Code Yellow

It snowed in Belgium this morning. Apparently.

According to the news reports, West Flanders has been coated in a light carpet of snow and the cold front is heading inland. This being Belgium, the Met office has issues a Code Yellow weather alert, indicating dangerous driving conditions.

There was no snow when I climbed into the car this morning and, even though I got up a little earlier than usual, just in case, the driving conditions to the station were better than they were on Friday.

In Brussels, we’ve seen a couple of flurries, nothing is settling.

According to Wttr, however, we’re in for a blizzard this afternoon. I will believe this when I see it.

That said, I like Wttr. It is the simplest weather site I have seen and it gives me a cruft-free overview of the weather forecast for today and tomorrow. When I check the weather, all I really want to know is whether I should wear a coat and Wttr gives me that information quickly and simply.

The site also appeals to the nerd in me in that I can also display it in a terminal. Simply typing curl will give me the forecast without my having to open a browser.

Looking out of the window again, some of the snow is starting to settle, but there isn’t much of it.

Kruidtuin van Brussel

From where I work it is a five minute walk to Brussel Centraal station, I am trying to incorporate a little more activity into my life. So instead of spending half an hour loitering by the warm baked goods (Mmmm… waffles), I take the 25 minute walk to Brussel Noord instead.

My route includes a walk through the Botanical Garden (Kruidtuin in Dutch, or Jardin Botanique in French).

The Botanical Garden is now an urban park sandwiched by the roads of Brussels’ northern quarter. Thanks to its previous life as a working botanical garden it has kept a mixture of styles (French, Italian and English) and a large variety of trees and plants.

The original garden building is now a cultural centre, which I have not had the time or inclination to investigate. But I do like the statues.




Students March for the Climate

A student march for the climate just went past about 20 minutes ago. The march was peaceful, if noisy — there was a lot of cheering going on — and, according to VRT, they are planning to repeat this every Thursday until they get an adequate response.

Two things struck me. Firstly, pretty much all of the placards were in English. I don’t know if this is a reflection of Belgian  multilingualism or if  the students are looking for international attention. But it’s interesting to note.

Secondly, the student who walked past in a pair of shorts — in January — made his point very effectively indeed.


Built for Belgian Roads

When we first moved to Belgium, Eve and I derived a fair bit of amusement from the fact that you could always tell when you crossed the Dutch-Belgian border from the road noise.

Dutch roads, in general, are well built, well maintained and very quiet to drive on. Belgian roads… aren’t.

It appears that some marketing hack at Mitsubishi has made the same observation.


Democracy in action

The Belgian local elections back in October saw the mainstream parties losing out to the margins — the Greens and the far-right Vlaams Belang being the big winners. Most of the coalition agreements are now in place and new mayors are taking their places in councils up and down the country.

Not everything is settled, though, and we are still seeing the fall-out from the far right’s revival, most notably in the east Flemish town of Ninove, where Forza Ninove (the local iteration of Vlaams Belang) won most of the seats. Most of the seats is not a majority and none of the other three groups were willing for enter a coalition with the extremists.

The N-VA’s two councillors chose to sit this one out creating a stalemate in which neither the far-right nor the proposed Liberal-Socialist coalition was able to command an overall majority. This stalemate was broken last week when one of the N-VA councillors split with his own party to support the liberal-left coalition. This means that Ninove now has a new municipal council, and the far right have been excluded from the cabinet.

All good stuff, but on Thursday various far-right groups got together to have a march and a whine.

When I saw this, I first thought of the Paradox of Tolerance, which was defined by Karl Popper and can be summarised as:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

But I don’t think that this really applies in this case because the so-called March for democracy is inherently disingenuous.

It is quite reasonable for a political party to decide, on the basis of very divergent values, that no deal with another party is even worth considering. Moreover, Belgian politics has a long established principle of the Cordon Sanitaire in which mainstream agree to not deal with the far right — this was an explicit agreement in the case of the now defunct Vlaams Blok and remains as an understanding when dealing with Vlaams Belang.

No-one prevented Forza Ninove from putting up candidates and campaigning in the local elections. No-one was prevented from voting for Forza Ninove.

If no-one wants to deal with your party, this is not an attack on democracy but a reflection of the obnoxiousness of your politics.


Having collapsed the Belgian government by walking out of the coalition over a non-issue, the super-geniuses of the N-VA have just realised that this means some of the legislation they wanted implemented is also cancelled.

So now they are planning to propose much of the legislation that was in the coalition agreement but is probably now no longer going to happen.

The N-VA has 31 out of 150 seats in the Belgian parliament and, with the end of the coalition, there is no reason for their former partners to help them out here.

So they are going to have to convince the Socialists, the Greens and others to vote for a reduction in unemployment benefit.

Yeah, good luck with that.

PM resigns

The Belgian Government continues to wobble. Having refused to propose a confidence motion for his minority government, Prime Minister Charles Michel is now struggling to pass a budget. The N-VA were in favour of the budget when they were in government, but now that they have quit, they’ve decided that they don’t like it any more.

As the Prime Minister had anticipated that the budget probably won’t be approved by a majority of MPs, he proposes working with so-called “provisional twelfths”, a system that would see the federal government having one twelfth of this year’s budget being put at its disposal every month between now and the elections next May. However, this would mean that between now and then the government would have to seek parliament’s approval every month for the “provisional twelfths”. The Prime Minister called on MP to “act responsibly”.

The alternative is an early election, which no-one wants, not only because it would mean the political parties would be trying to form a coalition while campaigning against each other in the EU elections, but also because whichever party brings down the government is likely to be punished at the polls for dragging voters out yet again.

But with the Socialist and Green parties threatening a vote of no confidence, Michel has called their bluff by resigning.

The king is not obliged to accept the resignation and is now talking with other political leaders before deciding what to do next.

King Filip could ask Michel to remain as leader of a caretaker administration, which would be able to execute decisions already made by Parliament, but would not be able launch any new initiatives. If Michel refuses, the king could either nominate someone else or instruct the government to call an early election.

If a caretaker administration is proposed, Parliament could still table a vote of no confidence, dissolve itself and trigger new elections. But they probably won’t.

Either way, nothing much is likely to happen before the new year but it looks like Charles Michel’s unlikely administration has finally run out of road.

Finger Lickin’ Good?

Back when I was young, I used to really enjoy Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have not, however, been able to indulge myself since moving to Belgium, not least because there are no KFC outlets in the country.

This is about to change when the fast food chain opens its first outlet somewhere in Brussels sometime next May.

Although KFC is refusing to disclose the exact location of its first Belgian outlet. The Brussels regional news platform Bruzz says that it has it on good authority that the restaurant will be located at Brussels North Railway Station.

I walk to Brussels North station every weekday. Maybe I should just give up on trying to keep my weight under control.

Belgian Standoff

I mentioned the state of the Belgian government last week — specifically, the fact that the largest party in the government coalition has walked out leaving us with a minority government. The Greens and Socialists have called for a confidence vote, arguing that without the N-VA, this is a new administration. The government has resisted this, arguing that the new administration is exactly the same as the old one, just a bit smaller.

With the next federal elections due in May (at the same time as the European Parliament elections), no-one wants to be responsible for bringing down the government and dragging the electorate to the polls yet again. So we have something of a standoff.

Today, the socialists twitched, saying that they would launch a no-confidence motion if the Prime Minister fails to seek the confidence of the Belgian parliament.

The government has said no.

We will see tomorrow if Belgium still has a government.