Where are the Low Countries of Western Europe?
The Low Countries of Western Europe generally refers to the countries that lie along the coastal zones of the North Sea and the English Channel. This region originally covered a number of countries: to the southeast, Luxembourg and Thionville in France; to the southwest, Gravelines and Dunkirk in France; to the northeast, Delfzijl in the Netherlands and East Frisia in Germany. This region is crossed by several important rivers, including the Meuse, Schelde, and lower Rheine. Each of these major rivers are connected by canals and waterways in order to ensure the efficient exchange of goods among the Low Countries.
These countries have a long, shared history and today they form part of a political and economic alliance that connect the mainland regions to the sea ports. This article takes a closer look at the history and current state of the Low Countries of Western Europe.
History of the Low Countries
The Frankish Empire was established in the 8th century AD after Frankish tribes moved into the area, taking control from the Germanic and Belgian tribes that were living there. In 768 AD, Charlemagne became King of the Franks and in 800 AD, was appointed Emperor of the Romans by the Pope. When he died, the Kingdom of Francia was divided among his 3 sons into West, East, and Middle Francia (which became known as Lower Lorraine). Lower Lorraine, or the Low Countries, were later divided under both the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France.
Between 1549 and 1581, this region was known as the Seventeen Provinces after being liberated from a system of feudalism. The Southern Netherlands remained under Spanish rule, while 7 of the northern provinces declared independence. After the War of the Spanish Succession, the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht ceded the Southern Netherlands to Austria and from 1815 to 1830, all of the provinces were once again united as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. This Kingdom was later divided into Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.
The Benelux Union
Today, the low countries are referred to as Benelux (the first few letters of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), a political economic union. The first Benelux agreement was signed in 1944 to establish customs rules and regulations among the 3 countries. The Benelux countries went on to create the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 with Italy, West Germany, and France. This community went on to become the European Economic Community and later the present-day European Union.
The Benelux Union is governed by the Council of the Union, the Committee of Ministers, the Benelux Parliament, and the Secretariat General. Parliamentary meetings rotate 3 cities: The Hague, the city of Luxembourg, and Brussels. It is responsible for advising the various governments on economic issues and border relations. It has 49 seats: 7 from Luxembourg and 21 each from the Netherlands and Belgium. The Secretariat General operates from Brussels and serves as the administrative hub of Benelux, working closely with the Council of Economic Union and the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers is responsible for making recommendations to various working parties and organizing conventions. Any decision made by the committee is to be immediately upheld by each of the member nations.