Category Archives: Belgium

Hiding the complexity

Flanders News reports that the new tax form has 885 different field boxes, “but most people can do it in 5 minutes”. This is one of those headlines for which I knew what the story would say before I clicked on it:

Those working with Tax-on-Web, will automatically see a tax form which has been almost fully completed by the computer. This virtual knowledge applies to as many as 320 different boxes.

In other words, when using the online tax return it’s largely a question of just checking that the pre-filled numbers are correct and then clicking send.

That said, to use the online version you need an electronic ID card. When we first moved to Belgium, we didn’t have one. The paper tax form is so complex that we had to ask the bank to help us complete it.

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On the appeal of regional government

Last week I mentioned that the Belgian parliament has rejected advice from an independent integrity committee to ban the distribution of free beer and wine to MPs. Free booze was introduced in the late 1990 to discourage parliamentarians from sneaking off to the pub during debates.

This has become quite an issue over the past few days, with some saying that the free booze should be scrapped to improve the quality of debate while others (mainly MPs) have denied that there is any problem at all. However a compromise has now been reached and, while the federal parliament will continue to serve beer and wine, MPs will now be expected to pay for it.

Coffee remains free, as it should. For everyone.

However, as Politico notes:

It is unclear how much drinks will cost. Alcohol will remain free of charge in the regional parliament of Flanders, which had a similar policy, its speaker said last week.


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corsendonk Politico reports that the Belgian beer culture was added on Wednesday to UNESCO’s cultural heritage list for being deep-rooted in the country with breweries, beer tasting associations, museums and events in every province of Belgium.

“It is the unparalleled diversity of the art of brewing and the intensity of the beer culture, as a part of our daily lives and at festivals in our country, that make this beer culture a part of the identity and the cultural heritage of the entire country,” a statement from the culture ministers from the French, German, and Dutch speaking communities of Belgium said.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called upon people to visit the country to taste the beers.

With 214 breweries (PDF) in the country, visitors may find it best to extend their stay.

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Panorama freedom update

atomium Back in August, I mentioned that a couple of Liberal MPs in Belgium were seeking to implement “panorama rights” in the country. These would ensure that copyright claims could not made for works placed in public.

In short, if an artist puts a work in a public space, they have already conceded that people can take photos of it.

And now:

The Belgian parliament’s business commission has just finalised proposals for legislation on ‘panorama freedom’ and this will mean that everyone gets the right to take photographs of such landmarks without having to fear the full force of the law.

Flemish liberal lawmakers Patricia Ceysens and Frank Wilryck argue that the individual’s right to take snaps should prevail above copyright that offers protection to works of art and buildings in the public domain: “This is simple logic, especially because many of these works of art have been purchased using monies from the public purse.”

Under the bill that has the backing of other government parties everybody will have the right to take snaps of and share images of such landmarks as well publish photographs in books and on the internet. The works must be on permanent display in the public domain. Works of art in museums will still be protected.

With luck, I will be able to legally take a photo of the Atomium before I die.

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The future of food

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Last year I mentioned that the Olmense Zoo (which is handily close to us) now has insectburgers on the menu. And on Saturday we were in the zoo at lunchtime, so I gave one a try.

It’s really rather good.

The texture is very meaty. So much so that, if it wasn’t for all the signs promoting the fact that the burger is made of mealworms, I probably wouldn’t have realised there was anything out of the ordinary about it at all.

The taste of the burger is not particularly strong, and pretty much overwhelmed by the barbecue sauce that was included with the burger. It’s certainly not unpleasant, it’s just not much of anything.

Of course, the crucial question with something like this is: would I eat it again. The answer is a resounding yes.

Insects are high in protein and a lot less fatty than beef and pork, they can also provide an equivalent protein yield for far fewer resources. The only downside is cultural – we, in the west are not used to eating insects and tend to have a ‘yuck’ response when faced with the idea. Serving them as a burger gets around this very neatly indeed.

Now all the world needs is a for someone to invent the chili con mealworm.

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Quote of the day: Panoramic freedom

People’s freedom to take pictures in public has to be more important that copyright protection.

Belgian MP, Patricia Ceysens, one of two Liberal MPs preparing a bill to implement “panorama rights” into the country’s copyright law. This is the principle that, if an artist puts their work in a public space then they must have realised that people will take photos of it – either deliberately or in the background – and, therefore, they can’t make any copyright claims over these photos.

Ceysens also notes that

That’s only logical, since these works are often paid for with public funds.

While this is not necessarily the best argument when talking about panorama rights, it is an important principle in itself. If the taxpayer has paid for somenthing, then the taxpayer owns it. If this principle were applied consistently then there would be no copyright applicable to publicly funded artworks (because ‘copyright the entire country of…’ is completely unworkable) and no patents on publicly funded research.

And that would be an excellent first step towards rebuilding a commons.

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