French-Belgian relations are particularly close and smooth due to geographical proximity, historical and cultural factors (40% of Belgians are French speakers), the two countries’ closely intertwined economies and often converging opinions. Regular dialogue has been established on European, political-strategic and African issues.
Specifically bilateral contacts are frequent, including in the sidelines of European meetings and since the attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015. The President of the Republic met Prime Minister Charles Michel in Paris on 13 November 2014, just a few weeks after the latter’s election. Meanwhile Mr Valls met his counterpart on 18 March 2015 during a visit to Brussels, on 30 November in Paris on the sidelines of COP21 and on 1 February 2016 when he travelled to Brussels for a meeting on cooperation in the area of security and the fight against terrorism. The Belgian King and Queen visited Paris on 6 February 2014 for their first visit outside the Benelux countries. The last official bilateral visit of a French President to Belgium dates back to 1983 (visit of Mr Mitterrand).
The close geographic proximity between France and Belgium means that the countries enjoy strong trade relations and Belgium is France’s third largest trading partner after Germany and Italy, but ahead of China.
Belgium is France’s second largest customer (6.8 % of French exports), while the United Kingdom remains our third largest supplier (7 % of our imports). France is also Belgium’s second largest customer (16 % of Belgian exports) and third largest supplier (11.5% of imports). Excluding hydrocarbons, which are essentially re-exported gas from the North Sea through the port of Zeebrugge, we have a positive bilateral balance of €1 billion, although this is a big decrease on 2013 (€3 billion).
The amount exported to Belgium, which has slightly declined compared to 2013, is more than double that of France’s exports to China and exceeds the sum of our exports to Brazil, Russia, India and China. In addition, more French companies export to Belgium than to Germany. Despite these strong results, France’s market share in Belgium (10.6 % in 2013, 10.5 % in 2012, 10.7 % in 2011 and 11.1 % in 2010) has been in steady decline for the past ten years, while the market shares of Germany and the Netherlands are increasing.
French companies have a strong presence in Belgium and hold prominent positions in the fields of energy, transport equipment, finance, distribution and telecommunications and growth potential still exists for them, particularly in the agri-food sector (Belgium is one of the target countries of the Ubifrance-supported “healthier eating” campaign).
Over 1,700 French firms are currently located in Belgium, employing 144,503 staff.
There is particularly strong cultural, scientific and technical cooperation between France and Belgium due to the proximity of the two countries in many areas.
France and Belgium have established many forms of cooperation in the cultural, linguistic and academic fields. In this respect, the devolution of most cultural, linguistic, scientific and academic powers to the communities has led Franco-Belgian cooperation arrangements to be updated through agreements with the federated entities (agreements between France and the French-speaking Community in Belgium, the Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community in 1999 and 2000). In practice, cooperation actors from the two countries meet as often as possible in a spirit of pragmatism and efficiency. Projects are initiated and developed with partners from different regions and language communities.
Strengthening Francophonie and the French language is an important priority, particularly in Flanders and the German-speaking community (educational activities and teacher training, support for increasing staff numbers at the French lycée in Antwerp through the planned introduction of a bilingual stream). In Brussels, the Bruxelles Europe Alliance Française provides French lessons, with particular focus on training European civil servants and diplomats based in the city.
With a 620km-long shared border, 25,000 French residents who travel to work in Belgium every day and 5,000 Belgian residents working in France, there is intensive and long-standing and cross-border cooperation between French and Belgium regions. This cooperation, however, is not obvious due to the lack of a genuine space for institutional discussions on cross-border cooperation or border issues at intergovernmental level, as is the case with Luxembourg, for example.
Decentralized cooperation is very vibrant with several European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), including the first EGTC created in Europe, the Eurometropolis Lille – Kortrijk – Tournai, which was set up on 28 January 2008 and the Flanders – Côte d’Opale EGTC created in 2009. There is also strong cooperation between Wallonia and Champagne-Ardennes (signing in 2012 of a declaration on enhanced cooperation in the areas of economic development, competitiveness and innovation, health, tourism, culture and cooperation with third countries).
Police and customs cooperation between France and Belgium is growing steadily. It is based on an agreement signed on 5 March 2001 which led to the inauguration of a Police and Customs Co-operation Centre (PCCC) in Tournai, in early September 2002. A new agreement was signed by the Belgian and French Interior Ministers, Joëlle Milquet et Manuel Valls on 18 March 2013 in order to grant the joint police patrols increased powers (exercise by the Belgian and French police within the framework of joint patrols, their operational expertise, including powers of arrest, when they are in the territory of the other party). The territorial scope of the agreement has been extended to the entire territory of Belgium and the French departments of Marne, Pas-de-Calais, Moselle, Somme, Nord, Aisne, Ardennes, Meuse and Meurthe-et-Moselle. This Agreement, ratified by Belgium, was approved by the French Parliament in July 2015.
In the hospital sector, following the 2005 framework agreement signed in Mouscron, a circuit of cross-border access to hospitals in the region was set up and continues to grow. Furthermore, on 21 December 2011, France and Wallonia signed a framework agreement granting French people with disabilities access to specialized care facilities in the Walloon region, which entered into force on 1 March 2014.
Updated: 2 February 2016