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TOPIC: belgium

Economy

Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steel to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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After Dutch Apology For Slavery, Why Is Belgium Balking On Its Colonial History?

On the same day that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte officially apologized for the Netherlands’ involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in neighboring Belgium, a parliamentary committee was unable to garner enough political support to apologize for decades of brutal colonization in central Africa.

Belgium and the Netherlands share a border, a language and a bustling trade relationship in the heart of Europe — they also share an ugly colonial legacy.

Yet while the Netherlands offered a landmark official apology this week for its ugly past, politicians in Belgium couldn't agree to do the same with its own colonial atrocities.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte officially apologized on Monday for the Netherlands’ involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, saying the country needed to do more to atone for its past. The country will set up a €200 million fund dedicated to raising awareness of the country’s past, as well as “addressing the present-day effects of slavery,” the Dutch government announced.

But on the same day in neighboring Belgium, a parliamentary committee folded after more than two years of work when members of parliament couldn’t agree on whether the country should apologize for decades of brutal colonization in central Africa.

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End Of Roe v. Wade, The World Is Watching

As the Supreme Court decides to overturn the 1973 decision that guaranteed abortion rights, many fear an imminent threat to abortion rights in the U.S. But in other countries, the global fight for sexual and reproductive rights is going in different directions.

PARIS — Nearly 50 years after it ensured the right to abortion to Americans, the United States Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade case, meaning that millions of women in the U.S. may lose their constitutional right to abortion.

The groundbreaking decision is likely to set off a range of restrictions on abortion access in multiple states in the U.S., half of which are expected to implement new bans on the procedure. Thirteen have already passed "trigger laws" that will automatically make abortion illegal.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the ruling "a tragic error" and urged individual states to enact laws to allow the procedure.

In a country divided on such a polarizing topic, the decision is likely to cause major shifts in American law and undoubtedly spark outrage among the country’s pro-choice groups. Yet the impact of such a momentous shift, like others in the United States, is also likely to reverberate around the world — and perhaps, eventually, back again in the 50 States.

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"Catastrophic Destruction” In Ukraine, Japan Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Ban, HK Restaurant Sinks

👋 Avuxeni!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where “catastrophic destruction” is reported in eastern Ukraine, Japan upholds a same-sex marriage ban and an iconic Hong Kong restaurant is now feeding the fish. Meanwhile, an English Professor reflects in The Conversation on the linguistic implications of the Ukraine war and censorship on speech and silence.

[*Tsonga, South Africa and Mozambique]

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Economy
Neila Beyler

Friday's The New Saturday? Four-Day Work Week Tested Around Europe

As Britain begins the world's largest trial of the four-day work week, other European nations are experimenting with the idea too. Could a permanent three-day weekend be in reach for workers elsewhere?

PARIS - Since remote work has become part of normal life in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are now exploring other options to reduce the amount of time that employees spend in the office. One popular but controversial solution is the four-day work week. Europe is, not surprisingly, the first place to begin testing the feasibility of employees working one fewer day a week without sacrificing any of their pay.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Lorraine Olaya and Bertrand Hauger

Russia’s Deescalation Pledge Raises Int’l Eyebrows

👋 Dydh da!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Western leaders share their skepticism after Moscow promises to scale back its offensive in Ukraine, Israel is rocked by a third terror attack in eight days, and Pluto may host ice volcanoes (and a hidden ocean). Meanwhile, Persian-language media Kayhan-London looks at Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards and the role they may play in helping revive the country’s nuclear deal.

[*Cornish, UK]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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."

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