Last week and the week before Brussels seemed like a city under siege. On several occasions different parts of the city were closed for all traffic. Even buses and trams were deviated from their usual route. Tunnels were closed, sewers inspected and public dustbins sealed. Police dogs sniffed their way around two or three top hotels, looking for explosives. Building sites were evacuated for the duration and snipers manned the roof tops of buildings in the sealed off areas.
What caused this sudden and very impressive show of high level security? Well, President Obama was in Belgium for the very first time. He arrived on Tuesday evening from the Netherlands and left the next evening for Rome to meet with the Pope. He travelled with his staff of … nine hundred people. He also brought ‘The Beast’, his famous armoured car.
Commuting into Brussels when President Obama is visiting?
No, this is something completely different.
Any idea what this is?
The morning after his arrival, he visited ‘Flanders’ Fields’ cemetery in the ‘Westhoek’ were some the fiercest battles of WWI were fought and many US soldiers were killed in action during the last years and months of the war. The short, yet very moving ceremony was also attended by our King Filip and our Prime Minister Di Rupo.
In the afternoon President Obama met with the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and the Chairman of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso. Shortly after 9 p.m. Air Force One took off from Brussels with aboard, the President and his staff. A spotless and smooth visit without any known security hick-ups.
That was two weeks ago. Last week the Chinese President visited Brussels. Although security was less ‘visible’, commuting into Brussels using a car was once again an ordeal. That was on Monday. Later that same week, the European Trade Unions marched through the city to the European district to ventilate their grievances and demands in and the around the square where the European institutions are located! Again de centre of the city was under siege.
For once I was glad that our offices are located on the outskirts of the city. A situation that will change in three years when we move to the ‘heart of the action’! Ahhh, the joys of working in the capital of Europe!