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.
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.
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: (1) the Benelux Committee of Ministers, (2) the Benelux Council, (3) the Benelux General Secretariat, (4) the Benelux Interparliamentary Consultative Council, also known as the Benelux Parliament and (5) 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.
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, like 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 January 1992, established diplomatic relations on 10/03/1993 and opened an Embassy in Zagreb on 27 July 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.
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 (May 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.
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.
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.
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) 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 (July 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, such as public health, asylum and migration, finance, etcetera.
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 July 2019, a consultation between Belgian and Irish Brexit co-ordinators took place in Dublin.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
The United Kingdom
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.
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
Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden)
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.