Tag Archives: Belgium

Kosmolinks #15

  • “A fashionable idea is circulating among Balkan-watchers: “Belgianisation”. This is not meant to suggest complex federalism. Instead it implies that different nationalities whom history has left sharing a state are at last behaving like Belgians, reaching for ballot boxes and courts, rather than guns and bombs.”
  • It is gonna be a close race. And it seems that No voters don’t know anything about the treaty: “The reason most often cited by No voters is that they don’t know what they are voting for or they don’t understand the treaty – with 30 per cent of No voters listing this as the main reason for their decision.” I have argued before that referendums and uninformed publics do not go well together, moreover referenda over several hundred pages of legal text will never cause any enthusiasm… Let’s see on Thursday…

  • The logo of the French EU presidency…it is actually quite ugly…

  • “The west could be sleepwalking into a war on the European continent. Georgia, which burst into view with a moving display of democratic ambition during the Rose Revolution of 2003, is teetering on the brink of war with Russia over the separatist Georgian enclave of Abkhazia. The outcome of this crisis – involving a fledgling democracy with aspirations to join Nato and the European Union – will help determine the rules of the post-cold-war security system. But western diplomats are not sending strong enough signals to either side.”

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Shopping in Belgium

As we all know, Belgium is a shopping paradise where you can shop 24/7 (some irony included). The good news is that winter sales have started today; and the third day of the year is reserved for this local tradition (sounds better than: ‘It is strictly forbidden to advertise any sales before’)!

Anyway, many shops prepared for this special event in a rather surprising way: shops closed yesterday around 4.30 pm (!) in order to prepare the sales. Of course this is rather annoying for the customers, but since this is Belgium we should not be surprised… and this is only the tip of the iceberg! To get the full picture about sales and competition principles in Belgium read this excellent article in The Economist:

During the twice-yearly pre-sales blackouts (there are also summer sales) a hundred inspectors from the Belgian economics ministry scour the country for advertisements, window stickers or price tags that even hint at discounts. A Prohibition-style speakeasy culture has sprung up in response. Gambits include putting question-marks on price tags and advertising “friendly prices”. Chic boutiques in Brussels telephone favoured customers or send them “privilege cards”, inviting them to pop in for an early visit. Controls must be “extremely severe” to ensure that the rules stick, explains Robert Geurts of the economics ministry, who glories in the title of director-general for regulation and organisation of the market. Inspectors receive many tips by telephone as rival shopkeepers denounce each other.

If all this sounds fundamentally illiberal, that is because it is.

(More…)

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Total Denial

Total Denial is an amazing documentary about an historic lawsuit connected with the UNOCAL/TOTAL oil pipeline in Burma. One of the few screenings of the film took place in Brussels on Friday (organised by Avocats Sans Frontières), check out the official movie page here for more dates and details:

Total Denial is the story of a historic lawsuit: Fifteen villagers from the jungles of Burma bringing suit against a giant oil corporation for human-rights abuses, in U.S. courts. After ten years of fierce legal battles, the impossible victory.”

At the same time the outcome of the lawsuit will change the legal framework for corporations worldwide. For the first time a company was sued for human rights violations committed overseas. Even though this case was possible in the US under the Alien Torts Claim Act (a law introduced in 1789!) similar cases are pending in Europe (for example in France and Belgium). Here is the trailer:

After the movie the director Milena Kaneva shared her thoughts about the implications of the movie with the audience which was indeed an inspiring and very interesting experience. However, the movie is still in need for some additional funding and support (distribution, DVD production…) … so if you have a some spare money or if you know a potential funding institution go to the sponsorship section of the official homepage… (Normally I do not use this blog for fundraising purposes but this is an exception: this documentary is definitely worth it!)

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A Belgian Surprise

Today was a special day for my troubled relationship with Belgium. Belgium surprised me today, or more precisely the infamous national train company NMBS/SNCB did.

Around four weeks ago I was in Strasbourg. But the train strike in France forced me to make a detour through Germany. Consequently I could not use the train ticket (Strasbourg-Luxembourg-Brussels) I had bought before the trip.

So, a few days later I went to the train station, explained my little problem to some very friendly (!!) NMBS/SNCB employees, who gave me a rather short (!!) form to fill in. Three (!!) working days later I received a letter that stated that I would get reimbursed! And today, the money really arrived on my bank account!

It is actually amazing for a country that is normally known for its inefficiency and its notorious bureaucratic system.

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