The streets of Brussels are dirty, really dirty


“Expats who work for EU institutions in Brussels have few Belgian friends, think the city is “dirty” and plan to go home when their job ends.” This is what an article on the EUObserver (by Andrew Rettman) says .This is one of the most recurring comments by expats living in Brussels. “This city is dirty.” Although, when I bring this up to locals, most times I get the response “c’mon, it’s not that bad.”

Even though I have tried to keep an open mind on this, the evidence that the Belgian capital is a very dirty city is there, and it is on social media. Just check the hashtag #Bruxellespasbelle (credits to @quatremer )to see a collection of pictures illustrating the very poor waste management system of the city and other generic comments about some of the ugliest corners of Brussels.

I don’t think Brussels is an ugly city. Quite the opposite. But the way garbage collection is managed simply has no logic, it is inefficient and horrible. In Madrid, they recently had to face a massive strike by collectors. In Naples, the waste management issue is linked with several criminal organizations operating in eco-crime. But what justifies the disastrous way garbage collection is carried out in the capital of the EU?

To facilitate my advocacy, I created  a Tumblr called “Brussels Dump” through which I plan to collect tweets, posts, pictures and videos showing how waste management in this city is not working and to then bring this up to the authority in charge via social media.

Another similar effort has been put by @Bruxsmells (who has provided quite some material for my Tumblr) and by the blog Dirty Brussels Blog which seems to be inactive since 2011 though.

Stay tuned for more dirt 🙂

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A few lessons from #Europcom 2013


I only managed to attend one panel at this year’s Europcom. I really like this event. The topics are always very interesting and the participants’ level of expertise is always quite high. I noticed that comms2point0, a regular invitee to this event, made a very good and comprehensive summary of both day one and day two of the conference which I invite you to read.

The panel I attended was about the reputation of the EU institutions. Public criticism of the European institutions is on the rise. What is the impact of this on support for the European Union? What tools and strategies can be developed to fight the myths and clichés, and to set up a balanced dialogue with the public?

The debate was moderated by Rob Heirbaut and the speakers were Simona Guerra from the University of Leicester; Mélanie McCluskey from the Reputation Institute in Belgium; Sjerp van der Vaart from the European Parliament Information Office in Belgium; Sixtine Bouygues, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication at the European Commission and Antonia Mochan from the Representation of the European Commission in the UK.

In particular, there were three lessons I took from the event.

Sixtine Bouygues, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication in DG COMM, pointed out the importance of two main factors when dealing with reputation of institutions: “transparency and accountability.” While elaborating on this issue, she noted the effort made by the European Commission to rationalise its online presence and harmonise its visual identity.

At the same time, another challenge for EU institutions is to guarantee that all information is available, accessible and visible. “Being there and providing efficient information services to the citizens should be a priority for public institutions.” Rationalisation means better spending of public money and easier access for users and these are priorities in DG Communication’s work. Web rationalisation was also the topic of our last blog post written by Robert Andrecs, the head of digital communications in the European Commission.

Antonia Mochan didn’t need PowerPoint. She got right to the point during her talk and she discussed some very important topics related to targeting.

First of all, “if you don’t know who you are talking to then it won’t matter what you say.” Knowing who you target and how your target audience communicates is absolutely crucial in addressing institutional messages.

Secondly, it is important to focus on the “big picture.” The EU has over 500 million citizens and it is indeed challenging to address them all at once in all the domains that they could be interested in. Hence, it is important to be able to think out of the box or in this case, out of the “bubble.”

In all places of institutional importance at both national and international level, it is common to get caught up in professional bubbles, such as the famous “Eurobubble” or, as mentioned by Antonia, the Westminster bubble. No matter in which institutional bubble you find yourself, communicators have to think about the concern and the means of the people they are targeting, not the means and the topics used and discussed only in their bubbles.

I hope next year’s edition will include some brilliant insights again and that I will be able to attend more panels.

Discerning the Belgian social media sphere from the Eurobubble: mission impossible?


When analyzing the social media sphere in Belgium I always find it hard to differentiate the Eurobubble from the “real” Belgian environment.
Belgium has a very active and engaged online population, with users from many segments of society. In addition to politicians and journalists, many entrepreneurs, consultants and professors active on social media.

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Continue reading “Discerning the Belgian social media sphere from the Eurobubble: mission impossible?”

Interview with captain Europe


It’s a bird, no it’s an aeroplane, no it’s a eurocrat, nooooooooo it’s Captain Europe. For the inhabitants of the Eurobubble, Captain Europe is not an outsider.

Captain Europe, mild mannered civil servant by day and superhero… well, mostly at weekends and at other times on request.

This is the description you can find on his Twitter bio, but let’s hear more about his story, his goa_gys1023-extra_largels and his projects for the future.

  • Captain, when and where were you born?

I was born somewhere in northern Europe shortly after my birthplace joined the European Economic Community.

  • How many people know your real identity?

I think there are about 20 people who know my secret identity – and a few more who know both me and my alter ego but haven’t yet made the link.

  • What does Captain Europe fight for?

I fight for the usual superhero causes: truth and justice. In an EU context, that means a number of things. Truth can mean busting the many myths about the EU, or teasing and provoking the powerful to keep them honest. It can mean informing citizens about the rights and benefits they enjoy thanks to the EU. Justice can mean standing up for consumers against powerful corporations (something the EU does rather well), or stimulating police cooperation to fight serious and organised crime, or defending intergenerational justice by protecting the environment. All these things are policies the EU covers; I merely symbolise, and sometimes stimulate, the EU’s action in these areas. Continue reading “Interview with captain Europe”

@STIB_Fail: born to be bashing


“Brussels is the most congested city in the world” says a recent report from Forbes. Even though Forbes’ analysis only actually considers Europe and North America, thinking that the capital of the European Union doesn’t offer adequate solutions for the life of drivers is pretty disappointing. Cities that have to deal with congestion problems often tend to offer alternative solutions in terms of public transport such as better bike lanes, more frequent buses and metros or allowing access to congested areas only to eco-friendly vehicles. Although these strategies are common in Denmark, England and even Italy, they are certainly not implemented in Brussels. As a result of that, people have been more and more sharing their complaints on their social media.

STIB MIVB FAIL is a Twitter account that gathers all comments on what is wrong with Brussels’ public transports. I had an interview with their (anonymous) manager who told us something more about how this idea came to life.

When did you start this account?
STIB MIVB FAIL was born on 19 January 2012.

How did the idea come into your head to create a Twitter account to bash public transports in Brussels?
Brussels is a great city but once you go underground it gets messy, dirty and above all difficult to reach a place in time. The reputation of our public transport is really bad and every time the STIB tries to improve something it becomes a ‘Belgian Solution’. Look at the security gates for example, even a toddler can jump over them, it paves the way for criminals and other people who don’t belong in a metro or tram station. It creates a feeling of insecurity but also unfairness, because you are paying while others don’t. Frustration was the main driver behind the initiative, and hopefully, pressure pays off. The second reason to start this account was to push for an online presence of the public transport service, just like airlines or other institutional bodies.

index Continue reading “@STIB_Fail: born to be bashing”