Belgium is divided into the three federal regions of Brussels (population, 2007 estimate, 1,031,215), Flanders (6,117,440), and Wallonia (3,435,879). These regions are further subdivided into the ten provinces of Antwerpen, Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant, East Flanders, Hainaut, Liège, Limbourg, Luxembourg, Namur, and West Flanders, and into nearly 600 communes (administrative districts). Belgium has devised a two-tiered system of regional government to address political and cultural differences. Each of the three federal regions elects its own council, which is responsible for territorial matters such as planning, transportation, water, energy, municipalities, and regional development.
In 2001 the regions were given greater authority over taxation and expenditure. There are also independent language councils for the Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking communities. These councils are in charge of education, health care, and communications (such as broadcasting) for the communities.
Each of the ten provinces has a council of 50 to 90 members who are chosen by direct vote. The provinces are subdivided into administrative districts, often based in cities and towns, called communes. Each commune is administered by a burgomaster appointed by the king. The town council, directly elected to six-year terms, advises the king on this appointment. The council elects an executive body called the board of aldermen. Local government on all levels possesses a large degree of autonomy, a tradition that originated in feudal times.
The Belgian constitution provides for an independent judiciary with powers equal to those of the executive and legislative departments. The highest tribunals are the five courts of appeal, which sit at Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Liège, and Mons; the five labor courts; and the Supreme Court of Justice. Cases are referred to the courts of appeal by the courts of assize, which review both civil and criminal matters. In the assize courts 12 jurors decide all cases by majority vote. A special court was established in 1989 to resolve constitutional conflicts arising from the transfer of power from the central government to regional authorities.
Belgium is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has its headquarters in Brussels. Recruitment in Belgium’s armed forces is made by voluntary enlistment. Military training methods and equipment are coordinated with those of Netherlands under an agreement of 1948. The Belgian armed forces, which include a navy, army, and air force, stood at 39,690 in 2006. Large force reductions took place during the 1990s. "Belgium" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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