Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The sandwich protest

One of the favourite pastimes of interns in Brussels is to go ‘pluxing' on Thursday nights – outdoor drinking at Place du Luxembourg.

As they sip (or gulp) their two-for-one happy hour beers, these young, wide-eyed new arrivals to Brussels can often be heard discussing the drudgery and disillusionment of the unpaid positions they've taken on since arriving. They speak of long hours, little or no pay, and highly questionable educational value. It's no wonder they want to let off some steam come Thursday evening.

Given their fondness for the square, it's perhaps little surprise that the interns have chosen Place du Luxembourg for the location of a walk-out protest on Wednesday (17 July), demonstrating against unfair internship conditions in Brussels.

The protest, which will take place between 11h and 13h, has been dubbed the ‘Sandwich Protest'. The idea is that Brussels interns are living such a hand-to-mouth existence that the only way they can feed themselves is by scouring for free sandwiches at conferences and other events. “When did you last have something else other than a sandwich for lunch?” the organisers ask on their Facebook page.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Brussels' complicated expats

Tensions have been higher than usual in recent months between the Belgian and expat communities here in Brussels, after a series of articles by foreign journalists based here were seen as disparaging the city.

In May, a two-page spread by the Brussels correspondent for the French newspaper Libération, which called the Belgian capital 'ugly, dirty and dysfunctional', kicked off the storm. Since then, the Belgian press has seemed singularly obsessed with the outsiders' impressions. Much of the Belgian media's coverage has expressed outrage that the expat community, who have come to Brussels to work in and around the EU institutions, are so often complaining about their host city.

It was in this context that today the ‘Brussels-Europe Liaison Office' - a body which was set up by the city government to improve relations between expats and the natives - finally released the long-awaited results of its expat survey. The survey, which was conducted in May of last year with about 10,000 respondents, was meant to have results published last September. The year-long delay had sparked speculation that the results were being suppressed because the responses from expats were just too rude. Given that the liaison office has the job of improving relations, it would have been rather embarrassing to publish a survey where the expat population vented their dissatisfaction.