentioning. Belgian ports are since long an important link in our economic relations with Denmark and the other Nordic countries. The Danish companies involved in maritime transport are among the largest in the world.

Finland

Finland won its independence from Russia at the end of the First World War, although it has to wait until the end of the Cold War to fulfill its international commitments according to its own ambitions. Eventually, it succeeded, successfully. The former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for his role as mediator in international crises.

Our relations with Finland date back to the 17th century, when Walloon workers helped to develop the steel industry. In the 19th century, Finnish ships began transporting wood products to the port of Antwerp. These supplies were extremely useful for rebuilding our country after World War I.

Finland’s accession to the EU in 1995 symbolized a new chapter in our bilateral relations. Currently as members of the Eurozone, Belgium and Finland are striving to implement a sustainable economic and monetary union.

Finland is for Belgium a medium-sized trading partner. No doubt our relations will benefit from transports of steel between Finland and the port of Antwerp.

Iceland

Iceland is an island in the remote north-western corner of Europe with just 300,000 inhabitants.
Fish is Iceland’s major export product. For Belgian fishermen, the quality and bounty of fish in

Icelandic waters have long been a reference point. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Belgian fishermen were involved in the ‘IJslandvaart’, which involved long and intense fishing sprees that were incredibly demanding on both men and their vessels.

Following the general elections held on April 27, 2013, Iceland decided to suspend the enlargement negotiations with the EU. There is no breakdown in the EU-Iceland relations as Iceland closely cooperates with the EU within the European Economic Area.  However, for Belgium Iceland has already been for some time a partner in the framework of NATO.

Norway

“The Scream”, by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, is one of the most famous masterpieces in the history of art. But the terrifying character depicted in this painting is not at all reminiscent of Norway. On a social level Norway can boast a number of firsts. It was the first country to extend to women the right to vote in 1913; and an ombudsman for children was appointed in 1981.

Norway is the only Nordic country to have hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice (in Oslo in 1952 and in Lillehammer in 1994). Ski jumping is particularly popular in Norway, and the Holmenkollen ski jump is famous.

To a large extent Norway owes its prosperity to exports of natural gas and oil, that are both extracted from the North Sea. Supplies of gas and oil from a country as stable as Norway contribute to our energy security. Norwegian investments are thus equally allowed in our country (such as in Zeebrugge)

Political bilateral relations are excellent. Although Norway is no member of the EU, both countries closely cooperate within the European Economic Area. Belgium and Norway work together extremely effectively within NATO, such as during operations in Libya and Afghanistan. Belgium also welcomes Norway’s efforts as an ‘honest broker’ in regional conflicts, a tradition that has its roots in the activities of Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Sweden

Sweden is the largest state in northern Europe and has a long tradition of independence and neutrality. The country is not a member of NATO but did become a member of the EU in 1995. Europe drew closer in more ways than one: the Oresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark was opened in 2000.

Sweden has a positive image, just like the other Nordic countries. This stems from its reputation in areas such as transparency, consultation, social services and its broad commitment to international cooperation with the South. Furthermore the products from all these countries (e.g. cars, phones, fashion, design, interior design, etc.) enjoy considerable success as a result of their sustainability and innovative character, and not just in Belgium.

Our relations with Sweden date back to the Middle Ages. Blanche of Namur (1320 – 1363) was Queen of Sweden and Norway. In the 17th century, Walloon industrialists were invited to improve the process of mining iron ore. Furthermore there are strong ties between the Swedish and Belgian royal houses. Queen Astrid, the mother of King Albert II, grew up in Sweden.

Political relations are excellent. Our joint EU membership since 1995 provides the basis for more regular contacts. Sweden is our main economic partner of all the Nordic countries: it is our fourteenth largest customer and our tenth largest supplier. Sweden’s importance is illustrated by the fact that Belgium is home to approximately 250 branches of Swedish companies.