The rich and the poor in Brussels

Last weekend the rich and the poor, though at different levels, were in Brussels. Sometimes they met, but maybe not always!

I happened to be in Brussels for the key weekend of the discussions on the bail-out of the Cyprus banks and the Euro crisis. As president of ARAG, the Geneva airport neighbours association, I was there for the annual meeting of UECNA, the European Union against Aircraft Nuisances (more of this at the end of the blog). Of course, my world was very different from the various highly placed officials who flew in to make decisions affecting the bank deposits of rich people who had chosen to keep money in Cypriot banks. I have been told that these banks offered interest rates superior to those available in banks elsewhere in Europe: a fact which reminds me of the old adage that "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is".

After the Saturday meeting, I took the public transport into the centre of Brussels to find somewhere to eat "moules, frites" (Chez Léon was recommended, but was fully booked!). The final part of the journey to the restaurants area involved walking along a long, and rather cold, underground passage between the Central Station metro terminal and the station concourse.

What I saw in that cold underground passage was some of the reality of life for the poorer people of Brussels. On one side of the passage quite a few people had already claimed their night-time bedroom: a sleeping bag, sometimes with cushions or a blanket beneath it. On the other side, a queue of several hundred people waiting patiently to receive a bowl of hot soup. I guess that it would have continued for quite some time.

Some of us might think that Belgium is a far cry from Cyprus, or even the southern Europe countries also having serious unemployment and financial problems. However, as can be seen from this paper today, Tuesday 26 March, this is not necessarily true: just read  the article entitled

La Belgique pourrait perdre 2000 postes de travail

With news like that, the soup queues under Brussels Central Station are unlikely to shorten for quite some time!

Does this happen in Geneva? I am ashamed to say that I do not know, but I suspect that it might. Job losses in the banking industry are set to continue (with the top managers being paid nice bonuses to execute this "dégraissage"). More important, for the producers of this newspaper, is that the Tamedia group is announcing forthcoming job losses. How do people who lose their Geneva job manage to keep up payments on their home? What happens if they cannot? How many well qualified people are dropping to the level where they will have to look for soup kitchens (the Salvation Army, perhaps)?

Now back to the subject of aviation. We know that Geneva airport is a big financial contributor to the state, as well as being responsible for a large number of jobs. At the same time, the noise and atmospheric pollution which comes with the use of the airport are very worrying. Already this year, night flights are up 12% from the same period of last year. To what extent does the need for jobs take precedence over the health effect of the aircraft nuisances?

PS. Unsurprisingly, I chose to relax by going there and back by high-speed train. The use of train, rather than aircraft flights, for shortish journeys was one of two subjects felt by UECNA delegates to be important in reducing global carbon emissions and increasing the quality of life overall: the other was a continuing demand for serious restrictions on night flights. Both demands would benefit from a level playing field helped by the removal of the unfair financial advantages offered to aviation: no tax on fuel and no VAT.

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