Following the German invasion, the country was kept under the regime of military occupation from May 1940 to September 1944. However, the territories of Eupen, Malmédy and Moresnet were incorporated and re-annexed to the Rhenish province (May 18, 1940) and Belgium was reduced so to 29,450 sq. km. with 8.3 million residents. These territories were recovered after the defeat of Germany.
Population. – As of December 31, 1946, the population of Belgium was distributed as follows in the major administrative districts:
Four cities today have a population of over 100,000: Antwerp with 256,000, Ghent with 161 and Liege with 151; the capital, Brussels, exceeds the million mark with the suburbs. The continuous and constant increase in the population after 1930 denounces a negative decline in the first three years of the war (1940-42) to resume with 1943, so as to bring the population itself back to roughly the pre-war figures in 1946 (1939). According to 800zipcodes, the numerical prevalence of the Flemish element over the valley has increased (the latter fell from 35.3% in 1937 to 34.2% in 1946), where at the same time the weakest birth rate is found (14 ‰ in arrondissement of Liège) and the highest mortality (16.6 ‰ in the arrondissement of Ath).
Economic conditions . – Damage suffered by Belgium during and as a result of the last war is estimated at Bfrs 14 billion (from 1939). 58,000 buildings were destroyed and 391,000 badly damaged. At the beginning of 1945 only 60% of the railway network was usable and only 40% of the merchant navy. However, the country’s economy has not been profoundly altered by it. Agriculture has maintained or resumed its intensive character, although production has not yet reached the pre-war level (but take into account the growing export difficulties); and the tendency to develop farming (above all bovine; the decrease of the pig herd) is sensible instead at the expense of agriculture. Industry essentially conserves its characteristics and its positions (the production index was 95 in 1947, made the 1936-38 average equal to 100), with a notable improvement in the field of textiles, in which the pre-war figures were generally exceeded (the 1938 index made 100, there were, in 1946: 104 for linen spinning, 111 for cotton spinning, 172 for worsted wool, 185 for carded wool, etc.). Overall weaving produced 50% more than in the pre-war period. The only and serious exception must be made for the extractive industry (hard coal) in which the decreased production (22.8 million tons in 1946, against 29.9 in 1937) is in relation to the decreased average yield of the miners, with the lack of manpower and with the need for technical improvements to the plants.
The trade balance tends rapidly to equilibrium; but the total of goods exchanged with foreign countries reached, in weight, just 47%, in 1946, of the corresponding pre-war value (1936-38), that is 57% for imports and 32% for exports. For the former, the United States, Great Britain and France now prevail; for the latter, Holland, France and Switzerland. The part due to manufactured goods has grown in the value of these goods compared to that of raw materials for industrial use, which indicates the considerable push given in the country to the manufacture of high-quality products (while an imported ton cost on average 3, 7 times more in 1946 than in 1936-38, for a ton exported the same ratio rose to 5).
The German defeat and the disappearance of Germany also as an economic power, favoring an ever more intimate understanding between Belgium and Holland, whose economic disparities the common war experience had greatly contributed to mitigate, led the two countries to agree on a customs union that from the initials of the contracting states it was called Benelux (Luxembourg was already united with Belgium in an economic union, the URBL).
The adoption of a common customs tariff and the consequent probable abolition of customs duties between the three countries undoubtedly prelude to a real customs union, which could on the other hand suggest even wider agreements within at least part of the continent. European.