Politico Europe, a popular political media brand based in Brussels, recently published a note in their Playbook newsletter emphasizing some of the pressing issues in the EU district of Brussels.
The newsletter discusses “tensions” between locals and EU communities in Brussels and proposes some of the ways to make life in Brussels more harmonious:
The EU could …
— Make staff pay for parking to discourage employees from driving to work.
— Remove or limit the expatriation allowance it continues to pay (sometimes for decades) as a bonus to staff who move here from other countries, which in turn encourages them to keep special diplomat ID cards instead of regular ones.
— Explain in hard numbers how much tax EU officials actually pay into the Belgian treasury (via their special tax rates and other taxes such as VAT and commune fees).
Belgium could …
— Invest in the EU district as a tourist attraction and source of pride, instead of as a traffic funnel.
— Plant more trees and increase the width of footpaths in the EU district.
— Oblige permanent residents to vote, just as local citizens must, so that it is one system for all.
The city became the temporary seat of the European Economic Community in 1958 and acquired the status of formal headquarters of the European Union institutions in 1992 (NATO moved to the city in 1967.) As such, Brussels has welcomed six European institutions (including the Commission and Council), 42 intergovernmental organizations and 5,400 diplomats — more than any other city in the world, according to a report from the Brussels city administration.
All that gives Brussels an international clout that a medium sized city of 1.2 million could not hope to enjoy otherwise. Its international presence creates about 121,000 jobs (16.7 percent of employment) and the Commission itself employs more than 5,000 Belgian citizens directly.
One problem is what critics regard as a hungry but visionless expansionism by the EU, which has turned the “Leopold district” — named after Belgium’s first king, Leopold I — from an elegant neighborhood into a soulless and messy hub for urban highways and grey offices, with little regard for residents’ views.
“The construction of the EU hub has been an urban planning trauma for many residents of Brussels,” said Alain Hutchinson, the Belgian federal state’s Brussels commissioner for Europe and a former MEP. “So I try to make this area and presence much more acceptable for the inhabitants of Brussels, who have remained skeptical of how much they benefit from it.”
“The European and international institutions should become more aware of the great potential of this city…”
We suggest reading the full article as it offers another perspective on the life in Brussels and the role that EU institutions (and EU bubble) play in it.