The neighbouring countries of Belgium and Germany enjoy close and good bilateral relations based on mutual trust. As founding members of the European Union (EU), they have forged close ties through decades of joint efforts to build and deepen the EU. On issues relating to foreign, European, security and economic policy, there is close coordination between them both bilaterally and within the framework of the EU. This also has a positive impact on the two countries’ cooperation during their concurrent terms as non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020.
Despite being occupied twice by German troops in 1914-1918 and 1940-1945, Belgium soon sought reconciliation with the young German democracy. As early as 1956, the two countries concluded the German-Belgian Border and Compensation Treaty.
During the Cold War years, a large proportion of Belgium’s armed forces were stationed in Germany under NATO command. Following their withdrawal, which was completed in 2004, this is now only of historical significance to German-Belgian relations, but many interpersonal ties and civil-society connections established during that time remain as a legacy of this time.
Meetings between Germany and Belgium
There are frequent high-level visits between Germany and Belgium. These include:
- Visits by then Federal President Joachim Gauck to King Philippe (state visit in March 2016 and attendance at the meeting of the Heads of State of German-speaking countries in Eupen in September 2016) and Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s first official visit to Belgium as President of the Federal Republic of Germany (June 2017)
- Visit by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and then Federal President Joachim Gauck (September 2016)
- Attendance by King Philippe and the Minister-President of the Government of Flanders, Geert Bourgeois, at the opening of the Frankfurter Buchmesse – Frankfurt Book Fair (October 2016)
- Awarding of a joint honorary doctorate from KU Leven and Ghent University to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, followed by her meeting with King Philippe and Prime Minister Charles Michel (January 2017)
- Further meetings between the Federal Chancellor and the Belgian Prime Minister at EU and bilateral level (including in March 2019 and in June 2018 in Berlin)
- Visits by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders (January and March 2018)
- Attendance by then Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Passchendaele (July 2017)
- A large number of bilateral visits and talks by other Federal Ministers
- Visit to Belgium by the German Bundestag’s Parliamentary Friendship Group for Relations with BENELUX (February 2017), as well as visits by the German Bundestag’s Committee on Tourism to Brussels in August and October 2018 and official visits by Members of the German Bundestag or high-level representatives of German Länder to Belgium
Germany is Belgium’s largest trading partner, while Belgium is Germany’s eleventh largest trading partner. In 2018, trade between Germany and Belgium was worth approximately 90.5 billion euros. The two countries have an almost even trade balance. Antwerp is a major trading port for Germany in terms of both imports and exports.
As of the end of 2017, German direct investment in Belgium was worth around 33.5 billion euros. German investment focuses on the chemical industry in Antwerp and car manufacturing in Brussels. A large number of German companies have a branch in Belgium. In addition, numerous German companies and associations have offices in Brussels to help make their voices heard in the EU. One important and well-established actor is the German-Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce (AHK debelux), which has offices in Brussels and Cologne. In 2019, AHK debelux is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its foundation as the world’s first German Chamber of Commerce Abroad.
Belgium is very interested in the dual system of vocational training. AHK debelux assists Belgian companies with planning, organising and implementing a dual system of vocational training. In eastern Belgium, where there is a dual vocational training scheme similar to the German system, youth unemployment is much lower than in other parts of the Country.
Germany’s cultural relations policy in Belgium focuses on promoting the German language in schools and universities, awarding scholarships, and running exchange programmes and travel and award schemes, often in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut in Brussels.
On account of the approximately 77,000 German-speaking Belgians in the east of the country, German is the third official language. At most Belgian schools, German competes with Spanish as the third language taught after the second languages of French, English or Dutch. The International German School of Brussels, which teaches from kindergarten to Abitur (higher education entrance qualification) level, plays an important role in Germany’s cultural relations policy. In addition, there are German sections at the four European Schools in Brussels, the European School in Mol and the SHAPE International School in Mons. Since 2008, two Belgian schools – one in Antwerp (Flanders) and another in Seraing (Wallonia) – have been part of the Federal Foreign Office’s Schools: Partners for the Future initiative (PASCH). Another Walloon school, in Arlon, joined the programme in 2018 on the tenth anniversary of the PASCH initiative.
A series of Germany Year programmes organised by universities in recent years has presented a modern image of Germany. The first such programme was organised by the University of Antwerp in 2011. In 2018, the Dutch-speaking Hasselt University held events to promote closer cooperation between the university and Germany.
The German-Belgian Cultural Agreement of 24 September 1956 provides the legal basis for this cultural work. A German cultural forum was set up in Antwerp in 2012 in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut in Brussels. One of the 150 German cultural societies operating worldwide, this forum organises readings, film evenings, exhibitions, concerts and other events related to Germany.
In cooperation with Belgian experts (CEGESOMA, In Flanders Fields Museum), the German Embassy has organised an historians’ dialogue since 2013 which provides a forum for German and Belgian academics to debate topics relating to the two countries’ past. The focus is on commemorating the First World War.
In 2018, the German Embassy concluded four years of its own commemorative activities by holding two events: a panel discussion entitled “The First World War and Its Consequences” in cooperation with the German War Graves Commission and a symposium entitled “After Four Years of Commemoration, Is Remembering the First World War More Than a Recurring Ritual?”, the first event of its kind to bring together German and Belgian PhD students in Belgium.