Destination Europe

The European Union (EU) is the result of a process of co-operation and integration which began in 1951. Today, more than 50 years later, the EU has 25 members, The main objec- tives of the EU are to introduce the concept of European citizenship, which carries with it a number of civil and political rights for European citizens and to develop an atmosphere of freedom, security and justice. The EU also encourages the development of the internation- al market and the freedom of movement of people.

In 1999, 29 countries in Europe signed the Bologna Declaration, One of the primary pur- poses of this declaration is to encourage and facilitate mobility between higher education systems and institutions in Europe,

Belgium, two cultures and three languages

Belgium consists of 2 main parts: the northern part Flanders (Vlaanderen) and the south- ern part Wallonia. Although Belgium is a small country, 3 languages are spoken here. There is no such language as 'Belgian'. The Flemish people in the north of Belgium speak Dutch, while the Walloons in the south speak French. In the eastern part of the country there is a small German-speaking population. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is officially bilingual (Dutch and French), It should be pointed out that the inhabitants of the Netherlands also speak Dutch. Surrounded by three numerically stronger languages, i.e. French, German and English, 21 million people who live in the Netherlands and Flanders share a common lan- guage - Dutch - which is the sixth most important language in the European Union,

Since 1989 several constitutional reforms have turned Belgium into a federal state con- sisting of 3 Communities (Dutch-speaking, French-speaking and German-speaking) and 3 regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels). Whereas the Communities are responsible for person-related matters like culture and education, the regions take care of territory-related matters such as social and economic affairs. Despite the fact that the regions are continu- ally gaining power, Belgium is still one country. The reigning monarch, Albert II, is the sixth king of Belgium since the declaration of independence from the Netherlands in 1830.

The central location of Belgium within the European Union and its economic importance have contributed to its international significance. Brussels hosts both the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.

Flanders and the province of Antwerp

In the north of Belgium, Flanders is set in a flat landscape, The historical name, the 'Low ountries' reflects the geography of the area occupied by Flanders and the Netherlands. The proximity of Flanders to the North Sea means that it has a temperate climate with mild winters and cool summers.

The province of Antwerp is one of 5 Flemish provinces. It is situated between Limburg in the east, West- and East-Flanders to the west, and Flemish-Brabant to the south. With a population of more than 1.6 million, the province covers roughly 16% of the entire popula­tion of Belgium. From a cultural point of view, the province of Antwerp is the most impor­tant Flemish region. Its many churches, museums, theatres etc. are only a few aspects of the cultural wealth of the province. Antwerp is an area of major economic importance. As the home of more than 86,000 companies, the province has the highest concentration of industrial enterprises in Belgium.

The partner institutions of the Antwerp University Association (University and Hogescholen - AURA) can be found all over the province, with the city of Antwerp as the main centre. The campuses of Lier, Mechelen or Turnhout are to be found in more rural surroundings.

The city of Antwerp

Antwerp, a city with about half a million inhabitants, is of major importance to economic and cultural life in Flanders. The river Scheldt has played a fundamental role in the development of the city. The harbour of Antwerp is one of the largest in the world, and gives the city its international dimension. In 1993 Antwerp was the Cultural Capital of Europe. For the year 2004 UNESCO has granted the city the title of "World Book Capital" on the basis of the unusually rich literary environment that it offers. The City of Antwerp has developed an inter­national program -ABC2004- with the support of the Flemish Community and the Province of Antwerp. The City of Antwerp is using all its literary advantages and pursuing a coordinated and continuous policy, which aims to generate an even bigger impact for Antwerp as a book capital. The city currently has an official municipal poet (Tom Lanoye) and an apartment for a Writer in Residence. ABC2004 wants to promote Antwerp interna­tionally as a historic, contemporary and future book capital - a city that loves words.

The settlement of Antwerp goes back to Roman times. The river Scheldt has always played an important role in defence and trade. The fourteenth century was a period of economic growth and population increase, which resulted in major building activities. Our Lady's Cathedral, the Elisabeth Hospital and the St Jacob's, St Paul's and Carolus Borromeus churches were all built at that time, During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the city expanded considerably, Antwerp became one of the cities of the Hanseatic League and an important financial centre. The Hessenhuis, the Vleeshuis and the city hall are examples of mercantile buildings from that period, From a cultural point of view, Antwerp was one of the most important cities of the age. The art of printing, for example, flourished in Antwerp under the influence of Christoffel Plantin. There was a crisis, however, at the end of the six teenth century. As a result of the religious wars of the time, the Low Countries were sepa­rated in 1585 into an independent north, and a southern part under Spanish rule, This led to the decline of Antwerp's position as a ma or harbour and centre of trade. Almost half the population of Antwerp - among them many artists, scientists and talented craftsmen - emigrated to the north as a result of the partition, Although the closing of the river Scheldt led to a period of economic recession in the south, the first half of the seventeenth century was a  time of cultural importance when many of the important figures that are associated with the city, such as Rubens and Van Dyck, were alive.

In the nineteenth century Antwerp recovered economically and demographically. Ever since, there has been a continued effort to make the old city an attractive and pleasant place in which to live. One of the most important considerations at the moment is improving the city's transportation system.

Industrial activity in Antwerp is export-based and capital intensive. Every year more than 100 million tonnes of goods pass through the port, a process which employs about 75,000 people. The success of these activities is partly due to the favourable natural surroundings, but also to acquired advantages such as high productivity, flexible tariffs, and a favourable economic climate. One-fifth of Belgium's Gross National Product is generated in Antwerp. The petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries, and a major car assembly plant also con­tribute significantly to the economic importance of Antwerp. The city is famous for its dia­monds. The Antwerp diamond trade is by far the largest in the world in terms of volume. The diamond district is located around the central station,

Thanks to the effort of numerous young designers, Antwerp, like London and Paris, is now a major centre in the fashion world. The fashion district just off the Meir shopping street is certainly worth visiting.

 Apart from its cathedral, Rubens, its diamonds and its fashion business, Antwerp can also be proud of its zoo, which has an international reputation.




Country Belgium
Community Flemish Community
Province Antwerp
Arrondissement Antwerp
Coordinates 51°13'N 04° 24'E
Total area 204.51 kmē
Population density 2,257 inhabitants per kmē
Total population ca. 461,496 (as of January 2006)