The Kingdom of Belgium, a federal country comprising Flanders and Wallonia, lies in northwest Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts its headquarters, as well as those of other major international organizations, including NATO, in its capital city Brussels. Belgium covers an area of 30,528 sq.km and has a population of about 10.7 million.
Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latin Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups, the Flemish and the French-speakers (mostly Walloons) plus a small group of German-speakers. Belgium's two largest regions are the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north, with 59% of the population, and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia, inhabited by 31%. Belgium's linguistic diversity and related political and cultural conflicts are reflected in the political history and a complex system of government.
The name Belgium is derived from Gallia Belgica, a Roman province in the northernmost part of Gaul that was inhabited by the Belgae, a mix of Celtic and Germanic nationals. Historically, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux) were known as the Low Countries, which used to cover a somewhat larger area than currently. From the end of the Middle Ages until the 17th century, it was a prosperous centre of commerce and culture. From the 16th century until the Belgian revolution in 1830, many battles between European powers were fought in the area of Belgium, causing it to be dubbed the battleground of Europe — a reputation strengthened by both World Wars. Upon its independence, Belgium eagerly participated in the Industrial Revolution and, at the end of the 19th century, possessed several colonies in Africa. The second half of the 20th century was marked by the rise of communal conflicts between the Flemish and the Francophones fuelled by cultural differences on the one hand, and an asymmetrical economic evolution of Flanders and Wallonia on the other hand. These still-active conflicts have caused far-reaching reforms of the formerly unitary Belgian state into a federal state.
Belgium shares borders with France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It has three main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north-west and the central plateau both belong to the Anglo-Belgian basin; the Ardennes uplands in the south-east are part of the Hercynian orogenic belt. The Paris basin reaches a small fourth area at Belgium's southernmost tip, Belgian Lorraine.
Belgium's strongly globalized economy and its transportation infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region helps made it the world's 15th largest trading nation (2007). The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita. Belgium's main imports are food products, machinery, rough diamonds, petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, clothing and accessories, and textiles. Its main exports are automobiles, food products, iron and steel, finished diamonds, textiles, plastics, petroleum products and nonferrous metals. The Belgian economy is heavily service-oriented and shows a dual nature: a dynamic Flemish economy and a Walloon economy that lags behind. One of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium strongly supports an open economy and the extension of the powers of EU institutions to integrate member economies. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have been a single trade market within a customs and currency union: the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union.
Ostend (Dutch: Oostende) (pop. 70,000) is a maritime city and municipality located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. It comprises the boroughs of Mariakerke, Stene and Zandvoorde, and the city of Ostend proper – the largest on the Belgian coast.
In earlier times, Ostend was nothing more than a small village built on the east-end (Dutch: oost-einde) of an island (originally called Testerep) between the North Sea and a beach lake. Although small, the village rose to the status of 'city' around 1265 when the inhabitants were allowed to hold a market and to build a market hall.
The major source of income for the inhabitants was fishing. The North Sea coastline has always been rather unstable and in 1395 the inhabitants decided to build a new Ostend behind large dikes and further away from the always-threatening sea.
The strategic position on the North Sea coast had major advantages for Ostend as a harbour but also proved to be a source of trouble. The city was frequently taken, ravaged, ransacked and destroyed by conquering armies. The most important of these events was the three-year Siege of Ostend by Spain, between 1601 and 1604, in which both sides combined more than 80,000 dead or wounded.
After this era Ostend turned into a harbour of some importance. In 1722 the Dutch closed off the entrance to the harbour of Antwerp, the Westerschelde. Therefore, Ostend rose in importance because the city provided an alternative exit to the sea. The Southern Netherlands (largely the territory of present Belgium) had become part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrian Emperor Charles VI granted the city the trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East. The Oostendse Compagnie (Ostend trade company) was allowed to found colonies overseas. However, in 1727 the Oostendse Compagnie was forced to stop its activities because of Dutch and British pressure. The Netherlands and Britain would not allow competitors on the international trade level. Both nations regarded international trade as their privilege.
In later times the harbour of Ostend continued to expand because the harbour dock, as well as the traffic connections with the hinterland, were improved. In 1838 a railway connection with Brussels was constructed. Ostend became a transit harbour to England in 1846 when the first ferry sailed to Dover. It no longer serves in that role today, except for freight, as an alternative channel crossing point to Calais, France. Very important for the image of the city was the attention it started to receive from the Belgian Kings Leopold I and Leopold II. Both liked to spend their vacations in Ostend. Important monuments and villas were built to please the Royal Family. The rest of aristocratic Belgium followed and soon Ostend became known as 'The Queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts'.
The Auditorium can be used for concerts and conventions and overlooks the sea. Depending on the size of the stage, the auditorium has a capacity to seat 2100 to 2185 people all of whom have access to very comfortable seats. All championship ceremonies (opening, closing, 50th Anniversary of European Championships) will be held in the Auditorium. In addition to the Auditorium, the convention centre has six board rooms, the Great Hall and the Delvaux Hall which will serve as the main playing area of the championships.
The Coffee House is situated on the first floor. Here one can enjoy a light meal, pasta, sandwiches, salads or simply a coffee and cake. During the summer months it is linked to a large outdoor terrace on the sea promenade.
On the top floor there is a garden terrace and Pierre Wynants’ Ostend Queen fish brasserie (seats 200 people); Wynant has the reputation of being the best Belgian chef and he surely spoils customers with mouth-watering dishes such as fruits de mer, an oyster buffet and a wide range of different Oostende fish menus.
The Lounge is situated on the first floor providing a pleasant and friendly atmosphere; it becomes a proper club in the evening. This is definitely the place to be for a cocktail and a chat after a convention, meeting or an event.
The renewed Casino Kursaal - Gaming Room is installed in the former Ambassadeur room. It comprises exhibition and congress rooms, private salons, a reading room, an impressive main hall, a restaurant and an impressive amphitheatre seating 1650 people, where various different spectacles, concerts and performances are held all year round. Entrance is free with a minimum age of 21.
• How to get from Brussels to Ostend
People arriving at Brussels International Airport may use a train service to get to Ostend. The service runs 36 minutes past every hour, starting from Brussels International Airport daily at 08.36 hrs and finishing at 22.36 hrs. The journey is via Brussels North (5-minute stop), and lasts 1 hour and 41 minutes. For further information please refer to the Belgian Railways at http://www.b-rail.be/nat-r/E/.
It is strongly advised that rooms should be reserved no later than 28 February 2010, as room availability after this date cannot be guaranteed.