Located in Western Europe, Belgium was originally settled by the Belgae, a Celtic tribe, and went on to be conquered or occupied by the Romans, Germanic tribes, Austrians, Spanish, and the French. The country gained its independence in 1831, as a constitutional monarchy, but Germany twice invaded Belgium, in 1914 and 1940. Various changes to its constitution have made Belgium a government by coalition. Today, it exists as a parliamentary democracy and has cooperated with the US in several instances. For example, Belgium joined the International Security Assistance Force to help secure Afghanistan and helped with reconstruction and development assistance to Iraq. In addition, Belgium has joined various peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and Lebanon, provided airlifts in international crises, and hosted the 2005 and 2007 transatlantic dialogues between European foreign ministers and the US Secretary of State. Also, the Belgian city of Brussels is home to the European Union.
Lay of the Land: Situated in northwest Europe, Belgium has 40 miles of seacoast on the North Sea. It is a highly industrialized nation with two major cosmopolitan centers, Brussels and Antwerp, as well as several important manufacturing cities. Outsides these centers, Belgian villages retain the rural pace and appearance of centuries past, and the Ardennes forestland in the south provides scenic refuge from commerce.
Belgium was originally settled by the Belgae, a Celtic tribe. The Romans conquered the Belgae during the 1st century BC, and Belgium existed as a Roman province for 300 years.
From 2004 to 2008, top American imports from Belgium included wine and related products, moving up from $35.3 million to $148 million; fuel oil, increasing from $784.6 million to $2.1 billion; and industrial inorganic chemicals, increasing from $62.2 million to $143.1 million. On the decline were tobacco, waxes, and nonfood oils, decreasing from $39.6. million to $22.7 million; and excavating, paving, and construction machinery, moving down from $237.1 million to $105.6 million.
Fox Nomination Stirs Controversy
According to the State Department, the following human rights problems were reported in Belgium: overcrowded prisons, lengthy pretrial detention, the detention conditions prior to expulsion of children whose asylum applications were rejected, violence against women and ethnic and religious minorities, trafficking in persons, and racial and ethnic discrimination in the job market.
Jan Matthysen assumed the position of Belgium’s ambassador to the United States in February 2009. Matthysen graduated from Ghent University in 1973 with a degree in Contemporary Political History. Matthysen has had two decades worth of Foreign Service experience. He joined the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1984 and became the first secretary at the Belgium embassy in Bonn. He then became the Counselor at the Embassy in then East Berlin that he held through the German reunification process in 1990.
Yet another in the list of ambassadorial appointees who raised large sums of cash for President Barack Obama, Howard W. Gutman has a resume that is not without controversy. A high-octane lawyer and player in Democratic Party politics, Gutman is well-known around Washington, where his long career has included a stint as a registered lobbyist, and his legal work has involved representing former 1960s radicals and South American leaders. He also drew attention to himself during last year’s presidential campaign when he verbally blasted GOP running mate Sarah Palin for her parenting skills.