Posts made in April, 2010

Why a crisis in Belgium makes me shudder for my daily life

Let me start by reassuring you: I am not shuddering out of some inane fear that Belgium will be split off, the tanks going down Avenue de Tervuren whilst nostalgics of the “One Belgium” concept reunite on Place Luxembourg, the new Tian An Men, to sing songs and burn candles while weeping for the good old days.

waffle_assnI am not shuddering either because I think this political crisis will affect my financial well-being or the future of my children: I have been paying taxes in Belgium for ages and can’t imagine my financial situation growing worse unless I have to pay the federal state and the zillion other entities not only over half what I earn but actually for the privilege of being able to work. As for my children, I still have the option of claiming Congolese citizenship based on the fact that I was born in Kinshasa…the day where being Congolese becomes the better option is coming closer, I tell you…But anyway, my oldest son told me he want to study in an American University, because “they play basketball while studying there and no one saw a Belgian dunking the way an American does” so I think they will be fine.

No, my shudder is much more selfish. Consider this: there are extremely few Belgians working as lobbyists in Brussels, certainly in my sector (Internet & Telecoms): Brits , as many as you want; French; German. Spanish….you name it, Brussels has it…but Belgians??? And on top of that, I have this really Belgian sounding name which (1) makes me end up in everyone’s porn spam filter because the Belgian version of “Smith” refers to the English version of a male attribute and (2) makes everyone spot from a mile that I am the real stuff (in so far as someone raised in Africa, South America and the Middle East, Flemish by upbringing but Francophone by her studies and who came back to the “home country” at the age of 18 can be qualified the “real stuff”).

So what am I getting at, are you thinking? Very simple: I just know that for the next weeks and maybe even months, I am going to get the fatal question every time: “Oh: you’re Belgian, aren’t you. Can you explain what the hell is happening with that BHV thing?”…and you know what, even if I could, I wouldn’t…Not because it’s not important or because I don’t care but because I just wish I could tell you a story about how Belgians act like Belgians when they are abroad and face all those other nations that call them “Les petits Belges / The little Belgians”…and on how I hope my kids will think when they are older that BHV is a supermarket that went bust ages ago when politicians realised they couldn’t make a profit out of it any longer.

My only positive element to this gloomy perspective is that at least, I can point people to this post that provides the best explanation of our current crisis…might actually print the URL on a card to hand out to anyone who considers my Belgian citizenship means I can decrypt waffling whilst imagining what went through Magritte’s head as he was making bland statement about pipes.

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The wonderful art of eloquent vagueness in Europe

Berlaymont building

Berlaymont building

After fifteen years in Brussels, I am still amazed about the ability of EU politicians and civil servants writing their speeches or consultation papers at saying nothing, but at length!

I had never been able to pinpoint the exact expression covering this art, until today. Speaking to an ex-Commission official about a speech by a Commissioner given yesterday, we both agreed that it was wonderful at saying not much, committing to even less, and basically giving in only ever so slightly to every side of the debate. But through that agreement, he made me discover the technical term covering such a masterful result: the concept of “eloquent vagueness”, or let’s call it EV from now on (not to be confused with the European Voice, the other EV in Brussels that sometimes practices eloquent vagueness too but not always).

EV is all over the place in Brussels (though in some cases, it’s only V, the eloquence being difficult to spot). It’s in the questions in a Consultation which make you wonder if the official that wrote was under the influence of illegal substances…It’s in the responses we lobbyists draft in which “We acknowledge (…) applaud (…) whilst regretting (…) and strongly believing (…) even though…”. It’s in the press releases of every EU institution (though there, I’d go for a simple V most of the time), in the oral interventions at the European Parliament, in the discussions at every corner…More than an Art, it’s a second nature of the inhabitants of the EU bubble.

Funnily, if you Google “eloquent vagueness”, the first result obtained is an entry on Wikipedia about Edgar Quinet (February 17, 1803–March 27, 1875), a French historian and intellectual, described in the the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica as follows: “His pervading characteristic, therefore, is that of an eloquent vagueness, very stimulating and touching at times, but as deficient in coercive force of matter as it is in lasting precision and elegance of form.” Now, why am I not surprised the concept is linked to a Frenchman?

The problem with EV is: as comfortable as it may be, it produces nothing…layer after layer of vagueness you end up with…a “mille-feuille” of vagueness and a serious feeling of frustration. Combine it with “political correctness” and you end up with less than nothing.

So I would like to encourage speech writers of Commissioners, spokespeople at press briefings, MEPs standing up in the hemicycle…all these wonderful people to stop the “eloquent vagueness” wave that has been overwhelming us for ages and go for something else…maybe “blunt convictions” could be an interesting alternative? Or even “funny bullsh*” would be an improvement!

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