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The Economic History of Belgium

After Great Britain, the first area of Europe to industrialize was that which became, in 1830, Belgium. Prior to the French Revolution this area was part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire. With the French Revolution it was absorbed by the French Republic and continued to be controlled by France under Napoleon. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 the area of the present Belgium was part of the United Netherlands. In 1830 Belgium was created as a separate nation.

The area of Belgium, then called Flanders, had from the Middle Ages been economically important in Europe. Antwerp and Bruges were successors of the city-states of northern Italy as the loci of prosperity and commerce. This occured even though Flanders was ruled oppressively from outside, first from Spain and later from Austria.

Flanders/Belgium had plentiful deposits of bituminous coal and metal ores. In particular it had iron ore in proximity to coal for steel production. In addition to its natural resources Flanders/Belgium was strategically located with respect to the major market areas of Europe. It had easy access to the capital and technology markets of Great Britain and the consumer markets of France. The entrepreneurs who established industries in Flanders/Belgium came from a variety of places of northwestern Europe, but the family business established by William Cockerill from Leeds, England was especially important. The Cockerill family first began manufacturing machinery for the spinning industry and later started manufacturing steam engines.

The Belgian monarchy actively promoted economic development directly through personal investment and indirectly through governmental policy such as through the authorization of a major investment bank, Société Générale pour favoriser l'Industrie Nationale des Pays-Bas.

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