A local party for local people

It’s Local Election day in Belgium on Sunday and, in my part of the world, there’s a new kid on the block. One of the parties standing is determinedly local and claiming to eschew ideology in favour of pragmatic solutions to local issues.

They are not unique and I have subsequently become aware of several other parties standing in a single community. Obviously, I know little to nothing of other campaigns but here the new kids look quite appealing. The party is made up up a mix of business owners, liberals and others and their program does promise to be as pragmatic as they suggest.

The only things that put me off a bit is their newness and the fact that, as far as I can tell, only two people on the list have any actual experience of local government.

That and The League of Gentlemen.

On a related note, local elections in Belgium are well worth taking seriously because (compared to the UK), local councils have a remarkable amount of power. The country as a whole is very decentralised and when you look at the number of things for which the town council has direct responsibility, it becomes clear just this decentralisation has gone.

Pelty McPeltface

File this under inevitable, but still funny.

The neighbouring Belgian towns of Neerpelt and Overpelt are to merge and a new name is being sought for the merged municipality.

The final decision as to the new name is in November, at which point we will discover whether or not the local Limburgers will find themselves living in Pelty McPeltface.

Things you don’t miss until they’re gone

This is bad. The newspaper and website Flanders Today is due to shut down on 1st October.

Flanders Today is the product of a bid request issued by the Flemish government’s foreign affairs department. Media companies bid on the project, and the department uses a number of criteria to choose which company to award the contract to, including price, available resources and design.

After 10 years, the foreign affairs department has decided not to rebid the project. It said that the decision was based on an audit carried out earlier this year on available English-language products, which include the website Fans of Flanders, VRT’s English-language news site FlandersNews and Flanders Today.

The staff and management of the site have launched a website to support the paper and are working on proposals to continue the title in a limited form.

I hope they are successful. Flanders Today provides a unique overview of the region and I, for one, would certainly miss it.

Hiding the complexity

Flanders News reports that the new tax form has 885 different field boxes, “but most people can do it in 5 minutes”. This is one of those headlines for which I knew what the story would say before I clicked on it:

Those working with Tax-on-Web, will automatically see a tax form which has been almost fully completed by the computer. This virtual knowledge applies to as many as 320 different boxes.

In other words, when using the online tax return it’s largely a question of just checking that the pre-filled numbers are correct and then clicking send.

That said, to use the online version you need an electronic ID card. When we first moved to Belgium, we didn’t have one. The paper tax form is so complex that we had to ask the bank to help us complete it.

On the appeal of regional government

Last week I mentioned that the Belgian parliament has rejected advice from an independent integrity committee to ban the distribution of free beer and wine to MPs. Free booze was introduced in the late 1990 to discourage parliamentarians from sneaking off to the pub during debates.

This has become quite an issue over the past few days, with some saying that the free booze should be scrapped to improve the quality of debate while others (mainly MPs) have denied that there is any problem at all. However a compromise has now been reached and, while the federal parliament will continue to serve beer and wine, MPs will now be expected to pay for it.

Coffee remains free, as it should. For everyone.

However, as Politico notes:

It is unclear how much drinks will cost. Alcohol will remain free of charge in the regional parliament of Flanders, which had a similar policy, its speaker said last week.



corsendonk Politico reports that the Belgian beer culture was added on Wednesday to UNESCO’s cultural heritage list for being deep-rooted in the country with breweries, beer tasting associations, museums and events in every province of Belgium.

“It is the unparalleled diversity of the art of brewing and the intensity of the beer culture, as a part of our daily lives and at festivals in our country, that make this beer culture a part of the identity and the cultural heritage of the entire country,” a statement from the culture ministers from the French, German, and Dutch speaking communities of Belgium said.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called upon people to visit the country to taste the beers.

With 214 breweries (PDF) in the country, visitors may find it best to extend their stay.