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Belgium

Belgium

Last updated in June 2017

Political relations

As founding members of the European Union (EU), Belgium and Germany have forged close ties through several decades of joint efforts to develop and deepen the EU. The two countries also largely agree on the specifics of the EU’s continued integration. On issues relating to foreign, European, security and economic policy, there is close coordination between the two countries and within the framework of the EU.

Belgium was among the first countries to begin cooperation with the young German democracy in the post-war years. Emblematic of this was the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1951, just a few days after the revision of Germany’s occupation status, which allowed it to take such a step again. The legacy of bilateral problems was largely settled in 1956 in the German-Belgian Border and Compensation Treaty. Subsequent close cooperation within NATO as well as general good neighbourliness have contributed to today’s excellent and trustful political relations.

Under NATO’s deployment policy, generations of Belgian soldiers were trained in German garrisons in the post-war era, which contributed to mutual friendship and deeper understanding. This close symbiosis came to an end with the withdrawal of the last Belgian troops from Germany, a process that began in 2002 and was completed in April 2004.

There are frequent high-level two-way visits between the two countries.

Then Federal President Joachim Gauck paid a three-day state visit to Belgium in early March 2016 at the invitation of King Philippe. During his stay, Federal President Gauck visited the cities of Brussels, Antwerp, Liège and Eupen.

At the invitation of King Philippe, Federal President Gauck also attended the meeting of the Heads of State of German-speaking countries on 7 and 8 September 2016 in Brussels and Eupen. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel visited Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on 9 September in Berlin and was a guest at the Federal President’s garden party. On 19 October 2016, King Philippe and the Minister-President of Flanders, Geert Bourgeois, attended the opening of the Frankfurter Buchmesse - Frankfurt Book Fair, at which the Netherlands and Flanders were joint guests of honour.On 12 January 2017, Federal Chancellor Merkel received a joint honorary doctorate from two Flemish universities – KU Leven and Ghent University. Following the ceremony, she held talks with King Philippe and Prime Minister Michel. In early February 2017, the German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with Belgium and Luxembourg, chaired by Member of the Bundestag Patrick Schnieder, paid a three-day visit to Belgium, making stops in Brussels, Ghent, West Flanders, Namur and Eupen.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble delivered a speech at the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium on 20 February 2017. On 6 March 2017, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met with his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders in Brussels. In addition, on 31 May 2017, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon and State Secretary for Asylum Policy and Migration, Theo Francken, conducted talks with Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière in Berlin.

There are also regular visits to Belgium by Members of the German Bundestag and high-ranking representatives of Germany’s regional governments and parliaments.

The Belgian Government led by Charles Michel, in office since 11 October 2014, is implementing comprehensive economic, financial, labour market and social reforms, inspired in part by German Government policies over the past years. Belgium’s regions, especially Flanders, have also shown interest in the German dual system of vocational training.

Economic relations

Germany continues to rank as Belgium’s largest trading partner. Belgium, on the other hand, is Germany’s 11th largest trading partner. In 2016, trade between Germany and Belgium was worth approximately 80 billion euros. Antwerp is a major trading port for Germany in terms of both imports and exports.

Since the 1950s, both sides have made considerable direct investments in the partner country, which has made for even closer economic ties. In 2015, German direct investment in Belgium was worth a total of approximately 36 billion euros. German investment focuses on the chemical industry in Antwerp and automobile assembly in Brussels. German businesses have a large number of branch offices in Belgium. In addition, numerous German companies and associations have representatives in Brussels help make their voices heard in the EU institutions. An important and well-established actor is the German-Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (AHK debelux), which has offices in Brussels and Cologne.

Cultural relations

Bilateral cultural relations are based on the German-Belgian Cultural Agreement of 24 September 1956. Germany’s cultural relations policy in Belgium centres on promoting the German language in schools and universities, awarding scholarships and conducting exchange, travel and award programmes, often in cooperation with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). However, it also puts an emphasis on initiating and supporting bilateral cultural projects. In 2012, in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut in Brussels, dasKULTURforum Antwerpen was set up in the city of the same name. It is listed as one of the 150 German cultural societies operating worldwide and organises literary readings, film evenings, exhibitions and other events related to Germany. Following the successful Berliner Herbst cultural programme in 2013-2014, dasKULTURforum Antwerpen organised a similar series of events in 2016, this time focusing on Cologne.

An important contribution to Germany’s foreign cultural policy is made by the International German School of Brussels (iDSB), which leads to the German higher education entrance qualification (Abitur). It also offers bilingual kindergarten and pre-school programmes (German-English or German-French). In addition, there are German sections at the four European Schools in Brussels, at the European School in Mol and at the SHAPE International School in Mons. Since 2008, two Belgian schools – one in Antwerp (Flanders) and another in Seraing (Wallonia) – have partnered with schools in Germany under the Federal Foreign Office’s Schools: Partners for the Future initiative (PASCH). On account of the approximately 77,000 German-speaking Belgians in the east of the country, German is the third official language. German is also the third language taught at most Belgian schools, alongside the respective second language (French or Dutch).

As part of the international programme CLIL (or EMILE in French), seven schools in Wallonia Region offer German immersion classes. The programme was extended to include the Flemish Region in September 2014. Since then, two secondary schools (in Turnhout, Ghent and Lommel) have offered German immersion classes for the first time.

In higher education, a series of Germany Year programmes have since 2011 been helping to present a modern picture of Germany. The first such programme was organised by the University of Antwerp in 2011. In 2016, the francophone Université catholique de Louvain held events to promote closer cooperation between the university and Germany.

Since 2013, the German Embassy has, in cooperation with Belgian experts, organised the Historikerdialog, which provides a forum for German and Belgian historians to debate topics relating to the two countries’ histories. The focus is on commemorating the First World War. In connection with the Historikerdialog, the German Embassy organised a public lecture by the Freiburg historian Prof. Jörn Leonhard, entitled “The First World War – Legacy and Lessons One Hundred Years Later”, which was given on 20 April 2016 in Brussels. Further events are planned for the period up to the end of 2018 mainly to mark specific anniversaries (e.g. the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele in 2017).  

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