As founding members of the European Union (EU), Belgium and Germany have forged close ties through several decades of joint efforts to build and deepen the EU. The two countries also largely agree on the principles of EU integration. On issues relating to foreign, European, security and economic policy, there is close coordination bilaterally and within the framework of the EU. This will have 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 was quick to hold out a conciliatory hand to the young German democracy and established diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic of Germany shortly after its founding. As early as 1956, the two countries concluded the German-Belgian Border and Compensation Treaty. Subsequent close cooperation within the EU and NATO as well as general good neighbourly relations have contributed to today’s excellent and trustful political ties.
During the Cold War years, a large proportion of Belgium’s armed forces were stationed in Germany under NATO command. After their withdrawal was completed in 2004, this has only a historical significance for German-Belgian relations, but there remain in place many interpersonal ties and civil society connections that were established during that time.
There are frequent high-level visits between the two countries.
Germany’s then Federal President Joachim Gauck paid a three-day state visit to Belgium in March 2016. During his stay, Federal President Gauck visited Brussels, Antwerp, Mechelen, 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 2016 in Berlin and was a guest at the Federal President’s garden party. On 19 October 2016, King Philippe and the Minister-President of the Government of Flanders, Geert Bourgeois, attended the opening of the Frankfurter Buchmesse - Frankfurt Book Fair, which included a joint presentation by the Netherlands and Flanders. On 16 June 2017, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid his first official visit to Belgium, where he met with King Philippe. King Philippe intends to visit Berlin on 23 November 2019 to attend events commemorating the end of the First World War.
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. Later that same day, Federal Chancellor Merkel attended a dinner where she met with Prime Minister Michel. In late February 2018, Federal Chancellor Merkel visited Prime Minister Michel as part of a working dinner with several European Heads of State and Government. On 13 June 2018, Federal Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Michel met in Berlin for bilateral talks. 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.
Germany’s then Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel attended a ceremony in Belgium on 31 July 2017 to commemorate the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres).
On 13 April 2018, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Brussels for bilateral talks with his Belgian counterpart Didier Reynders. The two countries maintain a close dialogue at the line minster level. On 22 May 2018, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze paid a visit to Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon to discuss nuclear safety. On 14 September 2017, Germany’s then Health Minister Hermann Gröhe held talks in Brussels with Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block. On 16 October 2017, Belgian Energy Minister Marie Christine Marghem met with Economic Affairs and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier in Berlin.
The Bundestag Committee on Tourism visited Brussels in August 2018, and the Petitions Committee was in Brussels in October 2018.
There are also regular visits to Belgium by individual Members of the German Bundestag and high-ranking representatives of Germany’s federal state governments and parliaments. For example, on 28 August 2018, the Cabinet of North-Rhine Westphalia travelled to Brussels for talks. During this visit, the Minister-President of North-Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, had discussions with Prime Minister Michel and the Minister-President of the Walloon Government, Willy Borsus.
Germany continues to rank as Belgium’s largest trading partner. Belgium, on the other hand, is Germany’s eleventh largest trading partner. In 2017, trade between Germany and Belgium was worth approximately 85 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.
Over the past decades, both sides have made considerable direct investments in the partner country, which has made for even closer economic ties. As of the end of 2016, German direct investment in Belgium was worth a total of around 40 billion euros. German investment focuses on the chemical industry in Antwerp and automobile assembly in Brussels. Many other German businesses also have bases in Belgium. In addition, numerous German companies and associations have representatives in Brussels to 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. In 2019, AHK debelux will celebrate the 125th anniversary of its founding as the world’s first German Chamber of Commerce Abroad.
Belgium has shown great interest in the dual system of vocational training. This system is widely established in the German-speaking Community, but is also used sporadically in other parts of the country. In Belgium, responsibility for education lies with the Flemish, French and German-speaking Communities. AHK debelux assists Belgian companies with the planning, organisation, and implementation of the dual system of vocational training. For example, it is contributing to a project involving Audi Brussels and two partners schools that has been underway since 2012/13 and that enables trainees to complete a two-year apprenticeship as plant technicians. Other companies such as Lidl are also active in this area. 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 centres 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. It also focuses on initiating and supporting bilateral cultural projects. The German-Belgian Cultural Agreement of 24 September 1956 provides the legal basis for this cultural work. 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 focusing on Cologne.
An important contribution to Germany’s cultural relations 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 and 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 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 10th anniversary of the PASCH initiative. 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 French or Dutch.
Seven schools in Wallonia Region offer German immersion classes that incorporate the principles of the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) methodology. The programme was extended to include the Flemish Region in September 2014. Since then, three secondary schools (in Turnhout, Antwerp and Lommel) have offered German immersion classes for the first time.
In higher education, a series of Germany Year programmes have for several years now been presenting a modern picture 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.
Since 2013, the German Embassy has, in cooperation with Belgian experts (CegeSoma, In Flanders Fields Museum), 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 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.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.