Belgium, as a zone of transition between the Romance and Germanic cultures, and as an example of how such a zone, in the face of obvious difficulties, may develop into a national unit, firmly bound by historical and religious as well as by economic ties. From an economic point of view the outstanding characteristic of Belgium is the predominance of mining and manufacturing. Although the greater part of the soil is cultivated and the area of cropland exceeds that of Holland, Belgium lacks the great development of stock-raising and horticulture which has enabled Holland to export farm products. The short, nearly straight Belgian coast has not encouraged trade and shipping, and the growth of the only great harbor, Antwerp, was for centuries checked by the Dutch control of the outlet of the Scheldt River.
In modern times, however, well-situated coal deposits have given Belgium an importance above that of an ordinary small country. Half of the population derives its living from mining and manufacturing, and a far denser population than the soil alone could support now depends almost wholly on the prosperity of industry. Belgium has had no colonial empire like that of Holland and only at a late period did it acquire Congo. Belgium is the leading exporter to the Congo and is also the best customer for Congo products, but the total trade of the two is a small matter compared with that between Holland and the Netherlands East Indies, although it may be more important in the future.
Luxembourg is a small remnant of a former period when central Europe, especially Germany, was cut up into bits. It is united economically with Belgium, although politically separated, and will be treated with Belgium. Geographically, the presence of the Moselle Valley on the east causes it to look more toward the Rhine Valley in Germany and the province of Lorraine in France. Toward Belgium the Ardennes Plateau forms a barrier, but in spite of this, Luxembourg decided after the World War to form an economic union with that country after France had not accepted the results of a vote in her favor.