Belgium

It’s less than a week since General Motors agreed to sell Opel, its European arm, to a group led by Magna International of Canada, but already a wave of anger at the implications of the deal is building up.  Nowhere is this more true than in Belgium and the UK, where workers at GM plants seem far more at risk than their colleagues in Germany of losing their jobs.

This episode is, however, about much more than potential job losses.  It’s about Europe’s reluctance to come to terms with huge overcapacity in its car industry.  It’s about how best to preserve a broad manufacturing base in an era when the other main recent driver of European economic growth - lightly regulated financial capitalism – is discredited.  Finally, it is a test of the European Commission’s ability to uphold its strict rules on competition and state aid during the worst recession in the European Union’s history. Read more >>

The last time that a dispute between Madrid and Brussels seized the international spotlight was in 1568 – and boy, was it big.  That was when the Spanish rulers of the Low Countries sparked the 80-year-long Dutch Revolt by executing Counts Egmont and Horne on the Grand’ Place of what is today the Belgian capital.

This month, another quarrel between Spain and Belgium broke out.  Admittedly, it’s less serious, and for the moment it’s stayed behind closed doors.  But in the interests of transparency, and because the squabble tells you rather a lot about the way the European Union operates, I shall share the details with you. Read more >>

Back in November I drew attention to the path-breaking research of the genealogists who had discovered that Barack Obama was 1 per cent Belgian. Now it seems Belgium’s contribution to the good of the world goes even further than that.

Two academic researchers, one Australian and one German, claim that a 16th-century English poem proves that the game of cricket originated not in England but, you’ve got it, in Belgium – specifically, in the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders. The poem, attributed (perhaps erroneously) to John Skelton, a humanist writer in Henry VIII’s reign, contains the lines: Read more >>

Belgians are about to find out whether it’s easier to write a haiku than form a government.

King Albert II has asked Herman Van Rompuy, the 61-year-old head of Belgium’s lower house of parliament, to put together a government following the collapse of Yves Leterme’s coalition a mere nine months after it took office. Read more >>

For the politicians, diplomats, European Union officials, lawyers, lobbyists, journalists and other folk who have to fly in and out of Brussels a lot in their course of their duties, Brussels Airlines is a fairly popular choice.

Created in 2006 from the merger of Virgin Express and Sabena, the ill-fated Belgian national carrier, Brussels Airlines is a busy, friendly, no-frills company that in my experience does a good job getting you from A to B in Europe without a great deal of fuss. Read more >>

The times are so alarming that sometimes all you can do is laugh. Consider Fortis, the large Belgian-Dutch bank and insurance company, which this week became Europe’s biggest casualty so far of the world financial turmoil.

Only a few months ago it launched a new advertising campaign.  It was a nice catchy slogan, too. ”Here today. Where tomorrow?” Read more >>

It is 2028. The ice caps are dwindling, Chelsea Clinton continues her parents’ presidential legacy in the White House…and Belgium still awaits a new federal government after elections in June 2007.

Yes, I’m joking. Belgium faces a very difficult situation right now, and many people hope it will get out of its impasse in the coming weeks. But how?

A quick recap: The linguistically-divided country has been without a new government since an election more than five months ago.

The francophone parties and the Flemish groups expected to make up a centre-right coalition just can’t agree on state reform, prompting concerns that the country could break up along its linguistic fault lines. Read more >>

And on it goes…

Belgium waits and waits for a new federal government, almost five months after the election. Next week, it is expected to break its record for the longest-ever talks to form a coalition.

This leaves everyone to muse about the linguistically-divided country’s future, and in particular, the claim that the Flemings of the wealthy (Dutch-speaking) north and the Walloons of the poorer, francophone south, barely know each other.

I suppose when your country has been (briefly) put up for sale on eBay, and the prime minister designate appears unwilling to sing the national anthem, you’re justified in questioning things? But is the doom and gloom making everyone become a bit too tough on themselves? Read more >>

One industry doing well out of Belgium’s political crisis is flagmaking. The red, yellow and black tricolour is sprouting from homes across Brussels as people express their support for the continuance of the multilingual state.

The movement has even crept into Dutch-speaking Flanders, where around 40 per cent of people want independence. A tipping point has been reached in my street on the edge of Brussels. On Sunday afternoon one of the 40 houses was flying the flag. By nighttime there were 11. Read more >>