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The Principality of Andorra is a mini state located on the border of 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 to France and Spain. Since the end of the 20th century, however, the booming tourist industry and developments in transport and communications have brought an end to this isolation. The political system was modernised in 1993, when Andorra received its first constitution and became a member of the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
Of our compatriots residing in Andorra (around 140), the majority are active in the real estate, insurance, hotel and travel sectors and in the sale of regional Belgian products. Every year about 250,000 Belgians travel to Andorra, which is an important number for this mini state.
Benelux is an intergovernmental partnership that unites Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Benelux aims to promote the prosperity and well-being of all citizens through better cooperation between the countries.
The institutions of the Benelux Union Treaty are as follows:
- the Benelux Committee of Ministers,
- the Benelux Council,
- the Benelux General Secretariat,
- the Benelux Interparliamentary Consultative Council, also known as the Benelux Parliament,
- the Benelux Court of Justice.
In addition, the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) was established by a separate treaty in 2005.
Since the new Benelux Union Treaty came into force on 1 January 2012, new steps have been taken towards closer cooperation in three key areas: internal market and economic union, sustainable development, and justice and home affairs.
Since 2008, the Benelux countries have been cooperating with the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia at an institutional level. Furthermore, Benelux maintains contacts with other partnerships such as the European Union, the Greater Region, the International Commissions of the Meuse and Scheldt and with the Laender (Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony) and neighbouring regions in Germany and France (Hauts-de-France, Grand Est). It also cooperates with the Baltic States and the Nordic countries.
For many years, Benelux and France have been working closely together in the fields of energy (the Pentalateral Energy Forum, the Gas Platform and the North Seas Energy Cooperation), road transport control (Euro Contrôle Route) and the fight against transnational drug trafficking and cross-border crime.
Belgium recognised the Republic of Cyprus on the very day of its independence on 16/08/1960. Belgium's image in Cyprus is positive. Every year, some 25,000 to 30,000 Belgian tourists visit the island.
Foreign Minister Didier Reynders visited Cyprus in 2017 as part of a Council of Europe ministerial meeting (05/2017).
The internal negotiations on the Cyprus question, conducted within the framework of the United Nations, are aimed at the reunification of the island and the creation of a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, with unique sovereignty, political equality, citizenship and legal personality between the two communities.
Belgium is supporting the parties in their search for a compromise and in particular the resumption of the negotiation process (which is currently at a standstill because of the Covid-19 pandemic, among other things).
In 2020, Cyprus was Belgium's 74th most major customer (exports to Cyprus: 249.4 million euros) and 118th most major supplier (imports from Cyprus: 27.0 million euros). Belgium recorded a positive trade balance of 214.4 million euros.
Germany is not only the largest state in the EU with almost 83 million inhabitants, but over the past 30 years its political and economic importance has also grown.
Germany has made a major contribution to the process of European unification. The peaceful reunification of Germany in 1991 sent a clear message to the Central European countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc.) and prompted them to embark on a process that would lead to their membership of the European Union in 2006.
There are many ties between Belgium and Germany. We are neighbours, founding states of the EU and NATO, both members of the Council of Europe, the Eurozone and the Schengen Area, as well as many other organisations and associations. Our citizens maintain close and intensive contacts in the cultural, economic, sports, tourism, academic and other fields. Regardless of the government coalitions in both countries, our positions on European and international issues are generally similar. Belgium and Germany are in frequent contact at various levels, particularly in the context of the biennial Belgian-German conference.
The German market is essential for the Belgian economy. Our trade is substantial since Germany is our main market and our second largest supplier. The value of our trade amounts to around 120 billion euros annually. Due to their considerable investments, German companies, for example in the petrochemical and automotive sectors, have always accounted for tens of thousands of jobs in our country.
Germany also provides Belgians with a varied tourist destination: beaches on the North Sea and the Baltic, mountains in Bavaria and the Black Forest, cultural highlights such as Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Munich. In addition, a high-speed train (ICE) network connects the main tourist cities.
For well-known historical reasons, France and Belgium are closely linked. With a surface area 14 times the size of Belgium and a population 6 times larger, in many ways France is a key partner for our country.
Naturally, linguistic and cultural affinities are not unrelated. These are expressed within the framework of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). The expression "when it rains in Paris, it drizzles in Brussels" says a lot about the relations between the two countries. The number of Belgians living in France is estimated at 150,000, while the number of French people settled in Belgium is around 160,000. France also remains the leading tourist destination for Belgians. Cross-border cooperation through three European groupings of territorial cooperation is also of undeniable importance.
Relations are also particularly strong in economic terms. Belgium is France's third largest customer and third largest supplier. Conversely, France is Belgium's second largest customer and third largest supplier. In terms of investments, transactions in both directions are of paramount importance: thousands of companies, branches and purchases are involved, representing some 200,000 jobs on both sides of the border.
All these elements explain Belgium's extensive diplomatic network in France. In addition to the embassy, the country has two consulates-general and twelve honorary consulates, as well as numerous representations of federated entities. The geographical proximity of the capital cities of both countries also ensures regular and important bilateral contacts at the highest levels of government. Our southern neighbour has therefore developed a good understanding of the Belgian federal structure. France remains a preferential partner for Belgium, not only within the European Union, but also through France's position at the UN (Security Council), NATO, the G8 and the G20.
Belgium enjoys a positive image in Greece. The comparable population, the fact that Belgium is considered a host country for part of the Greek diaspora (30,000 people) and the positive experiences of the many Greeks temporarily residing in Belgium (European officials, students, diplomats, etc.) largely explain this positive image.
Other areas of common interest are the fact that both countries gained their independence at almost the same time (1830) and the presence of Belgian volunteers during the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830).
In 2020, Greece was Belgium's 33th most major customer (exports to Greece: 1.6 billion euros) and 59th most major supplier (imports from Greece: 336.6 million euros). Belgium recorded a positive trade balance (1.3 billion euros).
In 2017, the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken, visited Greece (07/2017).
In June 2021, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Sophie Wilmès visited Geece.
Belgium is supporting the sectoral reforms that Greece is currently implementing and making experts and technical assistance available to the European Commission in Athens and to the Greek authorities in various fields (public health, asylum and migration, finance, etc.).
From a historical perspective, Belgium is significantly associated with the Irish emancipation process during World War I. Many Irish people fought with the British army and died in Flanders Fields for "brave catholic Belgium".
The Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines (1998) and the Flanders Fields Memorial in Dublin (inaugurated in April 2019) are therefore important symbols in our mutual relationship.
Another area of importance is our connection with “the flight of the Earls”. Part of the Irish elite fled to continental Europe in 1607. Some of them built an Irish college in Leuven, which since recently has lived on as “Irish College Leuven”.
In 2020, Ireland was Belgium's 22nd most major customer (exports to Ireland: 2.8 billion euros) and 6th most major supplier (imports from Ireland: €18.0 billion euros). Belgium recorded a negative trade balance (15.2 billion euros).
Ireland's main trading partners are the US, Belgium (chemical and pharmaceutical sectors. Belgium has become Ireland's second-largest export market since the end of 2018), the UK and the other Eurozone countries. Belgium enjoys its position as a transit country.
The President of the Flemish Parliament, Jan Peumans, visited Ireland from 28 to 30 April 2019.
On 17/07/2019, a consultation between Belgian and Irish Brexit co-ordinators took place in Dublin.
As founder members of NATO and the EU, Italy and Belgium have a great deal in common, as well as historically and socially. Just think of Queen Paola, former Prime Minister Di Rupo and the successful integration of hundreds of thousands of Italians after WWII. We also share the memory of the Marcinelle mining disaster of 1956.
The country has about ten times the surface area of Belgium and almost six times the population, but has an important socio-economic fault line between the industrial north and the rather agricultural south. Italy remains the third most important European economy, after France and Germany, and promotes its top sectors under the name "4A": Alimentari (food), Abbigliamento (fashion), Arredo (furniture and design) and Automazione (automation).
However, the international financial and health crisis calls for tough austerity measures and deep reforms.
Bilaterally, Italy remains a leading economic partner, both in terms of reciprocal investment and trade, as Belgium's 6th largest customer - 19.8 billion in exports - and 8th largest supplier - 13.8 billion in imports. The trade balance is traditionally to Belgium's advantage and, based on previous figures, amounted to 6 billion in 2019. Imports consist mainly of chemical products, which amounted to 40.3% in 2019, followed by machinery and appliances and transport equipment. Also in exports, chemicals accounted for the largest share (36.3%), followed by machinery, appliances and plastics.
The excellent relations have been illustrated by frequent visits and enshrined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2019 with a view to intensified political consultations. In Italy, this collaboration is supported by several institutes and foundations, including the Academia Belgica.
Croatia became the 28th Member State of the European Union on 1 July 2013. The Croatian Presidency of the EU Council during the first semester of 2020 was a baptism of fire for the country.
Considering the particularly difficult circumstances (a severe earthquake in Zagreb in March 2020 and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic), Croatia has managed a successful track record.
The greatest achievement of the Croatian Presidency was the Western Balkans Summit, which launched the EU accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia.
Croatia has been a member of NATO since 2009.
Belgium maintains excellent relations with Croatia. At an official level, Croatia remembers the deployment of the Belgian blue helmets in Baranja (Eastern Slavonia), the demining projects and the reconstruction of the Port of Vukovar after the 1991-1995 war.
Belgium recognised Croatia on 15/01/1992, established diplomatic relations on 10/03/1993 and opened an Embassy in Zagreb on 27/07/1993.
Belgium is currently the 12th most major investor in Croatia (712 million euros).
In 2020, Croatia was Belgium's 46th most major customer (exports to Croatia: 716.8 million euros) and 71st most major supplier (imports from Croatia: 216.9 million euros). Belgium recorded a positive trade balance (499.9 million euros).
A visit by a delegation from the Walloon Parliament took place in March 2019.
The Principality of Liechtenstein, wedged between the Austrian and Swiss Alps, is one of the smallest (160 km² and approximately 38,500 inhabitants) and most prosperous countries in the world. In 2019, it celebrated its 300th anniversary. Although Prince Hans-Adam II decided to relinquish his powers to his son, Grand Prince Alois of Liechtenstein, he officially retains the status of Head of State.
Economic relations between Liechtenstein and Belgium are primarily facilitated by Liechtenstein's membership of the European Economic Area (along with Norway and Iceland), which gives the country access to the European single market. Furthermore, Liechtenstein belongs to the European Free Trade Association and is a member of Schengen. There is no debate about EU membership at the political or social level in Liechtenstein.
Bilateral economic relations with Liechtenstein are very limited. The principality was Belgium's 169th customer and 171st supplier in 2018. The total trade volume in 2018 amounted to approximately €9 million.
Political contacts with the principality are rather limited but very good. There are close dynastic ties between the Belgian Royal Family and the Liechtenstein Sovereigns. Every year H.M. King Philippe and Prince Alois of Liechtenstein meet during the Informal Summit of German-speaking countries. Within the UN framework, Switzerland is a like-minded partner with regard to multilateral issues such as the protection of human rights, the rule of law, international criminal justice and democracy.
Diplomatic and consular relations with Liechtenstein are monitored by the Belgian Embassy in Berne. Belgium is one of the few countries where Liechtenstein has a diplomatic representation.
For many years, Belgium and Luxembourg have maintained excellent and intensive relations. These neighbouring countries share a common history, traditions and values that are reflected in daily life through extensive cooperation at the levels of the EU, the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU), the Benelux and the Greater Region. The dynastic ties that unite our two royal houses and the links between both populations strengthen these special relations. 24,000 Belgians live in the Grand Duchy and some 48,000 Belgian cross-border workers travel to Luxembourg every day.
The two countries also share close economic ties. There are several Belgian companies operating in Luxembourg as well as companies based in the Grand Duchy and managed by Belgians.
The Belgian-Luxembourg Administrative Commission (BLC-BLAC) meets twice a year within the framework of the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union and discusses, among other things, the economic situation of the BLEU, cooperation in international relations and bilateral issues such as rail links.
Malta is a southern European archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The islands are one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The strategic location of the country determined its history, from the Phoenicians to the British. For example, Malta became independent in 1964 and has been a member of the Commonwealth ever since.
Malta has been a European Member State and a member of the Schengen area since 2004.
Bilateral relations are very good. Several bilateral agreements were signed, notably to avoid double taxation, in the field of police cooperation and public health. Belgian tourism to Malta is on the rise.
In Malta, Belgium generally has an aura of art, technical knowledge and cordial bilateral relations. As an illustration of this, we would like to mention a number of tapestries produced in Belgian weavers' workshops in Brussels in 1697 that were donated to St John's Cathedral in Malta and restored by a specialised Belgian workshop in 2006, after which they returned to Malta.
Monaco is the second most populous country in the world. The principality has been ruled by the Grimaldi family since 1927, with several intervals.
Since 1993 Monaco has been a full member of the United Nations. Despite its independence and its own foreign policy, defence is the responsibility of France. Monaco is not an EU member state and, together with Andorra and San Marino, is negotiating an Association Agreement with the European Union.
There are also close ties with Belgium. As a result, Belgians are the 6th largest community of foreigners in Monaco. In economic terms, Belgium is Monaco's 4th largest supplier and 12th largest customer.
For many years, bilateral relations between Belgium and its northern neighbour have been excellent and intensive. The linguistic community between the Netherlands and the Dutch-speaking part of our country lends a special dimension to these relations. Both States have a long tradition of cooperation at all levels of government, especially locally in the border regions. At a federal level, Belgium and the Netherlands consult each other regularly in a number of areas, and the two neighbours cooperate structurally, particularly in the fields of defence, home affairs, justice and foreign affairs. Belgium and the Netherlands frequently hold consultation meetings in the framework of Benelux, the European Union and other multilateral organisations.
The benefits of the economic relations that unite Belgium and the Netherlands are considerable. The Netherlands is Belgium's third largest trading partner, behind Germany and France, and companies from both countries invest heavily on both sides of the border. A good relationship is therefore essential, particularly in the areas of infrastructure and mobility and policy on ports and energy. Where appropriate, the parties will also seek to develop their cooperation in these areas.
Current bilateral issues mainly concern infrastructure projects which, in Belgium, involve sometimes just Flemish and sometimes mixed expertise: the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, the Scheldt Treaties, the Steel Rhine, the high-speed line between Aachen, Heerlen and Maastricht. The two countries also maintain deep and vital relations in terms of police and judicial cooperation.
Some 39,000 Belgians live in the Netherlands.
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 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 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.
“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 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.
The relations between our country and Austria go back a long way. The Southern Netherlands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1713-1795) under the Hapsburgs. After World War I, the Hapsburg dynasty in Austria came to an end and the Republic of Austria was created. After the Anschluss with the German Reich in 1938, Austria became closely involved in World War II. Afterwards the territory was occupied by the Allies. In 1955, after promising permanent neutrality, Austria again became an independent state and joined the UN.
Austria has been a member of the EU since 1995, which has led to an increase in political cooperation and contacts with our country, albeit focused on European issues. Given their similar size and their export-oriented economy (a major role for SMEs and strong alignment with Germany), Austria and Belgium share common interests in various dossiers. Every year, the heads of state meet at the Informal Summit of German-speaking countries (in 2019 in Linz). In 2018, the royal couple paid a working visit to Vienna for the opening of a major Bruegel exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
For historical reasons, Austria maintains its neutrality. It is therefore not a member of NATO, although there is cooperation through the Partnership for Peace programme. Vienna is home to many international institutions (including the UN, IAEA, CTBTO, OSCE). The Belgian Ambassador in Vienna is also accredited for Slovakia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Regions and Communities are also strongly represented in Austria.
Austria is a medium-sized trading partner for Belgium. In 2020, Austria was Belgium's 16th largest customer and 20th largest supplier. The trade volume amounts to almost 7 billion euros. Furthermore, Austria remains an important tourist destination for many Belgians. Every year, around half a million of our countrymen and women travel to the Alps.
Bilateral relations with Portugal go back a long way in history. For example, the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores was known as the Flemish Islands in the late Middle Ages. Today, the links are still very close, with common European values and a shared commitment to multilateral fora. In recent history, the so-called Carnation Revolution of 1974 heralded the end of the dictatorship (since 1926) and the following year the end of the African colonies. This opened the way to EU membership in 1986, along with Spain and Greece. Portugal has about three times the surface area of Belgium, but a comparable population figure. Portugal is our 26th customer and 37th supplier. Commercial relationships are indeed relatively modest, as are our investments. Hard hit by the international financial crisis, Portugal is adhering to a stringent fiscal and economic reform plan in consultation with the EU and the IMF. These efforts have led to a strong economic recovery, partly thanks to the tourism sector. However, the latter has diminished in importance during the health crisis.
San Marino is a microstate completely surrounded by Italy. It is located on the Italian peninsula on the north-eastern side of the Apennines. It is only 61 square kilometres and some 30 000 people live there. Because of its location, it could only maintain its independence by maintaining good relations with its surrounding powers, with the Holy See, and eventually with unified Italy, with which it still maintains privileged relations. Apart from the Order of Malta, there is only one embassy in San Marino, that of Italy. San Marino is not a member of the EU.
San Marino is the oldest surviving sovereign and constitutional republic in the world. It was originally a monastic community founded in the fourth century, on 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 governed by the "Leges Statutae Republicae Sancti Marini", a series of six books in Latin from the late 16th century that describe, among other things, the country's political system.
The country lives mainly from the financial sector, industry, services and tourism. In terms of GNP per person, 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 is the responsibility of Italy.
San Marino is monitored from the Belgian Embassy in Rome. Every year, a limited number of Belgian tourists from neighbouring Italy visit the mini state of San Marino.
Slovenia declared independence on 15 June 1991, which was recognised by Belgium on 15 January 1992. The first Belgian ambassador to be accredited in Ljubljana presented his credentials on 21 October 1999.
Slovenia joined the European Union on 1 May 2004 and had already joined NATO in March of the same year. The European Union and NATO are therefore the most important, indeed natural, framework for relations between Slovenian and Belgian diplomacy. These relations are very close within the EU, all the more so since Slovenia introduced the euro on 1 January 2007 – thus becoming a member of the Eurozone – and also became a member of the Schengen zone on 22 December 2007.
Slovenia will hold the Presidency of the EU Council for the second time during the second half of 2021.
The Slovenian government supports the rapid integration of all Balkan countries into the EU and into other Western structures such as NATO.
In terms of bilateral trade relations for 2020, Slovenia was Belgium's 51st most major customer (exports to Slovenia: 601.8 million euros) and 61st most major supplier (imports from Slovenia: 326.0 million euros). Belgium therefore recorded a positive trade balance (275.8 million euros).
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders visited Slovenia on 5 and 6 February 2018, at the invitation of Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, to participate in the Benelux-Slovenia Summit.
For two centuries (1515-1715), the Southern Netherlands were ruled by Spain, which made the relations between the two countries indelible. The ties between both royal houses and especially the figure of Queen Fabiola (since 1960) perpetuate this. With a surface area 16 times that of Belgium and over four times the population, Spain is one of the larger EU member states. After the death of Generalissimo Franco (1975), the country made a transition to democracy that went hand in hand with major economic progress, including the development of the tourism sector. In 1986, Spain joined the EU together with Portugal and Greece. There remains an important link with the Latin American world.
The international economic and financial crisis has hit Spain hard, including in the real estate sector. Public finances and unemployment are worrying. Politically, the country is very decentralised with the autonomy of Catalonia and the Basque Country as the best known examples.
For our country, Spain is the seventh largest customer, but with a decreasing trade surplus. About 300 companies in Spain are linked to Belgium in various forms (branch, direct owner, shareholder). The Belgian community counts about 30 000 compatriots. This explains a network of three professional consultants and ten honorary consultants.
The term 'Vatican' has existed since ancient times, when it denoted a marshy area on the right bank of the Tiber River. The Vatican City came into being with the signing of the Lateran Pact between the Vatican and Italy in 1929. The Vatican City is recognised worldwide as a sovereign state, not to be confused with the Vatican itself. The population of the Vatican City State is approximately 800 people, 450 of whom have Vatican City State nationality (but only half of whom live in the Vatican City State), and the rest of whom are either temporary or permanent residents.
The term 'Holy See' refers to the Pope and to the Roman curia. The Vatican City comprises the Vatican itself, for example the Basilica, the Papal Palace, museums, gardens and so on, as well as a series of offices and buildings in Rome and the surrounding area that enjoy extraterritorial status. The Vatican City is at the service of the Holy See. The latter also exercises the international relations of the Vatican City State. 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 international position of the Kingdom of Belgium.
In April 2012, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders made a successful visit to the Holy See. He maintained bilateral contacts with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State to the Holy See. It was the first time that a Belgian foreign minister had visited the Pope's most important representative at the Vatican and at the highest political level. It was in response to the wish to further deepen dialogue with the Holy See for better mutual understanding, especially on social issues. The development of this dialogue is highly appreciated by both Belgium and the Holy See.
The United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) is also close to Belgium. This proximity was further strengthened by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994. London is therefore a popular destination for tourists and business people.
However, the ties between our two countries run much deeper: a commitment to parliamentary democracy and civil and political rights. A guarantor of Belgian neutrality in 1914 and 1940, the United Kingdom went to war alongside our country on two occasions. As a result of the cooperation during these two world wars, many British people feel connected to Belgium and still visit the graves of their soldiers regularly (e.g. "Tyne Cot" in Zonnebeke and Saint-Symphorien, near Mons) or gather in front of monuments to honour the victims, especially in Ypres.
The commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War, as well as many high-level visits, have also served to highlight the overall quality of our bilateral relationship. Belgium and the United Kingdom are partners in the European Union and NATO. Our political relations with London are therefore of great importance.
In recent years, the respective positioning of the two countries in the management of Brexit has been the central issue and reference point of the Belgian-British bilateral relationship. Various contacts and visits have taken place at all levels and a record number of British citizens have applied for and obtained Belgian nationality.
Economically, our two countries are important partners. Belgium is the United Kingdom's 5th largest customer and its 8th largest supplier. There are many, highly visible British companies based in Belgium. But let's not forget that there are also about 170 Belgian companies established on the other side of the Channel.
Belgium and the United Kingdom also share very close links in the field of energy. The two countries are linked by a strategic Interconnector Gas Pipeline (IUK), which offers added value in terms of security of supply and market integration. In the electricity sector, the Belgian and British electricity networks have been linked by a submarine power cable called Nemo Link since 2008.
The Swiss confederation consists of 26 cantons and has four official languages, namely French, German, Romansh and Italian. Switzerland is known for its neutrality and direct democracy. It is therefore not a member of NATO, nor of the EU or the European Economic Area such as Norway, Liechtenstein or Iceland. Nevertheless, Switzerland is highly integrated into the European Union through various agreements. For example, it is part of the Schengen area and has broad access to the internal market.
Our bilateral relations with Switzerland are traditionally intense thanks to several common aspects: multilingualism, federalism, medium-sized country, export-oriented economy. Although historically neutral Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002, it is an important like-minded partner at the multilateral level. Four Swiss cities (Geneva, Lausanne, Berne, Basel) are the headquarters of international organisations (WTO, UN, IOC, FIFA, UPU, the Bank for International Settlements, etc.). Prosperous Switzerland is also home to a relatively large Belgian community, while the Alpine country has remained an attractive tourist destination for many of our compatriots for decades.
There are regular contacts at various political levels on a wide range of issues. Every year, our country is represented at a high level at the World Economic Forum in Davos and His Majesty's Government sees a number of examples of this. King Philippe and the Swiss President meet during the annual Informal Summit of German-speaking countries. Besides political cooperation, there is also close cultural and academic cooperation between the two countries. Within the UN framework, Switzerland is a like-minded partner with regard to multilateral issues such as the protection of human rights, the rule of law, international criminal justice and democracy.
Bilateral economic relations are highly developed. The Swiss pharmaceutical industry is closely linked to the chemical sector in Belgium. These products dominate bilateral trade flows between the two countries.
Diplomatic and consular relations with Switzerland are monitored by the Belgian Embassy in Berne.