Broken Car Window - CC / Flickr
Broken Car Window - CC / Flickr

A mother of three has been shot in Uccle and EUObserver is jumping up and down reporting on the crime rates in various Brussels communes. You can just hear the typical EU expat having a whinge at Place Lux complaining about things, about how unsafe Brussels streets are… and then doing absolutely f**k all about it.

For let’s get this clear: there is a nagging amount of crime in Brussels – shootings like the one in the article are very rare, but cars being broken into and muggings are all too common. I can’t work out how to compare the Brussels and London stats however.

But what should happen? Officials from the European Parliament speaking to the local police about the issue (as reported in the article) is going to solve absolutely nothing. The area around the institutions is a dead wasteland in the evenings and on weekends and some areas – especially on rue Joseph II and close to the European Parliament off rue Wiertz – are very poorly lit. Dealing with muggings and car theft is in part to do with the police, and the je m’en foutisme of the Belgian public services undoubtedly does not help, but it’s also to do with lighting, the atmosphere on the streets, social inclusion… even something as simple as clear and wide pavements can help.

There are other problems in Belgium of a similar nature – homelessness for example – that the Belgian state just cannot solve, because they require a level of social engagement, and all parts of the public service to work together, that the Belgian state just cannot accomplish. But the EU institutions dominate a whole quarter of Brussels, and most of the people working in those institutions should be capable of political thinking, organising and planning and – essentially – taking some of the matters into the institutions hands to do something about the area around the institutions and the feeling of a lack of security on the streets.

But of course having a whinge is a lot easier…

(Oh and while we’re at it: you’re much more likely to die on the roads of Brussels by being run over by a kamikaze driver not respecting the rules than you are to be shot dead. But of course expats driving around in their large Mercedes don’t think that way.)

[UPDATE – 12.4.09]
A jeweller has been shot dead on Chaussée de Wavre, about 1km from the European Parliament. It’s a multi-cultural area though, so probably EU types will freak out less about this one. Story in Dutch here.


  1. One more

    I was just beaten up by two drug dealers only 20 meters from the jewellery in Chausseé de Wavre where the murder happened some time ago. I was attacked for no reason–the guys didn’t even bother to steal my wallet. The policemen with whom I spoke suggested that I do not file a complaint. They said that the drug dealers who did it might retaliate against me, and in any event, even if I were able to identify them, the police could not arrest them or do anything about it (“they will be back in the street the next day”). They expressed their frustration with this situation and said the Belgian judiciary system would not allow them to do anything against those guys, even though incidents become more and more frequent.

    @Anne (“it is quite funny to have EU fonctionnaires complaining about the non efficiency of the Belgian State, when they are not paying taxes here”): this is about the most obnoxious thing you could possibly say to people who have become victim of a crime.

    First, EU officials like me cannot chose their place of work (most officials I know would happily move to London or Barcelona did they have any choice to do their jobs elsewhere). Second, the fact that the institutions are in Brussels means in incredible influx of money for Brussels (mostly financed by taxes from the other 26 Member States). If the institutions were to move away, public finances and economic power in Brussels would massively deteriorate in an instant. Third, the whole attitude behind your comment is politically disgusting. According to your logic, whoever is unemployed would have no right to protection from physical violence anymore because “they are not paying taxes here”.

  2. @Still in Shock – this is a horrible story but I’m afraid that it doesn’t shock me now… My experience of dealing with the Brussels police has been rather similar, although I’ve not been a victim myself. I suppose it’s “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

  3. Still in shock

    Just 2 days ago in Brussels, while sitting in the passenger seat of a car, someone smashed my window and grabbed my purse which was on my lap. By the time I realised what had happened, he was 50 meters away, running down the sidewalk. This, in broad daylight, right in front of a streetcar stop. There were at least 15 people standing there who witnessed the crime. When the police arrived, they didn’t even bother asking if anyone had seen what had happened….if anyone could describe the thief. Nothing. They just told me that this thing happens here, that one has to be careful.

  4. another realist

    here the title story from Financial Times Deutschland today:

    I want to believe that the interview in “Die Welt” is just a bad joke.

  5. Elated

    Short summary…

    “No there is no problem. The Flemish invented it”
    –> funny this. Just yesterday the MR (and that’s as francophone as they get in Brussels) basically called for bootcamps to lock up troubled youth. Factually untrue perhaps, but did manage to insult the Flemish, … SCORE

    “For this non-existing problem we need lots of money”
    A bit of of a flagrant contradiction with the immediately preceding … SCORE
    (btw the Belgian federal court of auditors requested the Brussels communes and region two years ago to clean up the spagetti of intransparant money flows… still no follow-up on that one. Meanwhile Belgium most have the highest ratio of policemen/tax-payers… with a wollop extra of them in one tof the 6 Brussels zones)

    “Expats drive up rents and restaurant prices”.
    Insulted some other people… SCORE
    (btw the Brussels region is kept afloat financially by death/estate taxes… no problem taking the money there)

    Way to shoot yourself in the foot.

    “Aber gleichzeitig werden die Mieten teurer, die Restaurants. ….. Sie alle nutzen unsere Infrastruktur, unsere Straßen, sie wollen keine Staus und eine funktionierende Polizei. Aber sie zahlen niemals zurück, was sie uns kosten. Das ist unfair.”

  6. @realist – I agree it’s an incredible reaction. First he denies there’s any issue, and then blames everyone possible for the problem… But on the EU side there’s also little engagement. Problem is this episode seems to show both sides moving further and further apart. I’ll try to blog more about it when I find a moment.

  7. realist

    I still cannot believe that the mayor of Brussels said those things…
    The high rates of criminality is a problem for everybody, not just for the officials of the EU. Afterall the woman shot last week was Belgian and not an official, or am I wrong?
    Officials do not pay direct taxes to the Belgian state, but what about the indirect? Just think about the taxes on real estate, cars or the VAT…
    And if officials cannot complain of the Belgian state because there were “not” paying taxes here, to whom should they complain? To their home countiries? And what about the Belgian officials of the EU who do not pay taxes to Belgium, to whom should they complain?

  8. The German newspaper “Die Welt” just published an interview with mayor Freddy Thielemans. He says, for example, that he talked to EP president Jerzy Buzek and made suggestions regarding the question of security, but did not get an answer. In the interview Thielemans also mentions that the reproaches about how the police in Brussels does not work properly come primarily from Flanders. And he suggests that the security expenses should also be covered by the EU, not by Brussels and Belgium alone …

  9. I agree with you Brussels is not much more unsafe as London or other big capitals but expats consider themselves such as “priority people” when they are like others. And you get more chances in any capital of the world to be steal if you don’t speak the language country, because you look like a tourist even tough you are living for years in that city.
    On the other hand, the police here doesn’t do anything! That’s in my opinion the main problem

  10. I think we should also really underline the fact that it is quite funny to have EU fonctionnaires complaining about the non efficiency of the Belgian State, when they are not paying taxes here. You cannot impose things on a State when you are not contributing to its revenues and spendings.

  11. I know it definitely falls into the category of ‘petty crime’ but my Brompton bicycle was stolen yesterday, on Avenue de la Toison d’Or. Broad daylight, only left for an hour. Kryptonite D lock smashed, I suspect with a car or van jack. Apparently if I were to go to the Sunday market at Gare Du Midi, I’d have a good chance of being able to buy it back. Have been riding a bike in London for 20 years and never had a bike stolen (though I did have a front wheel nicked once).

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