When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Belgium

Geopolitics

Russia-Ukraine War Begins: 24 Newspaper Front Pages

Tensions culminated this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin launching a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, a move widely opposed by world leaders that made virtually every front page around the world.

"THIS IS WAR," reads the front page ofGazeta Wyborcza. Alongside the terse, all-caps headline, the Polish daily features a photo of Olena Kurilo, a teacher from Chuguev whose blood-covered face has become one of the striking images of the beginning of the Ukraine invasion.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage. Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

A day after simultaneous attacks were launched from the south, east and north of the country, by land and by air, some press outlets chose to feature images of tanks, explosions, death and destruction that hit multiple cities across Ukraine, while others focused on the man behind the so-called "special military operation": Putin.

Watch Video Show less

Send In The Tanks — 28 Newspaper Front Pages As Putin Moves On Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin's move to order troops into two rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine, after recognizing them as independent states, is front-page news all around the world.

After weeks of escalating rhetoric, diplomatic roller coasters and wondering “what will Putin do,” Russian President Vladimir Putin took a decisive first step toward what some fear may be the worst military conflict in Europe since World War II.

During a televised speech late Monday night from the Kremlin — and just hours after rising hopes of a potential Biden-Putin summit — the Russian president formally recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian troops to move in, officially for "peacekeeping" purposes.

Keep reading... Show less

A Weird 2021 : Our Favorite "What The World" Stories

Tales of odds and ends from deep inside the world's newspapers....


Keep reading... Show less
In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Taliban Decree On Women, Averted Shutdown, Metal Planet

👋 Sannu!*

Welcome to Friday, where the Taliban issue a decree on women’s rights, the U.S. avoids another government shutdown, and we discover the most metallic planet ever. Delhi-based news website The Wire also suggests Indians should pause before any nationalistic boasting about the choice of Parag Agarwal as new Twitter CEO.

[*Hausa - Nigeria & Niger]

Watch Video Show less
Society
Daniel Murillo and Caroline Watillon

His Pill? We're Long Overdue For Male Contraceptive Alternatives

Male contraception, both pharmaceuticals and procedures, is gaining increasing interest. Yet to date, there is no male contraceptive drug authorized on the market.

If contraception has been a woman's business since the 1960s, it was in the 1990s that international bodies began to take an interest in the idea of sharing the burden of contraception. After the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), calls emerged for sharing the responsibility for birth control with men.

By affirming gender equality in all spheres of life — societal, familial, sexual and reproductive — men are challenged to take personal and social responsibility for their sexual behavior and fertility.

Watch Video Show less
WHAT THE WORLD
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

No More Monkey Business: Antwerp Zoo Bans Woman From Seeing Her Chimp Chum

"He loves me and I love him. Why would you take that away?"

There's only so much monkeying around the Antwerp Zoo will tolerate. Belgian woman Adie Timmermans learned this recently, having developed what she called a special "relationship" with Chita, a 38-year-old chimpanzee whom she visited almost every day for four years. Zoo authorities now think the bond might have grown too strong and decided to ban Timmermans from visiting her monkey friend.

Whenever Timmermans came to the zoo, Chita would walk over to the glass enclosure, blowing kisses and scratching his head. So why separate the interspecies pals? Sarah Lafaut, the zoo's mammal curator, tells Belgian news channel ATV that Chita ended up paying too much attention to Timmermans and was at risk of being excluded from his primate peers.

Watch Video Show less
food / travel
Vincent Delhomme and Benjamin Jan*

Not All Frites and Beer: Does Eating Belgian Make Sense?

When it comes to food, the fears linked to globalization must be put into perspective. They must also be weighed against the negative effects that Belgian protectionism could have on our economy.

BELGIUM — "Eating local" has become a global trend. Both the political world and the private sector are riding the "ethical consumption" wave and trying to take advantage of it by catering to the patriotic feelings of the "consumer voter." Whether it's a regional food relocation plan or the "BELhaize" campaign, through which the famous chain stop promotes "local products," the aim is to encourage people to buy "Belgian." However, this is neither in the interest of Belgium, nor the planet's.

Distrust in food imports was already palpable before the pandemic, as was the reaction caused by the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. But these sentiments have been amplified by the health-crisis related supply problems for strategic products. While it's essential to be resilient with regard to products (e.g. semi-conductors or active pharmaceutical ingredients), Belgium would not benefit from a protectionist retreat with regard to food. It's not often pointed out that Belgium is one of the EU member states that benefits the most from the free movement of goods within the single market. Erecting economic barriers to food by favorably discriminating between Belgian products and those produced elsewhere — especially European products — is potentially dangerous. Such protectionist barriers against Belgian products, if extended to all goods, could result in the loss of up to 15% of Belgian GDP.

A man shops the bio (organic) section at a Carrefour in Brussels — Photo: Isopix/ZUMA

The Belgian food industry boasts exports worth 27 billion euros and contributes to a positive trade balance of several billion. Our biggest trading partners, both for imports and exports, are the EU member states and in particular our neighbors: Germany, France and the Netherlands account for 55% of our exports. The question arises as to whether, in a small country like Belgium, it is reasonable to encourage a consumer in Liège to prefer a vegetable produced in Visé instead of Maastricht. What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products? Promoting the know-how of our Belgian producers should involve the creation of a favorable economic environment that allows them to keep or gain market shares, in Belgium or elsewhere.

What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products?

First of all, it is strange to present the purchase of Belgian products as particularly "local" even though 56% of the country's population lives less than 25km from a national border, 65% when it comes to the Walloons. Thus for the inhabitants of Bastogne, eating products from Flanders is less local than eating French, Dutch, Luxembourgish or German goods.

It's appropriate, then, to question the widespread idea that eating locally is better for the planet. The assertion must, at best, be strongly nuanced; at worst, it's completely false. To understand why, we must first demystify the impact of transportation on the environmental cost of our plates. It is minimal: less than 10%. In reality, most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of our food itself. Animal proteins have the greatest environmental impact. The "geographical" characteristics of the countries where our food is produced are also parameters that must be seriously taken into account.

Mussel farmer Peter Cooleman with his Belgian North Sea mussels. — Photo: Kurt Desplenter/Belga/ZUMA

Due to a favorable climate, produce such as strawberries or tomatoes from Spain, for example, have a much lower carbon footprint than those grown in greenhouses in northern Europe. Thus, for consumers concerned about their environmental footprint, it is much more useful to refuse their consumption of meat, even if it is Belgian, than to stop buying Italian tomatoes. Since the environmental impact of the origin of most products is insignificant compared to the impact of meat, eggs and dairy products, discriminating products according to their "nationality" is useless.

Fears of globalization must be put into perspective when it comes to food and weighed against the negative effects of protectionism on the Belgian economy. The economic opportunities that the single market offers to our small country are immense. As for the fight against climate change, it should not be used as an instrument to feed inward-looking attitudes and to support protectionist measures. On the contrary, we could seize the opportunity, on a European scale, to be part of the single market that has different climates in order, for example, to produce where the environment allows optimal production from an ecological point of view.

Watch Video Show less
Sources
Genevieve Mansfield

Google Forces 69-Year-Old To Prove That He’s Not Underage

A serious AI fail in Belgium for the supposed algorithm experts of Mountain View.

Guy, a 69-year-old Belgian, was simply trying to enjoy a YouTube video when Google threatened to lock him out of all of his affiliated accounts … because according to their software, he was under 15 years old.


Watch Video Show less
WHAT THE WORLD
Clémence Guimier

Asparagus Recipe Baked Into Belgian Legal Decree

"Preheat oven to 250 °C, add three teaspoons of salt into water, rinse and peel the asparagus and wait 30 minutes before cooking…" If you are craving asparagus au gratin after reading these lines, you can find the rest of the recipe online, on any number of cooking websites … Or, until a few days ago, smack in the middle of an official Belgian government decree.

An asparagus and Cantal cheese recipe was found, lost in the text of a new law on the price of medicine, published by the Federal Public Justice Service of Belgium. After further investigation, French daily La Voix du Nord found that the cooking recipe belongs to Marmiton, a popular cooking website in France and Belgium.

Watch Video Show less
WHAT THE WORLD
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

This Is Not An Omelet: Belgians Try To Crack Surreal Translation Mystery

A road sign for a 'detour' gets lost in translation.

In a country with three official languages, French, Dutch and German, it's inevitable that some translations are going to get scrambled. But in Jette, a small town in Belgium, a recent road sign alerted drivers of an "Omeletje." Yes, that means "omelet" in Dutch, though it seems the translator simply jumbled the Dutch word for detour: "Omleiding."

As the Brussels Times quipped, several passers-by "questioned if the sign was really pointing people towards the well-known egg dish."

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus
Hugues Bersini*

The Case For Letting Algorithms Run The Vaccine Rollouts

Belgium's vaccination campaign is a prime example, computer scientist Hugues Bersini argues, of how technology can not only improve efficiency, but also, in some cases, make things more fair.

-OpEd-

Even the most technophobic of our fellow citizens could acknowledge the three essential virtues of algorithms:

First, there is no better way to manipulate numbers and optimize quantities.

Second, their time-saving advantage is undeniable (take, for example, Waze, Google, banking applications, etc.).

And third, they are rigid and difficult to hijack, making fraud much harder (planes are always hijacked with a Kalashnikov — not by writing lines of code).

Since the COVID crisis began, the countries that have made the best use of software devices for tracing contacts, organizing quarantines and testing are among those which register the lowest number of casualties — specifically the Far East countries, including the least liberticidal among them.

It's easy to understand why, considering the first two virtues listed just above. This crisis is full of numbers to be minimized (the reproduction rate, the number of serious cases and contacts) or to be maximized (social distance, the number of tests...) and a race against the virus and its variants is still underway. As the French President Emmanuel Macron said, virus is the master of time.

A good algorithm would allowed last doses to be given to the people who needed them the most.

I have already criticized the use that has been made of these software devices and the extraordinary flaws revealed, during the crisis, when public services exploited these same devices. There was the failure of the Bluetooth contact tracing app and the initial difficulties to organize the tests. Later, and despite the fact we've been in this crisis for a year, there were the unacceptable hiccups when people booked vaccination appointments, toward the start of the campaign.

We saw young people, in good health and teleworking, lifting their shirt sleeves to get the vaccine, instead of the at-risk elderly people who need it most. And what a peculiar idea Belgium had, unlike many European countries, to send vaccination invitations without first allowing people to state whether they wanted to be vaccinated or not ... The result? An unbearable number of unanswered invitations and, today, having to compensate with a flawed software called QVAX.

The reality, though, is that the vaccination campaign actually constitutes the perfect example of a crisis situation where algorithmic assistance is vital. For a successful rollout, it is necessary to make calculations by combining at least three different quantities: the available vaccine doses, which vary all the time; the cohorts of patients who need to be vaccinated; and the capacity of vaccination centers.

We need to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible while also preventing fraud and preferential treatments — something that is inevitable as long as people are in charge and that, in some countries, has brought down ministers and other influential figures.

In Belgium, some of these priority reversals were justified by the so-called last doses that need to be administered promptly. But this is not a good reason because, again, using a good algorithm would have allowed these last doses to be given to the people who needed them the most, while respecting the priority order, instead of favoring friends.

A perfect match

Computer scientists are familiar with the Gale-Shapley algorithms: They are used, for example, in organ transplants or in France's Parcoursup, an automated system for university enrollments, and what they're able to achieve is a perfect association between several essential elements — in this case, patients and vaccines, even though that latter is subject to shortages.

The algorithm, or at least the logic behind it, should be known to all.

These algorithms start by sequencing the first elements in relation to the second. This way, each patient can arrange his or her potential vaccines and vaccination centers in order of preference. At the same time, each available vaccine can do the same for the patients (with the centers able to sort out the patients by geographical proximity).

The algorithm achieves the perfect association, for example, matching the high-priority patients with the adequate vaccines and directing these patients to easily accessible locations. Also, any type of fraud becomes almost impossible with the algorithm, as your phone informs you, and no one else, about the and time and place of the vaccination appointment.

The algorithm, or at least the logic behind it, should be known to all; better still, it should be decided by all, in particular when it comes to the priority levels we grant patients.

Common sense has already made it possible to give priority to the elderly and/or people suffering from comorbidities. But when it is time to decide which job is more essential than another in the eyes of the virus, that's a whole different story!

We fear a rough and tumble kind of situation. This is where the citizens' assembly that President Macron wanted to create in France could have really made all the difference. Once these citizens reached an agreement, priorities would have been set in algorithmic stone, clearly and transparently. And nothing and no one could have made it diverge from that.

Finally, we shouldn't let privacy concerns stand in the way of this process: A lot was said about that in the newspapers, especially for people with comorbidities who suddenly became more than reluctant to expose their obesity or hypertension to the public. It is easy to see the absurdity of it when lives are at stake.

Watch Video Show less
Smarter Cities
Jean-Philippe Lens*

Smart Cities Won't Save The Planet: We Need Low-Tech Cities

The concept of smart cities is a kind of received wisdom among planners and technologists, but our digital world of today is not sustainable.

NAMUR — Last December, the morning after Saint-Nicholas Day, my daughter was impatiently waiting for the mailman, who was due to deliver the latest issue of her youth magazine. It immediately caught my attention as its front page featured a complete dossier on what our cities of the future will be like. Vertical, green but above all, connected. The word is out, our cities will be "smart cities."

This phenomenon is already booming here in Belgium. Every year since 2013, the Agoria organization bestows Smart City Awards to cities which invest in digital technology. Antwerp, Kortrijk, Ghent, but also Liège, Namur and Houffalize have all already received awards.

The idea behind this is to think about digital technology as vital to all the challenges posed by global warming, road congestion, air quality improvement or even biodiversity loss.

The result? A multitude of sensors, screens and wifi hotspots colonize cities, connecting everything that can be connected. All kinds of objects from swimming pool boilers to war memorial spotlights, road traffic flows or the level of glass shards in recycling bins, and even trees. The collected data is then transmitted, stored and processed, allowing optimal management of everything that makes up a city.

70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050

Full car park? The GPS will automatically redirect your autonomous car to the nearest free parking spot. A full recycling bin? The garbage truck will be notified immediately and will arrive to empty it. Tree in need of water? The sprinkler will instantly activate, delivering the correct dose of nutrients.

The concept of smart cities is now discussed in all urban planning seminars and conferences. The founding argument by advocates is that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. Yet such a vision is likely to have a colossal impact on the environment.

According to data storage company Quantum, a 100% autonomous car would emit 5 to 10 terabytes of raw data every day (1 terabyte = 1 million megabytes). But in one of its studies, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) estimates that sending an email of 1 MB generates 20 grams of CO2. With these proportions, it would mean that an autonomous car would produce 100 to 200 tonnes of CO2… every day. These figures may be just a rough approximation, but they show the enormous challenge presented by the environmental impact of big data in the future. In 2019, it was already estimated that the Internet, if it were a country, would be the world's third-largest emitter of CO2…

What if, instead, the urban population started to decline by 2050? — Photo: Jack Cohen

While the connected city can certainly provide answers to future challenges, the low-tech city — a concept that's still largely absent in urban planning debates — can offer a range of solutions and technical innovations that are just as effective and much less energy-intensive.

For instance, rather than building an underground network of pipelines and stormwater basins equipped with sensors to monitor the level of runoff water at all times and manage its flow, the low-tech city only needs an overhead network of infiltration basins and temporary immersions basins. Not only is this solution cheaper and less energy-intensive, but it also helps to develop biodiversity and reinfiltrate rainwater into the water tables.

While the connected city maintains road infrastructure and invests massively in cameras, sensors and digital panels to channel all traffic flow as efficiently as possible, the development of its low-tech counterpart relies on public spaces for public transport, bicycles and pedestrians.

Waste management can also be handled differently. While the smart city equips each bin with a connected chip which alerts the waste collector as soon as the filling level is reached, the low-tech city eliminates the door-to-door collection system by the generalization of bulk, deposit and compost.

The Internet, if it were a country, would be the world's third-largest emitter of CO2

However, the low-tech city concept doesn't work well with a high population density. Beyond human infrastructure, it also requires a large surface area dedicated to natural facilities which play a role in regulating our resources and waste. Over a certain number of inhabitants, the lack of space forces you to switch to the connected city model.

According to urbanist Carlo Ratti, this is inevitable — still because of the assumption that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. But the inevitability of this trend can be questioned.

Indeed, for the first time in a century, the number of farmers is increasing, both in Flanders and in Wallonia, Belgium's two regions. And this is not a circumstantial effect: this rise reflects the start of an economic and demographic redeployment of our rural areas, in response to a dominant agro-food policy and its low prices which, crisis after crisis, has shown all its limits. Urban planning may be born from the attractiveness of cities, but above all, it feeds on the lack of interest in the countryside that intensive agriculture helped to create.

What if, instead, the urban population started to decline by 2050? This hypothesis would open a whole range of possibilities to the low tech city — enough to question our desire to transform all our cities into smart cities.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
Anthony Bellanger

Press Freedom, Another 2020 Victim We Must Not Forget

In addition to coronavirus-related deaths, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recorded 42 murders of journalists and media workers since the beginning of 2020 in targeted attacks, bombings and shootings.

-OpEd-

BRUSSELS — Health care professionals and other essential workers have been on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic and its effects for the past 12 months. But so are media workers, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the right of individuals to receive and impart information. Journalists' work has been particularly vital in 2020 — a year when access to high-quality and reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic has literally saved lives.

Unfortunately, our profession has had to pay a dramatic human cost for these efforts. Since the start of the pandemic, journalists around the world have risked their lives to cover reality on the ground, without proper protective gear and safety training. Under these circumstances, several dozen got infected with the coronavirus while carrying out their professional duties, and died from it. We will never forget them.

Journalism may not be considered one of the most dangerous professions in the world, but the global figures of how many media workers were killed show otherwise.

In addition to coronavirus-related deaths, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has recorded 42 murders of journalists and media workers since the beginning of 2020, in targeted attacks, bombings and shootings. The COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating this already critical situation: not only does it threaten journalists' safety, it also jeopardizes the environments in which media professionals carry out their work as the number of fatalities rise.

But that's nothing new. The IFJ's "White Paper on Global Journalism," launched on December 10 on International Human Rights Day, has listed the names of journalists who were killed over the past 30 years — a staggering 2,658. This means that about two journalists or media workers are killed every week. This is the unacceptable reality of our profession.

These numbers don't indicate that the most targeted and vulnerable journalists are actually the ones who work on a local level. Contrary to what everyone might think, nearly 75% of journalists killed worldwide didn't die in crossfires or during dangerous missions in conflict zones. Rather, they die in targeted assassinations, killed by a gunman on the back of a motorcycle, shot or stabbed near their home or office, or found dead after being kidnapped and tortured. This is the case in Mexico, a country with no war but which holds the second highest number of killings of journalists (178) over the 1990-2020 period, after Iraq (340).

Governments have taken advantage of anti-coronavirus measures as a pretext to restrict press freedom.

Journalists not only risk their lives doing their jobs, they also risk their freedom. At least 235 of them are currently in prison in 34 countries on work-related cases based on false "anti-state" charges. Then again, the pandemic has worsened the situation: Governments have taken advantage of anti-coronavirus measures as a pretext to restrict press freedom, increasing the pressure on critical and independent journalism.

Assassinations of journalists and arbitrary arrests have had a dramatic impact on media freedom and the people's right to know. Killing or putting journalists behind bars sends a chilling message to colleagues who are planning to cover certain topics that the powerful would prefer to cover up. The consequence: self-censorship on a particular subject or region. This is detrimental to democracy in times of a pandemic, when the role of the media as a watchdog of government decisions and transparency is essential.

Violence and authoritarian governments have threatened press freedom in 2020, but the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has also had a huge impact on the media and their workers.

Journalists in Ukraine — Photo: Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/ZUMA

According to an IFJ survey, two-thirds of employed and freelance journalists were subjected to pay cuts, job or income losses. The media "toll" is high, particularly in local and community media, where the pandemic has virtually shut down the press. Without local media, thousands of regions around the world are at risk of turning into information deserts during one of the most difficult times in recent history.

This has certainly been one of the worst years for global journalism. But 2020 has also been the year when the profession and its labor unions have reaffirmed their role and importance: They demonstrated vigorously that they can succeed and protect the rights of media workers even in the most critical situations, and demanded that tech giants pay to use journalistic work, and stop evading taxes.

IFJ members around the world also had to take on tasks which were the responsibility of the authorities, such as providing training and safety equipment to media workers or providing legal assistance to protect them against employers' oppressive decisions.

Now is the time for democratic governments to take bold actions and support journalism, to ensure the safety of media workers and their right to work, and introduce a global tax on online platforms that still engage in tax evasion, in order to collect the necessary funds to save the media and protect the right to know.

Yes, 2020 is a turning point for press freedom: Let's fight together the consequences of the pandemic, or there's a real risk that we let press freedom perish, and our democracies with it.

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus

Pride, Shame And VIPs: Convincing The Public To Get Vaccinated

PARIS — A threshold has been crossed this week as the first vaccinations have been administered, in the UK and Russia, with announcements of others to follow in additional countries in the coming days and weeks.

It all sets the stage for the biggest vaccination campaign in world history. But even if the obvious logistical hurdles can be overcome, there may be an even trickier task: getting people to agree to be vaccinated.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
Jaume Mandeu

Flemish Fishers, Brexit And A 350-Year-Old Backup Plan

Authorities in Belgium say that regardless of how Brexit negotiations unfold, fishers from Bruges have 'royal privilege' to continue operating in British waters.

BRUSSELS — Charles II of England had a hectic life. He married the same woman twice, with two separate ceremonies; had no legitimate children but at least 12 with his lovers; and his father was beheaded. On top of all that, he spent nine years in exile before taking the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland after the death of Oliver Cromwell.

The Merry Monarch, as he was known, spent three of those exile years in the Flemish city of Bruges. And it was there, in 1666, that Charles II — grateful for the city's hospitality — granted it the Privilegie der Visscherie, the privilege of fishermen that gave 50 boats from that city eternal rights to fish in British waters.

Watch Video Show less
EXPLORE OTHER TOPICS