In turn Brussels has been had residence of the Dukes of Brabant, the capital of the Spanish and then Austrian Netherlands and more recently, the capital of Belgium and headquarters of the European Union. Since its foundation, Brussels has been moulded by this blend of different nationalities and open-mindedness. From the very beginning, it has witnessed the migratory flows that have helped to build Europe and the values that it holds so dear.
From the 15th century, Brussels was able to establish itself as the main home of the Sovereign thanks to proactive policies and considerable investments. This political success contributed to the growth of a luxury industry that soon resulted in exports. This early political and economic energy helped to open up Brussels to the rest of the world.
This openness has continued through the centuries: the Dukes of Brabant from the House of Leuven married French, German or English princesses, while eclectic art established itself with the ‘Flemish’ Primitives, who were originally from all over the place.
In the 19th century, Belgium was the 2nd largest industrial powerhouse in the world. Brussels in particular enjoyed a fantastic location at the crossroads of major transport routes. Politically too, the country was one of the most modern in the world, making its capital particularly attractive. For this reason the dissident left, both in the political and the artistic world, coming from all sorts of different places, found refuge in Brussels, feeding into Bourgeois society.
At the end of the 19th century, this blend of different influences and ambitions came together and the 20th century gave birth to a new movement, one that has since become symbolic of the Belgian capital: Art Nouveau.
Since the 1950s, industrial heritage has taken on the baton, nurturing a whole new world of multiculturalism, which has continued to establish itself here. Waves of Italians and Spanish, followed by Moroccans, Turks and other nationalities have fed into this mix as they have settled in the capital.
Alongside this, the European Union arrived in 1957, and it was Brussels that was chosen to become its capital. While its international reputation had already been established, this appointment confirmed it to the whole of Europe. Transport has continued to thrive exponentially, with both rail (including in particular the high-speed lines) and aviation. It has become the city of all Europeans, as well as being a world city.
As Brussels is home to the main European Institutions, and the European Union has grown in a series of different phases, Brussels’ international character has continued to flourish. The European Union now has 28 Member States, after six extensions. The six founding countries were Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. These were followed by: Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom (in 1973), Greece (in 1981), Spain, Portugal (in 1986), Austria, Finland and Sweden (in 1995). An important turning point in the demographic evolution of Brussels was when the European Union opened up to Eastern Europe in 2004, with Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, Estonia and Slovenia, as well as Cyprus and Malta. Then in 2007, it was the turn of Bulgaria and Romania, and in 2013, Croatia. Twenty-eight countries represented in Brussels’ society.
The fact that Brussels is also home to NATO’s headquarters reinforces this international feel. In total more than 120,000 people work here within the context of international organizations:
As the Capital of the European Union:
- The European Commission: 27,000 employees
- The European Parliament: 6,700 employees
- The Council of Ministers: 3,000 employees
- The External Action Service: 4,000 employees
- The Committee of the Regions/EESC: 1,300 employees
As well as:
- 15 to 20,000 lobbyists
- 1,400 journalists/press
- 300 regional representatives
- 5,300 diplomats
- 4,000 NATO employees
- 2,500 employees working for other regional agencies
- More than 2,000 international companies
- 150 law firms.