Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830; it was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. The country prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
This modern, private-enterprise economy has capitalized on its central geographic location, highly developed transport network, and diversified industrial and commercial base. Industry is concentrated mainly in the populous Flemish area in the north. With few natural resources, Belgium imports substantial quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactures, making its economy vulnerable to volatility in world markets. Roughly three-quarters of Belgium's trade is with other EU countries. In 2009 Belgian GDP contracted by 2.7%, the unemployment rate rose slightly, and the budget deficit worsened because of large-scale bail-outs in the financial sector. Belgium's budget deficit widened to 4.8% of GDP in 2010, while public debt was just over 100% of GDP. Belgian banks have been severely affected by the international financial crisis with three major banks receiving capital injections from the government. An ageing population and rising social expenditures are also increasing pressure on public finances, making it likely the government will need to implement unpopular austerity measures to assuage investor concerns about Belgium's ability to restore fiscal balance.