Belgium’s only significant natural resource, coal, has formed the basis for the country’s industrial development. The iron and steel industry grew up in connection with the coal mines in Wallonia. Around the large steel mills a diverse metal industry was developed. It lives on despite the crisis in the steel industry. Today, chemicals, food and vehicles are also manufactured.
The heavy industry, the iron and steel mills, was kept up for a long time with the help of government subsidies while a necessary restructuring failed. In the 1980s, Belgium was forced to make major cuts that hit Wallonia’s iron and steel centers Charleroi and Liège hard. Coal mining stopped completely in 1992. However, metal production has continued with the help of imported raw materials, such as copper, zinc and aluminum.
The manufacturing industry has also developed considerably. Foremost in Flanders is the engineering industry that manufactures machinery, weapons and vehicles, among other things. Several foreign car companies, including Volvo, have factories in Belgium. The automotive industry is important both for jobs in the country and for exports. A modern biotechnology industry has also grown strong and plays a major role in trade. Flanders is the third strongest region in the EU in terms of the number of employees in high-tech and research-intensive industries. In terms of revenue, Flanders accounts for four-fifths of Belgium’s exports.
Antwerp is the country’s leading industrial area and an international center for gemstone processing and trading. Although no diamonds are mined in Belgium, the country is the world’s largest diamond exporter, over half of the world’s diamond trade goes through Antwerp.
The food and tobacco industries are also significant and dominated by SMEs. Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer are major export goods.
The old coal districts of Wallonia have recently become the center of glassmaking. It is mainly mirror and window glass that is produced. Around Liège, an advanced industry has grown up with, among others, biotechnology and electronics companies.
- COUNTRYAAH: List of top trading partners of Belgium. Includes countries that imported most shipments from and exported most goods to the country.
Prime Minister Michel resigns
Following the controversy surrounding Belgium’s accession to the UN migration pact earlier in December, Prime Minister Charles Michel submits his resignation to King Philippe. Michelle’s decision comes after a debate in Parliament that showed that the minority government’s planned reforms do not have the support of opposition parties. A few days later, King Michel asks to continue leading an expedition government until the parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of May 2019.
Demonstrations against the UN Migration Pact
Thousands of demonstrators in Brussels protest the UN framework for migration, which was recently signed by the Belgian government at a meeting in Marrakech, along with a further 163 states. Belgium’s accession to the pact prompted the Flemish N-VA to leave the government in protest (see December 9). Police use tear gas and water cannons to stop clashes that occur. Among other things, it is the immigration-critical Flemish interest (VB) that has called for demonstrations against the pact that it believes can lead to increasing immigration.
Flemish N-VA leaves the government
Flemish N-VA chooses to step down from government cooperation since it has not been heard to demand that Belgium not join a UN framework on migration. The agreement to be signed at a meeting in Morocco on December 10-11 has encountered opposition from right-wing forces and immigration critics in Europe, and Austria and Hungary, among others, have chosen to stand outside. Prime Minister Charles Michel plans to continue to lead a minority government until the spring 2019 parliamentary elections.
Hundreds arrested after demonstrations of “yellow vests”
Police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse a thousand protesters and about 400 of them are arrested. The young protesters have been inspired by the ongoing unrest in France, where the “Yellow West”, which the protest movement is named after the traffic jackets used by French motorists, blocked roads in protest of increased fuel prices and vandalized tourist routes in central Paris.
Great climate protest
Tens of thousands of people march on the streets of Brussels at the same time as the UN climate summit COP 24 begins in Poland. Police say 65,000 people are participating in the march, which according to organizers is the biggest climate demonstration in Belgium to date. Travel in public transport is a free day in honor and on long-distance trains the prices have been reduced to five euros.
Belgium buys US-made fighter aircraft
The government announces that Belgium will buy 34 F-35 fighter aircraft from US Lockheed Martin. The message is a setback for those advocating support for the EU defense industry and wanted to see the Belgians buy it Typhoon, a fighter aircraft manufactured by a European consortium.
Police protest during EU summit
More than 500 police officers in Brussels – about one fifth of the police force – are on sick leave while EU leaders gather in the city for a summit. Mass sickness is a protest action for better pensions, sick pay and staffing. The EU summit is followed by an EU meeting with leaders from Asia.
Trump is putting pressure on NATO members
President Trump picks up the leaders of the other NATO countries at the summit of the Alliance in Brussels. Trump is demanding that members increase their contributions to two percent of GDPnow immediately instead of the year 2024 as planned. He further demands that all countries in the long term allocate 4 percent of GDP to NATO. Trump is particularly reliant on Germany contributing 1.24 percent of GDP compared to the US’s 3.50 percent. Citing Germany buying gas from Russia, Trump is accusing Germany of being Russia’s “prisoner”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel replies that she knows very well what it means to live under Russian domination and that she is glad that reunited Germany has the opportunity to make its own independent decisions. After two days of negotiations, Trump claims that all countries have agreed to increase their contributions and that NATO is now “much, much stronger than two days ago”. According to Trump, US involvement in NATO remains very strong,
Police kill in suspected assault
Two female police officers and a passing man are shot dead in Liège, in an assault that the police are investigating as terrorist offenses. The 31-year-old perpetrator, a suspected Islamist, takes a hostage person before he is shot dead by police. Afterwards, it appears that the 31-year-old may have murdered a person the day before, when he received permission from a prison. In a statement, the Islamic State (IS) is taking action.
Russian diplomat expelled
Belgium expels a Russian diplomat as a result of a nerve poisoning attack on a Russian former spy and his daughter in the UK in early March. It is taking place in concerted action with some 20 countries, mainly in the EU, in solidarity with the British government accusing Russia of being behind the attack. In total, over 100 Russian diplomats are expelled, 60 of whom are from the United States. Moscow denies all involvement in the poison attack and threatens with countermeasures.
Rejection of Sudanese resumes
After the Belgian Authority for Refugees and Stateless (CGRA) published a report showing that there is no evidence that the migrants sent back to Sudan last fall have been subjected to torture, although it cannot be completely excluded (see January), Immigration Minister Theo Francken decides to send more Sudanese back. Shortly thereafter, the rejection is carried out by another Sudanese migrant, who has not applied for asylum.
Belgium lowers the level of terrorist threats
Belgium decides to reduce the terrorist threat to the country to level two on a four-degree scale. Over the past three years, the terrorist threat has been at level three, except after the terrorist attacks in Paris 2015 and the attacks in Brussels 2016 when the threat was classified as four. But soldiers still have to guard places that are considered particularly sensitive, such as nuclear power plants and synagogues.
Government crisis following rejection of refugees
Prime Minister Charles Michel is facing growing demands for Immigration Minister Theo Francken to resign following a scandal that has grown in the fall of 2017. Human rights organizations and the Left Opposition accuse the government of cooperating with the authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir’s regime in Sudan on deportation of refugees from Belgium. A government delegation from Sudan, including staff from the Sudanese security service, was invited in September to discuss sending back Sudanese migrants. The group compiled a list of 43 people it wanted to return. Of these, nine were deported to Sudan, where at least three are alleged to have been abused and possibly tortured by human rights organizations.