EurActiv - Letters to the Editor


Regarding ‘EU pioneers asked to tell their stories‘:

Frankly, are they nuts?

It took me more than a decade to recover from the shock I experienced upon my arrival in Brussels.

A filthy, badly organised and corrupt place. I can fill entire evening conversations with stories of incompetent administration departments, shady police actions targeting ‘rich’ EU foreigners, a public transport system that would do a third-world country an honour and non-stop attempts at rip-offs by the locals (including most of the public services).

Just this morning I wrote to the (misnamed) cleanliness department and informed them that their garbage collectors have now ignored for two weeks a pile of rubbish which they find too large to handle (as if it would shrink with time).

Brussels does not deserve to be the European capital and should very, very silently work on deserving it one day.

Ronald Grünebaum

Author :


  1. Sir,

    As a Brussels local, and therefore a corrupt, disorganised filth merchant myself, I like to think I speak for many of my peers (or “the Belch”, as many Eurocrats charmingly like to refer to us) when I say: “Don’t like it? There’s the exit sign”.

    You see, if the EU, NATO and assorted international organisations were to leave this fine (yes, that’s “FINE”, Mr Grünebaum) city, most of us would breathe a collective sigh of relief.

    As a DJ, musician and music critic, I spend an awful lot of time in the centre of Brussels. On Friday nights I routinely witness the following:

    * lairy EU stagiaires vomiting in the streets then verbally abusing anyone objecting to this;

    * NATO staff snapping their fingers to get the waitress’s attention, then demanding to pay in US dollars;

    * arrogant Eurocrats talking down to the great unwashed that we are.

    Tellingly, it is often the people who contribute nothing (no direct income, no input into this city’s social scene) who have the strongest opinions about Brussels.

    Sir, I know nothing about Mr Grünebaum save for the fact that his name regularly appears in the comments pages of internet blogs about EU affairs, often lumping citizens of one nationality together so as to categorise them better, e.g. “I wouldn’t trust the Italians with this”, “It’s time the British did that” etc). I would like to convey to him this simple message: for centuries, Brussels has been the epitome of integration, cultural & racial diversity and acceptance. The Brussels identity is Flemish, French, Congolese, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, Portuguese… Over the years, wave after wave of immigration has contributed to making this city the true jewel it is.

    If the people who shop in the duty-free Berlaymont supermarket (so as not to mingle with the natives, you understand) can’t appreciate it, we sincerely hope they decamp elsewhere. And pronto.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1089230243 which is not a hashcash value.

  2. I understand.
    Yet, the Brussels we get served is the one the people voted for.
    Do you have a way to help by voting? Many of these issues are caused because in ancient times, the King had given the plots of land close to the palace/brussels center to Nobels with the title “Baron”. These plots of land were called the “Baronies” and are what we know as the Brussels communes. The descendants of these nobles can still be found there and often even in the french speaking politicians. In modern times and the way Brussels has evolved, e.g. it’s impossible to physically see when one goes from one into another.
    The nobles and their companies, politicians, mayors, governors, several parliaments and senats, Walloons, Flemish, French Speaking Community, intergovernmental councils… all there to create jobs. Jobs that are over-lapping and otherwhise hollow and costing money and … lives as became clear e.g. last week where criminals emptyed a kalashnikov on some police.
    The police zones have each their radio frequency… so when a criminal goes from commune to anohter … the police has to change frequency and shit like that.
    Rationalisation please.
    The Flemish want 1 police zone and 1 government for Brussels and the local communes are just service points to the dismay of the nobles and local politicians of course who don’t have a lot to do anyway… if now the police goes according to the subsidiarity principle one level up.. they have really nothing to do anymore.
    We hear that many from the international community easier become friends with the french speaking community because of the language and during elections elect … french speaking who are all for keeping things the way they were.
    The Brussels we get served is the one the people voted for.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1089230243 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. I agree with most, but not all, of what Ronald Grünebaum has to say, especially regarding the public transport system. It really is a joke! Brussels wants to be recognised as the capital of Europe and yet there is no underground link anywhere in the southern – French-Speaking – part of Brussels, but there are several lines going north, east and west into the predominantly Flemish-speaking parts. And the state of the trains ! Well the recent disaster speaks for itself.

    Now I wonder why that is? The country’s motto is “L’union fait la force” but for at least the last 30 odd years, and especially since Edmond Leburton was the last French-speaking Prime Minister, the successive flemish governements have worked hard at overtaxing the Belgian citizen – yes 45% of their wages – in order to gradually but thoroughly divide the little remaining unity and reinstate Apartheid whereas the rest of the world has fought hard to get rid of it.

    As a result, there is no money left for real investment in essential services like public transport. The SNCB is paralysed by internal squabbles, the trains are in a pitiful state of disrepair and lack of maintenance, and the staff are understandably unhappy and demotivated by their working conditions.

    Things will only improve in this country when the politicians stop using taxpayers’ money and abusing the citizen in order to finance their petty little tribal warfair.

    I call upon the Belgian citizens to stop voting for the everlasting same politicians who don’t appear to actually be doing anything between elections, to stop accepting all the drivel they are being constantly fed with, and to form a new unifying bilingual party that will actually do something for the deserving citizens of this country.

    Enough is enough, or as the local expression goes “trop is te veel”. Wake-up Belgium !!!

  4. I couldn’t agree more! I hated every minute of living in that filthy and corrupt place. And having to pay 50% of your hard earned income to the incompetent Belgian state makes it even more frustrating. The comment PM Doutreligne is typical for Brussels. Just leave if you don’t like it. Instead of trying to accomodate those who keep the city running. Without the added income of the entire EU depended industry, Brussels would have been bankrupt years ago (on top it has 25% unemployment).Unfortunately, the mistake of making it Europe’s capital means that many companies have to have a representation there, so many do not have a choice. After 6 years, I couldn’t take it anymore and quit my job to move to wonderfully clean and efficient Switzerland. Bliss!

  5. Mr Doutrelinge,

    I appreciate your emotional reaction. It’s quite different from the indolence Belgians normally display.

    Unfortunately, your comment is rather nonsensical in substance.

    The argument that those unhappy with the state of things should move on is not particularly intelligent. Many of us would if we could. But we work for Europe and we want to continue doing so. Therefore, maybe the European capital should move on. I have a pretty good idea what kind of welcome the EU would get in, for example, Barcelona.

    Your examples of bad behaviour are certainly valid. But stagiaires are not EU staff and rude Americans working for NATO are not even Europeans. You may want to add to your list of incivilities the Belgians who pee in the street as if we are still living in the 15th century.

    EU staff certainly contribute their direct taxes (and why should they pay income tax to the Kingdom of Belgium?) and they save a couple of nice houses from being razed by the real estate speculators who are in bed with the local administration. As I am directly involved on many occasions with the city’s urban planning department (as are many others) I reject your criticism that we are not part of the social fabric.

    I write in a polemical style. That’s the idea. If you want diplomatically fine-tuned stuff, go some place else.

    Your point on the cultural diversity of Brussels is cute. But it is not the result of any action by Belgians, it just happened. Moreover, this diversity and tolerance stops at the city limits. We all know that a good deal of the population in this country is borderline racist. Only thanks to the above mentioned indolence this xenophobia has no severe consequences (yet).

    Finally, I hope you are better at music than at economics. Brussels needs the EU-related income bitterly. From your mastery of English I take that you must be Flemish. How about the Flemings finally paying up for their own capital instead of just working there and fleeing it in droves at 17.00 sharp every day? Young Flemings are increasingly coming back to Brussels, but head back to their villages once they start breeding (if you blame me for this expression, you can also blame, once more, Jacques Brel who knew the Flemish mindset better than me).

    P.s. to my knowledge there is no duty-free shop in the Berlaymont. Duty-free doesn’t exist in the Internal Market.

  6. Grünebaum is obviously the kind of person who gets pleasure out of complaining about each and everything. Note how he says he “can fill entire evening conversations” with it instead of he “could…” – he actually does it!
    If he were based in Parma he would moan about slow trains, in London about how the NHS don’t work and in Barcelona about how people are obsessed with Catalunya and don’t learn foreign languages.
    And he would certainly be writing letters to the commune.
    Ronald, tell me, does it run in the family? I bet your parents already complained some 50 years ago to hotel staff in Rimini that there is no Jacobs Kaffee on the table, right?
    Relax, please… and stop writing.

  7. Well well well, I think Grünebaum’s words are quite rights. I arrived in Brussels two weeks ago, and I was kind of shocked by the way things are going on there. I am French so I was thinking that the dull country was mine, but seeing what’s going on in Brussels, France seems to be good. In Brussels, public transports are totally undersized and yet the monthly subscription fees are higher than in Paris. The city is rather filthy and some neighborhood are crumbling. People are sometimes crooked, I had to take some ID shots upon my arrival, I was thinking that I would rather go to a shop than a photomaton to foster local business, well it cost me 8 euros, and I am pretty sure it was because I look like a European public servant, with a designer suit.
    Should I say a word about the shops closing hours ? I am socialist and don’t want to see people working on Sunday, yet in the Rue Neuve, all the international shopping brand close at 18h or 18h30 on week days. Then it’s impossible to buy something after work…
    As for the arrogant Eurocrates bear in mind that some Flemish people don’t seems to hold French native speaker in their heart… Stupidity is a highly diffused trait in human being, not only in the European sphere.
    As for the trainee they don’t seems worst than the average Belgium young, without talking of some Belgian who are harassing ladies at night in the Rue Neuve. Yet I am aware that their acting like that due to some social facts. .. And thanks, but as a trainee I am not used to throwing up in the street at night.

    Yet I will recognized that some Belgium people seems very welcoming, and that a strong point for Brussels comparing with Paris for instance where people never look each other in the eyes. I think what people misinterpret for a Eurocrate arrogance is in some case more a gap in cultural practices; European are not all as extrovert as than their Belgian counterparts…

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