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The Brief: The day the Brussels Bubble burst


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EurActiv | The Brief

Today's EU policy news, 22.03.2017, 5PM


The day the Brussels Bubble burst


By James Crisp

A year ago today the Brussels bubble burst. The 22 March terror attacks reminded us that the city is not just an EU policymaking machine but, first and foremost, home.

The suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and Maelbeek metro station were an attack on all of us, regardless of where we come from and what we do for a living.

It didn’t matter if you were Belgian, Moroccan, British, Luxembourgish, Austrian or American. It was irrelevant if you worked as a cleaner, consultant, lobbyist, journalist, waiter or EU official. We were all targets.

Brussels is often compared to a village. I felt that keenly after the attacks. Everyone knew someone who could have been killed at the airport or on the metro.  Some of us knew someone who died.

There are few places one can work with and meet people of so many different nationalities. But it is not uncommon to meet expats who know and care nothing about their host country.

Some commute back home for the weekends. Many pour contempt on Belgian bureaucracy or service in restaurants. Everyone complains about the weather.

Brusseleirs outside the bubble are not obsessed with EU legislation, high-level conferences and trialogues. They resent the generous tax regime some officials enjoy. It is not so long ago that graffiti showing a Eurocrat being hanged by his tie appeared around Schuman.

The divide between the bubble and “real” Brussels disappeared after the bombings. As time passed by, it has returned. But today, on the first anniversary, I don’t feel it.

It is true that mistakes were made and that mistakes continue to be made, notably in the care of the victims. Belgium’s complex multi-layered system of government doesn’t help.

But there is a reason why the Brussels metro picked a heart and the words “It’s all of us” for their memorial posters. The attacks should remind us of why we love living here.

Where else in the world would people respond to the worst terror attack in their history with such humour, bravery and grace?

The weeks of spontaneous vigils at Bourse, which was bedecked with flowers, flags, candles, Belgian beer bottles and Tintin. The 'Make Waffles Not War' graffiti. The tweeting of cats in response to terror raids. Today, the Manneken Pis was dressed up as a firefighter for the anniversary.

Brussels, the city, has suffered since the attacks. Tourism is down, businesses are struggling.  The Bubble needs to support Brussels. Go to the centre, support local businesses, tell your friends to visit.

Today, we remember the 32 people killed, the more than 320 injured, and their families.

We should also remember how lucky we are to have such gracious hosts as the Belgians in this wonderfully international city.


The Roundup

A survivor of the terror attacks kept his vow to get back on the Brussels metro for his daily commute to the European Parliament. Mark Beamish was in the carriage behind the one that was blown up at Maelbeek station.  Read our interview.

Today is a day for remembering but also for considering what should happen next. Take a look at this op-ed on how Europe can prevent the next tragedy.

There was an unfolding situation in London when we went to print and Westminster is currently on security lockdown.

Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem is under fire after joking that crisis-hit eurozone countries wasted money on “drinks and women”.

Portugal’s current prime minister and Italy’s former leader both demanded the Dutchman step down, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said his comments are “wrong” and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis denounced his lack of “morals and expertise”.

A new Commission proposal wants to give national competition authorities more scope to enforce EU antitrust rules. The directive will now be sent to the Parliament and Council.

The executive also registered two Citizen Initiatives on the rights of EU citizens after Brexit. A third, on preventing Brexit, was rejected. All three decisions were just based on legal admissibility.

Over 10 million people tuned into France’s presidential debate. Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon’s performance may have been assessed poorly there but his European programme impressed here in Brussels. Rival François Fillon is in the middle of another scandal, this time involving Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump will be in town on 25 May for a NATO summit. Talks on how to strengthen EU-Latin American ties were held in the Parliament yesterday. Lawmakers and experts have urged Brussels to use the window of opportunity afforded by Trump’s election and the Brexit vote.

The UK’s departure will have a huge impact on the EU’s role as a leading donor of foreign aid and the Scottish parliament is expected to back Nicola Sturgeon’s pursuit of a second independence referendum.

The Commission's Brexit point man, Michel Barnier, is addressing the Committee of the Region's plenary session this evening on all things Article 50. Watch it live here.

Slovakia and Belgium have been told to stop delaying the proposed Financial Transaction Tax and Romania has run out of money to co-finance EU projects.

There’s a mysterious mannequin haunting the back of the Council building. Get in contact if you can solve this one for us...

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.


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