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First Roman, then Burgundian, Spanish, Austrian, French and Dutch, the Belgian Provinces finally gained their independence after the 1830 Revolution. Belgium officially came into being as an independent state organised as a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy.

Recent political history has been dominated by issues to do with the country's various communities, and four national reforms have gradually transformed Belgium into a federal state. At the same time, Belgium remains highly committed in the international arena, being a founder member of what is currently the European Union and a member of the United Nations. In peacekeeping missions around the world, Belgium regularly commits its troops to participate in international actions and dispatches observers to flashpoints.

From the historical point of view, constitutional reform in Belgium has come as a result of two divergent political movements. Since the end of the 19th century, the Flemish Movement ("Vlaamse Beweging") has aspired to cultural and linguistic emancipation in a country where public life is dominated by the French language. Subsequently, but essentially since 1960, another movement grew up as Wallonia strove for greater autonomy, especially in the economic domain.

Institutionally, the Flemings' call for greater cultural autonomy and the Walloons' aspiration to economic independence have been reflected in an original federal structure made up of Communities which are responsible for cultural matters and issues directly related to the individual, and Regions that are responsible for economic affairs and other matters to do with collective local concerns.

This arrangement has led to some territorial overlapping: the bilingual Brussels-Capital region, for example, has become a Region in its own right, but the Flemish Community and French Community also have some authority there; the German-speaking region is essentially run by the Walloon Region for local issues, but also by the German-speaking Community with respect to cultural affairs. Belgium has thus evolved from a unitary, decentralised state into a fully federal state.