“There Are No Belgians Here” – A Brussels Story

, by Radu Dumitrescu

“There Are No Belgians Here” – A Brussels Story

If you’re studying political science, European or international affairs, communication or even European law, and you’re not too keen on becoming a politician yourself, chances are you have considered a career in Brussels – the “European bubble.”

Being no exception, I too was fascinated by the glamorous institutions circling Rue de la Loi or facing Place du Luxembourg. The flags, the titles, the big-lettered forefronts and the army of men and women in suits that administered, reformed and oversaw the continent intimidated me greatly. But I also wanted to see it up close.

As such, you can imagine my joy and excitement when it was announced that I had won the first edition of EUinMyRegion’s contest for bloggers, and had received as a prize 3 weeks of training in the heart of Europe.

Before reaching the city, however, I had to overcome a rather small – but persistent – problem, namely my dislike of flying. Tarom, the Romanian national carrier, transported me from Timisoara to Bucharest, from Bucharest to Strasbourg (where it dropped off several of Romania’s MEPs, who then went on to argue with one another in the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) with regard to the government’s repeated breaches of the independence of justice) and finally from Strasbourg to Brussels.

I stepped off the plane sporting a rather greenish skin color and went on to my next Herculean labor – pushing, dragging and forcing my sizable luggage around the Zaventem Airport, onto the train, then a bus, and finally on the streets, until I reached my new home for 3 weeks.

Patiently guided by the project coordinator, Anna, my 60-kg managed to pull all the 20-kg worth of clothing to a flat in Avenue Louise, located in a central and rather fancy part of in Brussels. From up on the 9th floor, my new home overlooked the Abby Park and revealed the skyline of the city, and it was also 40 minutes away from the center by foot, or 20 minutes by tram (the trusty tram no. 93).

The first week passed within a breath’s time, as I observed the workings of a company specialised in communication and which catered to both the private and the public sector of Brussels. Every morning I would go to work like any other inhabitant of Brussels, and that alone was a reason for pride. In the evening I would visit the city center and indulge in my love for waffles. The second week proved livelier, as I, armed with a genuine journalist accreditation, got to attend the European Week of Regions and Cities.

At the same time, I got to know my flatmates, the other two winners of the competition – the cheerful and active Mari and my fellow political science major and friend, Amaury. Similarly, the third week passed in a second, as we patrolled the Parliament and Place du Luxembourg, eating, listening and learning side by side with interns and journalists. We became familiar with EurActiv, that trustworthy source of information in the bubble, and the people behind it. Brussels had become our turf, and we got to know it well.

Surrounded by journalists, typing away time-sensitive articles on their laptops, and officials of the Commission, I was dazzled by the world of the “European bubble.” Portuguese, Germans, French, Spanish, Polish, Romanians and so many others went before me, talking about agriculture policies and measures against pollution, ways in which to allocate development funds and the local needs of various regions across the continent. Together they were connected in interest and exuded competence. They seemed like a new nation, brought together by needs of the Union, with their own dress code, language, and habits of the mind, now disconnected from their places of origin.

Similarly, when I would wait in line at a store or enjoy a meal at a restaurant, six or seven languages would spark up around me, only to be then replaced and complemented by a perfect English or French. The young people I met and made friends with, just like the older officials and journalists, came from all over Europe and refreshed and re-vitalised the bubble once more. This was a nation of immigrants, but it was a fresh and daring one, competent and aware of its task – governing the European Union.

And eventually, I realised – I had spent three weeks in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, but hardly met a Belgian. The bubble was populated by so many nationalities that it was hard to find a local. There are no Belgians here, I thought. But there are a lot of Europeans.

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