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 analyses. 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 and on 22 March 2016 in Brussels. President Macron met with Prime Minister Charles Michel and King Philippe in Brussels at the NATO Summit on 25 May 2017. Prime Minister Philippe visited Brussels on 19 October 2017 for a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Michel and received him on 11 June 2018 for a bilateral meeting in Paris on security and counterterrorism. The Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs met with his counterpart Didier Reynders on 23 May 2018. Belgian Kings made state visits to France in 1961, 1992 and 2003. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde also visited Paris on 6 February 2014, for their first visit outside the Benelux countries. The last bilateral official visits by French Presidents to Belgium date back to 1983 (President Mitterrand) and 1997 (President Chirac). President Macron met with Prime Minister Michel at a quadrilateral meeting on European issues with the Prime Ministers of the Benelux countries on 6 September 2018 and made a state visit to Belgium from 19 to 21 November.
Our trade is intense and Belgium represented 6.8% of both French imports and exports in 2017 (€68.8 billion). Belgium is France’s fifth-largest customer and we are its third-largest supplier. The trade deficit, which is structural for France because of gas imports via Belgium, is stable (-4.3 billion). If hydrocarbons are excluded, France has a trade surplus of approximately €2.2 billion with Belgium.
Exports to Belgium stood at €32.1 billion in 2017 (the leading destination for French companies’ exports) and primarily concerned the automobile and pharmaceutical sectors. Despite these strong results, France’s market share in Belgium (9.5 % in 2017, 9.6 % in 2016, 10.6 % in 2013 and 10.5 % in 2012) 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, retail and telecommunications, and growth potential still exists for them, particularly in the agrifood sector (Belgium is one of the target countries of the Ubifrance-supported “healthier eating” campaign). Approximately 1,700 French firms are currently present in Belgium, employing 142,000 staff. Conversely, more than 386 subsidiaries of Belgian companies employ close to 39,000 people in France, producing total turnover of approximately €6.9 billion.
There is particularly strong cultural, scientific and technical cooperation between France and Belgium due to the proximity of the two countries.
The devolution of most educational, 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).
Strengthening Francophonie and the French language is an important priority in our cooperation, particularly in Flanders and the German-speaking community (educational activities and teacher training, support for increasing staff numbers at the French lycée in Antwerp and introduction of a bilingual stream). A Memorandum of Understanding concerning language and education cooperation between the Flemish Government and the French Government was concluded on 29 May 2017 at the Lycée Français International in Anvers. 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 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 cross-border cooperation between French and Belgian regions. This cooperation, however, is not obvious due to the lack of a genuine institutional forum for discussions on cross-border cooperation.
Through its Cohesion Policy, the European Union plays an essential role in the development of cross-border cooperation (the Interreg V programme will provide €170 million for the period 2014-2020). Decentralized cooperation is also intense, and there is a European Grouping 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. A declaration on enhanced cooperation in the areas of economic development, competitiveness and innovation, health, tourism, culture and cooperation with third countries was signed in 2012 between Wallonia in Belgium and Champagne-Ardenne in France.
Police and customs cooperation between France and Belgium is based on an agreement signed on 5 March 2001 creating a Police and Customs Co-operation Centre (PCCC) in Tournai. A new agreement was signed by the Belgian and French Interior Ministers on 18 March 2013 in order to grant joint police patrols increased powers (joint patrols, and powers of arrest in the territory of the other party).
In the hospital sector, following the 2005 framework agreement signed in Mouscron, cross-border access to hospitals in the region has been established. Furthermore, on 21 December 2011, France and Wallonia signed a framework agreement granting French people with disabilities access to specialized care facilities in Wallonia, which entered into force on 1 March 2014.
Seine-Escaut link: The Seine-Escaut link connects the Seine basin to the Escaut basin, the Rhine-Escaut delta and the Rhine basin (the main section of this project is the construction of the Seine-Nord Europe Canal, 106 kilometres long in French territory). Related works are planned in Flanders, Wallonia and France. The countries concerned by this project are France, Belgium (the Flemish and Walloon authorities are competent in this area), the Netherlands and Germany. The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) created on 24 September 2009 is responsible for ensuring the completion of the project. On 17 October 2013, during the RTE-T days in Tallinn, the French, Walloon and Flemish transport ministers signed a declaration of commitment on the creation of the Canal. On 26 September 2014, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated his support for the project and set the objective of launching work in 2017, for completion in 2023. The estimated cost of the project is of €4.5 billion-€4.8 billion. The project is eligible for considerable European funding under the Connecting Europe Facility 2014-2020 (positive response from the European Commission in July 2015 for €1bn in financing).
Updated: 5 November 2018