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This blog post was written by guest contributor Thomas Huddlestone, Research Director of Migration Policy Group.

The Brussels Region suffers from one of the largest democratic deficits in the European Union. EU citizens (222,819) and non-EU citizens with 5+ years’ residence (64,171) could be ONE THIRD of all Brussels voters in October’s local elections. That is enormous in Belgian local elections, where councilors can be elected with just a few hundred votes.

Lack of information is the major obstacle. Myths around elections persist and dissuade people from registering. Most non-Belgian citizens have not yet voted in Belgium because they did not receive the right information in time on why and how to vote. For example, did you know:

Voting is not exactly “obligatory” for non-Belgians. Although Belgian citizens must vote in every election, non-Belgian citizens who sign up must vote in that specific election. But then they can de-register as a voter any time up to 3 months before any election by sending a simple letter or email to your commune’s population service. Think of voting as an “opt-in/opt-out” system!

In practice, there are hardly any consequences if you are not able to vote. If you are abroad, sick or unable to vote for other reasons, simply complete a proxy form available on the website of your commune and give it to another voter who votes in your voting place. If you don’t vote or give a proxy, the judicial system “could” give a fine of 30-60 euros to ALL first-time non-voters, but NO ONE in Belgium has been fined since 2003.

No problems with your status or country of origin: The voter lists are local and secret and not shared with any external party. Voting in Belgian communal elections does not have any impact on any of your rights in your country of origin or on your status here in Belgium as any such impact would be contrary to Directive 94/80/EC.

Who can sign up to vote? All European Union citizens who are registered in their commune or have the special ID card. Citizens of other non-EU countries must have 5 years of residence in Belgium.

How to sign up as a voter? The procedure is extremely simple. The form is just one-page-long. No costs, no queues and no appointments are necessary! A photocopy of ID card is recommended but not required!

The deadline to sign up is 31 July 2018. Your confirmation will arrive by post. If you have already signed up for the previous communal elections in Belgium, you don’t need to re-register. But everyone should share this information and form with all of their friends to inform and inspire them to sign up to vote!

For more information, a collaborative campaign has been launched with support from the European Commission and Brussels Region:

“VoteBrussels” campaign, created by the Migration Policy Group AISBL and co-funded by the European Commission’s “Rights, Equality and Citizenship 2014-2020” program, as part of the FAIREU project led by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS)

 

As we head towards a ‘Brussels summer’ and our team are putting together the autumn events agenda, we’re looking forward to seeing all of you after the break. I just want to take a brief moment to say thank you to the team who have helped us put together the programme so far and will be leaving over the summer to either newer pastures or back to their studies. Robbert Dekker, Operations & Strategy Executive left at the end of June to be an independent CRM Consultant, James Pearson, Business & Trade Executive leaves us in mid-August as he moves to Montreal and we want to say thank you to them for all the hard work they have put into the chamber over the last few years and wish them lots of luck with their new challenges ahead!

Our work is supported by some truly wonderful interns who will all be finishing their terms with us over the summer.  Thanks to Dersim Rosa Karadag, Tom Pickup and Danny Owen who have continued developing the programme for the EU Committee and developing the communications/putting together our Members Directory/Annual Report. We wish them luck in their final year at university. Thanks to Clément Staner and Claudia Gherman on the Business Development side supporting James and developing the programme further over the last few months and also thanks to Trang Nguyen for making our financial systems make sense to rest of the team and keeping us in check!

We’ll have plenty of new faces joining us over the summer and we look forward to you all meeting them at the chamber offices in September.

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Have a great Summer!

Eva Paunova is a Bulgarian MEP in the EPP and is a member of the IMCO committee. We caught up with her a couple of weeks ago for another insight into the day to day lives of MEPs at the European Parliament.

No day is ever the same for a MEP: I cannot sleepwalk through even a minute of it, I’m constantly challenged, constantly alert. It’s the greatest privilege of my job and definitely one of the reasons why I love doing it. Allow me to elaborate…

24th of May 2016

The 24th of May is a special day in Bulgarian culture – it commemorates the brothers Cyril and Methodius, whom we credit with inventing and popularising the Cyrillic alphabet, thus effectively transforming the Bulgarian state and society into a modern, Christian one (well, as modern as a society could possibly be in 884 A.D.). More generally, it is a celebration of Bulgarian culture and literature, and the teachers, lecturers, authors and journalists who preserve and expand it. It is also, more importantly, my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary, so not waking up early enough to be the first one to congratulate them in their own time zone was out of the question.

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Morning

8.00 – On the rare days I don’t need to rush to the office, my day starts with a home-made smoothie and a quick browse through the early news. Not today – at 8am I had already skyped in to a Bulgarian morning show, where I talked about the importance of quality education and introduced ‘Education Bulgaria 2030’ – a project I founded with a number of local and international stakeholders to tackle low educational achievement and increase opportunities for young people.

8.30 – An all too brief meeting with representatives of the 25 most promising Bulgarian start-ups, on a visit to the Parliament at my invitation. What a lovely, energising way to start the day – 25 bright and ambitious leaders, eager to see a more innovative and connected digital Europe.

9.‎00 – Fresh orange juice on the go (I know, I like to live on the edge!) and time for committee work – attended a discussion on some of the current files and voted on a report on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites by the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee.

11.00 – Possibly the highlight of my day! After having spent most of last year speaking about technology at over a hundred events all over Europe, my team and I finally managed to put together a high-level conference on‎ #Regulation4Innovation‎, the common European response to our changing digital landscape. In a two hour debate, moderated by Alex Barker, Brussels FT Bureau Chief, together with Commissioners Moedas and Vestager, the UK Minister for Europe David Lidington, and senior representatives of leading global companies (including Amazon, IBM, Spotify, Uber and CGSH), we ironed out our vision for a 21st century Europe – both business- and consumer-friendly, unencumbered by unnecessary regulation but still true to its values.

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Midday

Out of the conference and immediately into a series of short interviews with media outlets from around the continent, outlining the progress we’ve made. No time for lunch today, but still high on the buzz of seeing people come together to shape the future of the Union. I only really have light lunches anyway – a salad while going through e-mails at my desk or attending a lunch debate with colleagues – unless it happens to be a nice day (a regrettably rare occurrence), when my team and I get the chance to luxuriate in the sun, de-briefing on Place Lux.

14.00 – Arrived at Makerstown, where I opened a panel on Female Entrepreneurship. Shared my experience of running an office as a start-up and the importance of having a female role model. I also had a chance to walk around the Makers’ stands chaperoned by a drone and had the honour of shaking a 3D-printed robot’s hand (a bit clammy!). In the Parliament I work for better access to capital and support for entrepreneurs and innovators, so it is important for me to meet the Makers and have their input on how to make the process simpler, more helpful and effective.

15.00 – I literally had to run ‎back to the Parliament to not miss my speaking slot on the report on Contracts for Supply of Digital Content at the IMCO Committee. It is an important legislative dossier part of the Digital Single Market package, which I have been working on for a while.

17.00 – Took part in the SME Europe board meeting, planning our upcoming initiatives related to Industry 4.0 and the Investment Plan for Europe.

 

Evening

 

18.00 – Six month ago I was invited by Commissioner Thyssen to support the Pact for Youth initiative, a joint agreement by businesses and EU leaders to develop or consolidate partnerships in support of youth employability and inclusion. Today stakeholders from all sectors gathered to measure progress. The initiative is already operational all across Europe and aims to create over 100 000 opportunities for young people by 2020‎ – including quality internships, traineeships and entry-level jobs in a variety of fields.

 

20.00 – We continued the discussion over dinner with the Commissioner and 20 CEOs of multinational businesses and organisations, agreeing on the need for a skilled and well-trained workforce, as well as for a modern educational infrastructure attuned to the demands of the labour market. Currently there are 70 million Europeans who lack basic reading and writing skills; digital skills are yet to cross the 50% threshold and that’s hurting European competitiveness on the world stage. Initiatives such as Pact for Youth and Education Bulgaria 2030 are vital if we want to remain at the forefront of the digital revolution and the business opportunities it does and will continue to provide.

 

22.00 – En route home, going through emails and updating my Twitter and Facebook pages, so that I can dedicate the evening to spending some precious time with my fiancé (he doesn’t get to see much of me these days, but gets to enjoy my full attention when I’m there). When I don’t have an evening engagement we always try to go to the gym or go swimming together, or eat out at one of the few top culinary spots Brussels has to offer.

Our Tax, Finance & Legal Task Force is in search of a new chair. The task force consists of experts from member companies – in the fields of tax, finance, and legal matters – and aims to help chamber members understand the practical issues of doing business in Belgium, including new regulatory developments.

As our President Thomas Spiller highlighted a few weeks ago, the benefits of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation are multiple and potentially highly impactful; not only will it increase visibility for your company, it will also raise your personal profile and extend your network even further. As the chair of the Tax, Finance & Legal Task Force, which plans 8-10 seminars per year, you have a substantial direct influence when it comes to shaping the chamber’s programme of business events. Furthermore, you will have a seat on the chamber’s Business Development Committee where the high-level planning of 40-50 chamber events takes place annually.

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Under the steady stewardship of incumbent chair Marc Quaghebeur (De Broeck Van Laere & Partners), the task force has consistently delivered high-quality seminars on a variety of practical aspects of doing business in Belgium. Recent seminar topics have included ‘Antitrust law for trade associations’, ‘International mobility’, ‘Commercial real estate’, ‘Pensions for the self-employed, ‘Data protection law’, ‘Belgian tax shift and international exchange of information’, ‘Managing a flexible workforce’, and ‘Brexit: what would it mean for my business?’ Furthermore, the task force launched the Expat Financial Affairs exhibition, now in its fourth annual edition, as a new flagship event for the British Chamber.

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The task force consists of experts from member companies in the fields of tax, finance, and legal matters – current members represented include: De Boeck Van Laere & Partners, The Fry Group Belgium, BDO, ING, White & Case, Eryv, PwC, BNP Paribas Fortis, Santa Fe Relocation Services, and Claeys & Engels.

Applications will close on 24 June, so if you think this role might be the next leadership step for you, please do get in touch with me at glenn@britishchamber.be for an informal conversation about the chair role and the selection process.

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Last Week, the chamber hosted its conference on the Digital Single Market conference. Moderated by Chair of the EU Committee, James Stevens, the conference saw keynote speeches from Commissioner Günther Oettinger: Juhan Lepassaar, Head of Cabinet to Andrus Ansip and Robert Madelin, EPSC as well as featuring representatives from Business and Industry, trade bodies and Members of the European Parliament.

4 Takeaways from Commissioner Oettinger’s speech

Europe is still lagging behind…

Europe has the skills and can boast plenty of success stories in the tech sector but we are still far behind. The creative platforms we have around us – apps, social media, new services: Not enough of these are coming from Europe. This is something we need to reverse.

Digital Single Market now

For decades we have been developing a common European market covering a broad spectrum of sectors, giving a clear advantage to our industries in the context of the biggest market in world. There is no argument whatsoever against enlarging the benefits of the common market to the digital sector. Such benefits are expected to be much bigger if one looks to the markets of Europe’s associated partners such as Ukraine or Turkey. Fixing the regulatory fragmentation is the key issue: we do not need 28 national silos. In this respect, the general data protection regulation adopted a few months ago is the example to be followed.

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A gigabyte society

The Digital Single Market cannot become a reality without adequate infrastructures. Europe must aim for a gigabyte society if it wants to avoid failure. In order to make the most of booming sectors such as the development of the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine, or e–health, Europe cannot keep leveraging on 30 Mbps or 100 Mbps forever. It should start thinking of networks capable of reaching speeds of 500mbps or higher.

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Digital Divide(s)

Europe is still grappling with two types of digital divide. The first concerns the connectivity gap between rural and metropolitan areas, which in turn requires more comprehensive investment strategies in digital infrastructures. The second lies between European citizens with digital skills and those who lack technological education. Member states should give more priority to the digital education of their citizens: the European Commission will step up its efforts to help them set up related policies on digital skills.

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DSM: Bridging the Gap -Media Partner

You can catch the rest of the highlights on our Twitter feed

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The British Chamber is this year proud to be supporting 4 different charitable organisations in Belgium this year through our affiliation with the Brussels British Community Association. In February, we introduced you to CHS and this time Chairman David Humphreys introduces the British Charitable Fund.

The British Charitable Fund (BCF) was founded in 1815 on the initiative of the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo. Its goal then was to help wounded British soldiers, and their dependents, who stayed on in Belgium after the battle.

Over 200 years later, the BCF continues to work to help any needy person with a British connection who is resident in Belgium. There are few rules on who can benefit from our help, but in practice applicants must be British nationals or their dependents, and must have exhausted the normal means of support from family and state agencies.

Enquiries for help come in from young and old, long term residents or short term visitors – rich and poor alike! Even today, despite the best efforts of many agencies, there are gaps in the provision of social help that can uniquely affect foreigners in Belgium. The variety of problems encountered by the BCF is vast, but typically can range from loneliness, ill health and/or financial issues. All of these problems can be exacerbated by language difficulties and the absence of close family.

We are non-denominational and non-judgmental, and of course all enquiries are treated with the utmost confidentiality.

The BCF remains the only tax-registered charity providing for the needs of the British community in Belgium. We are staffed purely by volunteers and have minimal running costs. We receive no financial support from government agencies and rely purely on donations. All donations over 40 euros are tax-deductible in Belgium.

We are currently helping a number of beneficiaries, including victims of recent events, but feel there may be many more people in Belgium living in difficult circumstances whom we may also be able to help.

If you know of someone who needs help, or if you would like to make a donation, we can be contacted by telephone 02 767 47 26, by email bcf.info@telenet.be, or via our web-site http://www.bcfund.be

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Two of our organising committees are currently in search of new chairs this summer. We’re looking for two professionals to lead our Business Development Group and our young professional’s network, Brussels New Generation. We took some time over Easter to talk to President of the British Chamber, Thomas Spiller about the importance of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation.

This summer is going to bring with it two very exciting opportunities for two professionals in our network here at the chamber. With that in mind, I wanted to emphasise the importance of sitting in a leadership role outside of your organisation; it can be a real boost for your personal development whilst bringing real benefits to your employers.

First of all, you’re instantly going to raise your own personal profile: it’ll be your name at the top of the list. And if your name is there, you’re also creating visibility for your company. For example, if you’re chairing a committee at the chamber, you’ll get visibility for yourself and your organisation through our various media. You’re also going to be at the speakers table for the events that you’re committee have organised which brings me to my next point: your ability to expand your network through a trusted platform.

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The British Chamber attracts the key, high level stakeholders and decision-makers in both politics and business all year round. As chair of either BDG or BNG, you’ll be hosting these individuals at our events. This is also where you’re employers can really benefit too as you’ll be in prime position to ask the questions and gain real insights that you can take away and better prepare your organisation for whatever challenges the future will bring.

Where and who these insights come from? You can lead on that. You’ll be in the driving seat to shape the agenda and put together the programme with your committee. The new BNG chair will already be inheriting an exciting programme in 2016 as we look ahead to the Strasbourg Visit. You’ll be chairing panels including MEP’s, political advisers and senior press officers. If you’re elected chair of the Business Development Group, you’ll be chairing a fast growing committee! BDG hosted 40 events in 2015 compared to 12 the year before and have the next London Visit to look forward to which last year featured Ken Clarke MP and Lord Mandelson as speakers. The committee will also be overseeing our ‘Ambassador Hosts’ series with the great support of British Ambassador to Belgium, HE Alison Rose.

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Don’t forget that these sorts of opportunities allow you to demonstrate your leadership potential outside of your day to day role. Show your employers that you aspire to leadership and are actively trying to push yourself and find that experience yourself. Make sure you grab your opportunity and apply for a leadership role at the chamber role today!

You can read a bit about what the current chairs had to say about how they’ve benefited from their roles below:

Chairing the Business Development Group has not only offered me a unique opportunity to contribute to the continued growth of the British Chamber; the role has also provided me with extended visibility for my business as well as on an individual level. The role offers great exposure in relation to fellow chamber members and other key stakeholders in the British, Belgian and European business communities. It’s been an honour and pleasure to chair chamber activities with such interesting and diverse speakers as Lord Mandelson, Jerry Hardcastle OBE, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, and many other senior business leaders, political figures, entrepreneurs, and opinion leaders.

– Olivier Van Horenbeeck, Chair of the Business Development Group 2014-2016

Chairing the BNG has been incredibly helpful for me both from a personal and professional perspective. It has enabled me to significantly expand my network of contacts and brought me great visibility as an individual consultant but also for my company, particularly vis-à-vis senior people in Brussels. It is also the best possible training in public speaking, which for a young professional is a very useful skill to develop. Finally, I really enjoyed working alongside a great team both within the British chamber and the BNG group. It is a great role and a significant part of the Chamber’s activities towards younger audiences in Brussels.

– Amélie Coulet, Chair of Brussels New Generation 2016-2016

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