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Politically the country was once polarized on matters of religion and, in recent decades, it has faced new divisions over differences of language and unequal economic development.This ongoing antagonism has caused far-reaching reforms since the 1970s, changing the formerly unitary Belgian state into a federal state, and repeated governmental crises.Belgium's formation, like that of its Benelux neighbours, can be traced back to the "Seventeen Provinces" within the Burgundian Netherlands.These were brought together under the House of Valois-Burgundy, and eventually declared independent of both France and Germany by their descendant Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in his Pragmatic Sanction of 1549.Belgium's history is intertwined with those of its neighbours: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg.For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and County of Luxembourg.The earliest Neolithic farming technology of northern Europe, the so-called LBK culture, reached the east of Belgium at its furthest northwesterly stretch from its origins in southeast Europe.

There is also a German-speaking population along the border with Germany that was added to Belgium following the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and German is the third official language of Belgium.

Brussels is now host to the headquarters of NATO and is the de facto capital of the European Union.

The colonies became independent in the early 1960s.

After the defeat of the French in 1814, a new United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, which eventually split one more time during the Belgian Revolution of 1830–1839, giving three modern nations, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The ports and textile industry of Belgium were important back into the Middle Ages, and modern Belgium was one of the first countries to experience an Industrial Revolution, which brought prosperity in the 19th century but also opened a political dichotomy between liberal businessmen and socialist workers.

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Invasions from France under Louis XIV led to the loss of what is now Nord-Pas-de-Calais to France, while the remainder finally became the "Austrian Netherlands".