The Belgians and the European Institutions

Brussels is now well established as the European Capital. I have learnt recently (an interview from Jean Monnet's assistant) that in fact the European Commission arrived in Brussels by accident...

At the beginning, the Commission was to settle in Sophia Antipolis, near Nice (!!!!); but the bloody Germans felt that it was too much "Club Med"... So Paris was the next serious candidate but the mayor of Strasbourg at that time was afraid that it was too close to his town and the Parliament. The Belgian government offered the Berlaymont (which was at the time a covent) as a temporary location. And it was only in the 90's that Brussels became the permant location of the EC.

In any case, we ended up in Brussels and since there has been a love-hate relation with the locals. Don't get me wrong! On my side of things, Brussels is a lovely city (except the weather of course): it is still a reasonable size, you get all the amenities you want at an affordable price, you can live fully without speaking French and Flemish, and Belgians are quite sympathetic with foreigners (much less with each other).

Though I felt very strange once a Belgian asked me if I was working for the "Common Market"!?!?!?! the guy was in his thirties. And it is apparently not unusual.

Belgians do complaint that because of the EC, life and housing are expensive in Brussels, officials act in an arrogant way and barely mix with the locals.

There is some truth in it, and there can be some improvements... Overpaid "Fonctionnaires" do act sometimes as conquerors with their large stipends and their mansions in Woluwe-St Lambert. But life in Brussels isn't expensive at all compared to similar cities: rent is still reasonable, buying a flat is still possible, and you can enjoy restaurants and theatres for a decent price.

But the real question to ask is: "What would be Brussels without the European Institutions?"
Let us think of a city without:
  • a major employer (25,000 direct well-paid jobs and much more indirect jobs) and a large majority of Belgium employed in low and middle level job;
  • a centre of activities for lawyers, consultants, lobbyists;
  • a fantastic access with Thalys to other majors European cities (Amsterdam, Cologne, London, Paris)
  • a vibrant multicultural society
So what is left of Brussels? Great chocolate, interesting comic books and a little kid urinating?

The truth is that Brussels without the European Institutions would be much more like a second-class small and boring city... Something like a much poorer Luxembourg!

1 comment:

  1. Eurocrats have pushed out generations of Brussels natives. Paying income tax rates up to 50% (or more), even the best paid native cannot compete with an overpaid Eurocrat who enjoys Caiman Islands-like tax rates and a series of tax-free fees.

    55,000 Eurocrats in a city of the size of London or Paris would not have been a problem. Howzever, in Brussels, with its 1 million inhabitants, it is.

    Eurocrats thrive on taxpayers' money -both at work and at home.
    Ironically, Brussels natives are being pushed out by their own tax money!