Posts tagged ‘Belgium’

An American in Brussels

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the populace of the EU Quarter abandons Brussels like rats from a sinking ship and those few of us left on board are trying to wrap up all of the ‘admin’ tasks that we’ve put on hold for the several previous, hair-raisingly busy months.

It’s also the time of year when I, as an American, have to go through the annual bureaucratic rigmarole that is renewing my Belgian work permit. This is now my third time down the path of renewal and every year it’s the same somewhat maddening procedure (though the first time is always the worst!). This year, however, I’ve found myself pondering  the question that I always find myself answering for curious Europeans who say something like ‘But, it’s normal for Europeans to want to go to the States, but you’re an American, how did you find yourself here, in Brussels?!’, and so I decided to take a little poll around the FH Brussels office to see why the other Americans (there are 5 of us in total!) are here.

Carey Evans, from Los Angeles, California

“I came for the weather… clearly.”

Jessica Henderson, from the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Minnesota

“Because I couldn’t afford London, Paris, or Geneva.”

Tatiana Hulko, from Evergreen, Colorado

“I blame the Brit in my life for trading in sunshine for rain.”

Katie Wolicki, from Asheville, North Carolina

“Belgian chocolate, frites, waffles, and the little boy peeing….what more could you ask for? ”

That leaves me. So why am I here? Well, I can’t say I came for the weather and I, too, am probably unable to afford the luxury of life in London, Paris, or Geneva. Nor can I claim that it was the infamous beer, waffles, or chocolate that lured me here – though they didn’t hurt. And although my colleagues have all provided (what I like to assume are) tongue-in-cheek responses to my query, I have to say that I originally landed in Brussels sort of through happenstance and, like most Europeans here who are not natives to this fair(ish) city, I guess I got sucked in. It started innocently enough, with an internship here during my undergrad studies, but living in Brussels piqued my interest in EU affairs and the policy making scene. I returned after graduating to do a Masters’ in Leuven, got a job in a public affairs consulting firm in Brussels, then another job, et voila, little by little, before I really realized, the exciting world of the EU had gripped me and the slightly more laid-back lifestyle of the Brussels-scene kept me close. Despite the rain and the endless red tape, the lack of friendly service, and the inconvenience of much of everyday life (I’m sorry, but it makes NO sense that all of the shops and stores close on bank holidays when people actually have time to spend their money!) I find myself willfully going through this renewal process that keeps me here for at least another year.

And so, as much as this writer likes to complain about the above mentioned issues (and more!) I have to accept that actually, we do have it pretty good here. The international work environment that I’m lucky enough to be  a part of is a unique one. The friends I’ve made who live here and who depart to the far reaches of the globe are largely friends and contacts I’ve made in Brussels. The proximity to the heart of European policy making and the opportunity to have interesting interactions with policymakers means that my job is interesting every day – not something that can necessarily be said even for my counterparts who live and work in America’s version of Brussels, Washington DC. These are the things that brought me here and which keep me here still.

That said, for now I’ve had about as much of Brussels as I can take for 7 months at a time without ‘escaping’ and I’m off on hols back to New England as of Monday. So ‘bonnes vacances’ everyone! See you in a few weeks when I’m back – refreshed by the warm weather, sunny, blue skies, and ocean breezes of the Maine and Massachusetts coasts and ready to face the gray skies and Bruxellois lifestyle that we have all come to, err, know and love.

Lindsay Hammes, from Augusta, Maine

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July 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm 5 comments

BHV: Not just a French department store

One of Paris’ largest department stores is the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville or ‘BHV’. Women’s fashion, decoration, furniture and DIY material…you can all find it at BHV.

The slogan of the Paris BHV is ‘Tout pour trouver son bonheur.’ Translated ‘Everything to find happiness.’ One can hardly think of a worse motto for the Belgian electoral district of BHV. Unless you replace ‘bonheur’ with ‘malheur’ and ‘happiness’ with ‘misery’.

BHV in Belgium

Is called ‘BHV’ or Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde, after the 3 main cities in the electoral district.

Is the only bilingual electoral district in Belgium.

Consists of Belgium’s capital city Brussels, which is officially bilingual (French-Dutch) , and the 35 Flemish municipalities surrounding it, where Dutch is the main language. French-speaking inhabitants of these Flemish municipalities can vote for French-speaking parties. Most Flemish parties want to end this. Some due to a fear of ‘Frenchification’.

Has been the root of instability in the Belgian government, with Dutch-speaking parties favouring a split of the electoral district and French-speaking parties opposing this. The situation has escalated ever since the federal elections in 2007. In the period between then and now the Belgian government/government formation has collapsed/failed 5 times.

Beyond BHV

In the current election campaign, the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA (New-Flemish Alliance) have taken the debate further than merely splitting up the electoral district of BHV.

Bart De Wever, the party leader of the N-VA also stated that his party would like to see the Brussels Capital Region abolished.

Politicians from various parties, who want to maintain or even strengthen the Brussels Capital Region, have been tripping over each other to discredit his statements. The Francophone business daily L’Echo was pleased to note that almost all other Flemish parties, including CD&V (Christian Democrats), sp.a (Social Democrats), Open VLD (Liberals) and Groen ! (Greens) have joined the French-speaking parties in their criticism on these statements made by De Wever.

Brussels

The commotion surrounding De Wever’s statements about Brussels is much-telling. Brussels is, in many people’s opinion, what keeps the country together.

For instance, the N-VA seems ill-prepared for the practical implications of their proposals, such as splitting up Belgian social security. How would this work in Brussels? In a debate with Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a) and Philippe Moureaux (PS), this became painfully clear. When quizzed by Vandenbroucke on issues such as whether employees in Brussels will have their social security arranged on the basis of a Francophone or a Flemish system and how this would work with for instance the many Flemish and Walloons who commute to Brussels daily for their work NV-A’s social security expert Danny Pieters was struggling to answer Vandenbroucke’s questions.

Brussels will always be a stumbling block for the Flemish nationalists. As Alexander De Croo, leader of the Flemish Liberals put it in an interview:

“In my opinion, it is impossible to divide Belgium…it’s like a…Siamese twin where basically Brussels is the heart that we have in common. And if you want to split that the heart will stop beating … and that is not what we want. We are for a very large part dependent on the economic power of Brussels, on the attractiveness of Brussels. Splitting the country in two is playing with our prosperity and that I do not want to do.”

Brussels: Tout pour trouver son bonheur?

June 9, 2010 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Countdown to the Belgian Federal Elections

On April 22, Open VLD, the Flemish Liberal Party, withdrew from the Belgian government coalition after having lost confidence in the government’s handling of the complicated dossier surrounding the electoral district of Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV).

On April 26, the Belgian King accepted Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation.

Elections were called for Sunday June 13, only half a month before the start of Belgium’s EU presidency.

Snap elections are never easy on political parties. Election programmes have to be made in a rush, candidates’ lists have to be composed in no time: chaos. Furthermore, much energy, time and money was spent on the last elections (regional and European), which only took place last year.

Many Belgians are tired of all this political uncertainty. Ever since the 2007 federal elections, which led to a government formation process that took about 9 months, the Belgian federal government has been unstable.

Although it is compulsory to turn up to the polling booth in Belgium, this election campaign has seen an unprecedented amount of people call for not voting.

That is worrying, as these elections are very important for socio-economic reasons and for the future of Belgium. Belgium’s institutional problems and the tensions between Dutch-speaking and French-speaking are what is picked up most in the foreign press. It would, however, be exaggerated to state, like the FT’s Stanley Pignal, that “the economy has barely featured in the campaign”. Many parties have emphasized their plans to cut costs. Others are campaigning on strengthening social security, for instance by reforming the pension system, and on cutting costs where it will least hurt Belgian social security.

The latest polls

The latest polls indicate huge gains for the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA (New Flemish Alliance). The most recent poll, from the newspaper La Libre Belgique predicts that 26% of the votes in Flanders would go to the NV-A. That would make the separatist party the largest party in Flanders. In Wallonia, the PS (socialist party) would remain the largest political group, with 30% of the votes. In Brussels, the MR (Francophone liberal party) leads the polls, with around 23%.

As there never is a dull moment in Belgian politics, we look forward to updating you on the latest developments in these last 5 days in the run up to the only poll that counts, to be held on Election Day June 13.

June 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm 1 comment

Belgian Government Crisis: Once more, but this time on Twitter

Yesterday it became clear that the Belgian federal government is yet again mired in a deep crisis. What is perhaps even more remarkable than the fact that the Belgian government is in crisis, is that the first reports of the crisis appeared on Twitter, by the politicians involved.

Of particular interest was Belgian Telecoms Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne’s Twitterfeed, who was perhaps the first politician in history to announce a government collapse on Twitter.

So here is a recommendation for the Belgian EU Presidency: Keep an eye on Twitter!

April 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm Leave a comment

The idea and the internet

Gravure d'après un dessin de Augustin Coppens représentant la Grand-Place de Bruxelles après le Bombardement de 1695 par les troupes françaises de Louis XIV, de Vue du Marché aux Herbes vers la rue de la Colline et l'Hôtel de Ville (détail)

Image via Wikipedia

Among many unjust accusations, Brussels is considered a back-water of digital integration. We frequently hear that San Francisco, London, Tokyo, New York, Seoul are the digital cities and that Brussels will always be “a few steps behind.”

So it was with great happiness we read that Belgian Paul Otlet conceptualized the internet and World Wide Web long before a valley in California was named Silicon.

From the New York Times: In 1934, Otlet sketched out plans for a global network of computers (or “electric telescopes,” as he called them) that would allow people to search and browse through millions of interlinked documents, images, audio and video files. He described how people would use the devices to send messages to one another, share files and even congregate in online social networks. He called the whole thing a “réseau,” which might be translated as “network” — or arguably, “web.”

So he may not have connected actual computers, but if the idea came first, it is worth something.

And this should be an impetus to action to those of us in Belgium today, even though many people working in public affairs in Brussels would rather be in Barcelona. We should draw on Belgium’s internet pedigree with pride and place Brussels as a leader in the digital age.

In fact, you could argue that Brussels is most of the way there; it just doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The European Parliament website is far better than the US Congress website, and MEPs are writing blogs and joining social networks at a fast rate.

Furthermore, Google is opening its European centre in Mons, Belgium, as is Microsoft, discussed at length in The Bulletin (5 June, and ironically not available online).

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June 19, 2008 at 9:39 pm 1 comment


About this blog

A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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