Thanks to its central location, Belgium serves as a spring board to the European Union (EU). Its neighbours are France, Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Brussels is the capital of Europe, the site of the headquarters of the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Other major international organizations, such as NATO, are also located in Brussels.
Some 65% of the EU's economic activity is located in an area 1,500 km long and 200 km wide running from Liverpool (UK) to Genoa (Italy). Belgium is located right in the centre of this area and therefore deserves to be called the hub of Europe. Our country's role as a transit zone is due chiefly to the fact that 20% of Europe road traffic is performed by Belgian carriers. In addition, Antwerp is Europe's second largest port (after Rotterdam) and one of the 10 largest in the world.
Belgium occupies a surface area of 30,500 kmē and has a population of 10.2 million, meaning a population density of 335 inhabitants per kmē. Belgium is the second most densely populated EU country after the Netherlands. Belgium accounts for 1% of the EU's total surface area and 2.7% of its population, yet its economic weight within the EU belies these figures. In 2000, the country's gross domestic product (GDP) was EUR 244 billion, or 2.9% of the EU's total GDP. Productivity, and therefore material prosperity, is higher in Belgium than in the rest of Europe. In 2000, per capita income was EUR 62,560, 20% above the EU average
In 1999, Belgium's GDP could be broken down as follows: agriculture 1.3%, industry 247%, private services 53.7% and public services 13.4%. Belgium can therefore be called a developed economy, where services account for 67.1% of GDP. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the majority of service activities (in the private sector) are very closely linked to industrial activity. This is true of transport, advertising, financial services, engineering and maintenance services. This means that a dynamic industrial sector is crucial to the Belgian economy.
Over the last 10 years Belgium has had real economic annual growth of 2.1%, compared to 2.0% for the EU as a whole. Over the same period, prices have risen modestly in Belgium with average inflation of 1.9%, compared to 2.8% for the EU. Belgium has run a current account surplus since 1985. In 2000 this surplus totalled 3.5% of GDP, one of the highest levels in the EU. On the other hand, its performance is less positive in terms of public finances, with a high - but currently decreasing - public debt. Furthermore, like most European countries, it has a high rate of unemployment (8.6% of the active population was unemployed in 2000).
Belgium is a very open economy. Exports of goods and services accounted for nearly 76.5% of GDP in 1999, and imports nearly 73%. By way of comparison, the European average was almost 32.2% for exports and nearly 31% for imports. In 1999, the total value of exports was EUR 186.7 billion. Even though the share of services in trade relations is growing rapidly, around 70% of Belgian exports and imports still involve goods. This trade focuses very much on the European market. Half the goods exported by Belgium are sold in neighbouring countries (Germany, France and the Netherlands), while one quarter go to other EU member states. Imports follow the same pattern more or less. This situation reflects Belgium's role as a hub within the EU - as mentioned above.