Skip to main content
European Commission logo
EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Population: Demographic situation, languages and religions

Belgium - German-Speaking Community

1.Political, social and economic background and trends

1.3Population: Demographic situation, languages and religions

Last update: 10 June 2022

Demographic Situation


On 1 January 2019 there were 77,527 people living in the German-speaking Community (2005: 72,512; 2010: 75,222). These inhabitants account for 0.7% of the total population of Belgium. At the same time, Belgium had 11,430,460 inhabitants (2005: 10,445,852; 2010: 10,839,905), of whom 1,208,542 (10.6%) lived in the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region, 6,589,069 (57.6%) in the Flemish Region and 3,633,795 (31.8%) in the Walloon Region. Thus, 2.1% of the inhabitants of the German-speaking area make up the population of the Walloon Region.
The small size of the German-speaking Community is also noticeable: 846.1 km² represent 2.8% of Belgium (30,688.1 km²) or 5% of the Walloon Region (16,901.4 km²). The population density is obtained by combining the population figures with the total area. This shows the rural character of the German-speaking area: with a population density of 91 inhabitants per km², the German-speaking Community is well below that of the Walloon Region (216 inhabitants/km²), the Flemish Region (487 inhabitants/km²), the Brussels-Capital Region (7,489 inhabitants/km²) and thus also the population density of Belgium (374 inhabitants/km²).
On 1 January 2019, the German-speaking Community had 16,341 foreigners, which is 21.1% of the population and well above the national average of 12.2%. This is due to the location of the German-speaking Community in a border area: the most represented foreign nationalities in the German-speaking area are Germany (14.5%) and the Netherlands (0.8%). Other European countries account for 3.5% of the population and 2.3% are refugees or come from non-European countries. The most represented nationalities of foreigners in Belgium are France, the Netherlands, Italy, Romania and Morocco, but there are significant regional differences, as can be seen from the example of the German-speaking Community.
The average age of the population of the German-speaking Community has risen in recent years (2000: 39.3; 2010: 41.4) and is now 42.7 years. According to the population forecast of the Federal Planning Office of Belgium, this is expected to rise further (2025: 43.5; 2035: 44.6), mainly because the population is ageing. In 2005, 12,430 65-year-olds or older lived in the German-speaking Community, in 2019 it will be 14,975 and in 2035 it should already be over 20,200. Life expectancy is high and was 81.76 years in 2018 in the German-speaking Community (women: 83.83; men: 79.73).

The share of economic sectors in gross value added provides information on the economic structure of a region. A comparison of the economic structure of the German-speaking Community with that of Wallonia and Belgium as a whole shows that manufacturing accounts for a relatively high share (21.7%) of gross value added (Wallonia and Belgium each account for 14.4%). At 423.2 million euro, manufacturing is also the sector with the highest gross value added in the German-speaking Community. The manufacture of electrical equipment, rubber and plastics, metalworking and food are particularly important in this sector. The second and third most important economic activities are trade and repair and real estate. On the other hand, the tertiary sector is relatively less important in the German-speaking Community.

On 30 June 2017, 22,685 employees (including civil servants) subject to social insurance contributions worked in the German-speaking Community, spread over 2,226 company seats. On 31 December 2017, the German-speaking Community also had 6,475 self-employed and freelancers.
However, due to the border situation between three borders (Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the French-speaking part of Belgium), commuter movements play a role for the German-speaking community that should not be underestimated. In particular, the number of people employed in Luxembourg is increasing from year to year: in 2018, 4,220 inhabitants of the German-speaking region were employed in Luxembourg (2005: 2,550; 2010: 3,194). Commuters to the German-speaking Community come primarily from inland Belgium and increasingly also from Germany.

According to this concept, the German-speaking Community achieved a result of 77,181 euros per employee in 2017. This is higher than the GDP per inhabitant, but still well below the national average of 92,939 euros.


The 3 official languages of Belgium are Dutch, French and German.

The Belgian language regime is based on the existence of four language areas (see Art. 4 of the constitution): the German-speaking area, the French-speaking area, the Dutch-speaking area and the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region (French/Dutch).

The language areas are not to be confused with the Regions and Communities (i.e. the federal entities), though it is worth mentioning that the German-speaking area is identical with that of the German-speaking Community, a correlation that does not pertain to the other language areas and Communities.

The division of the language areas and the language borders established by the law of 8th November 1962 is especially designed to determine the scope of legislation on the use of language in the education system (30 July 1963) and administration (2 August 1963) and the Communities' decrees.

Each municipality belongs to one of these language areas. Considering the general linguistic homogeneity of the language areas, the legislation decided in favour of the principle of territorial monolingualism in regards to administration and the education system, with the exception of Brussels, which is bilingual and must be governed in French and Dutch.

This means that Belgium is a trilingual country – a country with three national, official or state languages – but that every language area has only a single official or state language with the exception of Brussels, which has two.

Minority Languages

Although the term 'minority languages' is not officially stated in any legal texts in Belgium, there are de facto linguistic minorities in the individual language areas.

  • On the one hand, there are the numerous immigrant families who (still) speak their respective language (particularly those from Italy, Spain, Turkey, Kurdistan, Portugal, and Arabic countries etc.)

These languages have no official status in Belgium.

  • Furthermore, there are Belgians in every monolingual area whose mother language is that of one of the other two language areas.

They are de facto a language minority of the area, even if it is not officially recognised as such. Usually, they adjust to their linguistic environment by learning, speaking and maintaining the local language. This also corresponds to the principle of territorial monolingualism, which legally determines the use of language.

In certain municipalities that directly abut the language border, the percentage of those that speak another national language than that of the municipality concerned has always been quite significant (around 20-30%).

For this reason, the legislation expressly states that in these municipalities and these municipalities only (they are listed in the statute), citizens of the linguistic minority can receive certain services in their mother language upon request. The local public office has to be prepared to be able to serve citizens not only in the local language, but also in the other national languages without the slightest difficulty.

The same conditions largely apply to the regional and federal offices, meaning every citizen has the legal right to use his or her language (as long as it is one of the three national languages) in relation to the legal authorities, even if they are not in the corresponding language area.

The provision for the German language across the regional and federal offices, however, leaves much to be desired, even if considerable efforts and progress have been made.

Aside from the three recognised national languages, Dutch, French and German, there are also still very active autochthonous regional languages (e.g. Walloon, Picard, Luxembourgian, Low German, etc.) which have certain associations that receive support and a certain degree of recognition from the authorities, though they are never incorporated as administrative or school languages.

Language of Education

In principle, in Belgium the language of education is that of the respective language area.

  • Hence, the language of education is German in the German-speaking area,
  • Dutch in the Dutch-speaking area,
  • French in the French-speaking area,
  • French or Dutch according to the choice of the head of the family in the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region.

However, multiple municipalities along the language border of the Dutch-speaking area and the French-speaking area, and all nine of the German-speaking municipalities, are considered municipalities with linguistic facilities for the other language minority, which uphold the opportunity to not only be served by the administration in their language, but also that their children receive their primary education in that language as well.

Thus, the language of education in the German-speaking area is German, except for the French primary schools and departments legally provided for the francophone minority in the area, where language of education is French.

The law on the use of language in the education system, passed on 30 July 1963 and valid until 2004, provided that, aside from French lessons (as a second language), the schools in the German-speaking area also provide some other lessons in French, but did not establish to what extent.

Without going into further detail, two other points of significance need to be made on the topic:

  • Almost every secondary school teacher is trained in the French language in the French-speaking part of the country, thus giving them a good command of the specific terminology used in this language.

But the same does not necessarily hold true in German, which is the mandatory language of education in the German-speaking Community. This can be problematic.

  • Given the low number of pupils, Belgium's large publishers do not publish and distribute school books or other class materials in German, meaning class materials must be compiled by the teachers themselves or ordered from other German-speaking countries. However, the latter does not guarantee that the local syllabi will be the same.


The constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. The freedom of the cults, the freedom of their public exercise and the right to freedom of expression are guaranteed, but do not limit the punishment of offences committed in the exercise of these freedoms (Article 19 of the Constitution).  All school-age pupils have the right to a religious or moral education at the expense of the community (Article 24 of the Constitution). In schools, from 5 to 18 years of age, they follow either religious education (taking into account the religions recognised in Belgium: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Islamic, Jewish and Anglican), or non-denominational moral education, so-called ethics education.