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Diplomatic World_nummer 56.

52 sometimes the same

52 sometimes the same people were involved. Someone can be your alderman in the commune but your opponent in the parliament, which is something very hard to explain to anyone who is not in the field. So the logic by which we let ourselves be seduced in politics is completely strange to Belgium. Belgium is richer than ever in terms of medicine and science. The state, however, is poor and has to stay poor: it has to have a lot of debts, otherwise it does foolish things. There is no model for Europe and no one knows what it will be like in the future. Perhaps Belgium is somehow a forecast of what Europe could be: a not too dominant state, where there is room and freedom for people to go about their business as they see fit. A place to do business without the accusatory finger that is custom with some of our Northern neighbours, and without the class struggles that are present with some of our Southern neighbours. Many things happen in Belgium that many Belgians are totally indifferent about: every day over a 130 international meetings take place in Brussels, but they are of no immediate concern to the average Belgian. After the elections (note of the editor: in 2019), I intend to create a forum of all CEO’s in private world companies that are Belgian together with Herman Daems. The proportion per square kilometre will amaze everyone. We have two out of three of the biggest dredging companies in the world: DEME and Jan De Nul. One of them is a close friend of mine and when asked which kind of personnel he is looking for, his response was Belgian engineers. In his opinion, they are the ones with sufficient feeling with both the top and the bottom of the enterprise; something other nationalities lack. CENTRAL OF THE NEWS Belgium is a very special piece of this planet, tortured by history, having resisted again and again, having a very great view on the world. Yet it also has its handicaps. One of those is that our national and regional stories easily become world news because over 1.500 international journalists are stationed in Brussels. The story of Marc Dutroux (a convicted criminal who kidnapped and raped several young girls before he was caught) is known all over the world, from Belgium to Japan. The events were of course horrific, but that worldwide attention is in part due to the presence of international press agencies in Brussels. When nothing happens at the European level or with NATO, these journalists look for different stories and they write about things happening in the countries they are staying at. That is also part of the explanation why the Puigdemont story in Catalonia became as big as Puigdemont wanted it to become. He was at the centre of attention thanks to his location. Because of the presence of the press, Belgium is always, despite its small size, under the scrutiny of the entire world. BELGIUM AS A CONCEPT In his self-promotion book on the war in Gaulle/De Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar wrote ‘fortissimi sunt Belgae’ or ‘the strongest are the Belgians’. They were brave, they were dangerous and fighting the Romans and won a battle against them. From that moment onwards, the word ‘Belgian’ is in a certain sense not always linked to a geographical location but it is rather a concept. I believe ‘Brussels’ is still doing that, more so than Belgium. As a trademark, one of the best-known names in the world is ‘Brussels’, which has a lot of consequences. Politically, a great many things happen in Brussels and people often speak in terms of ‘Brussels has decided…’. In addition, Brussels is well-known thanks to its connectivity to the rest of the world. My son-in-law is a leading engineer at Goodyear and he lived and worked in Paris for 4 years. He told me it is more difficult to reach middle sized cities in Europe from Paris than from Brussels. He came back to live in Brussels, 15 minutes from the airport and now he can reach Manchester, Liverpool, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Tallin, any place in Europe which he couldn’t reach as easily from Paris or any other city. The best way to reach European cities is via Brussels. That is my explanation for the extraordinary position of Belgium. Of course, every country is unique but I believe this one takes it to the next level. There is only one country where you can go to Place de Luxembourg and meet the whole world. Through a combination of coincidences and hard work, Brussels and Belgium have become a kind of safe place where everyone feels at home. A place where a lot of action takes place; politically, economically and culturally. Through that combination and perhaps also because there is something undefinable in the air in Belgium; something that is present all the time.

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