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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-01-03 06:20:40
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Prepared to take additional anti-crisis measures

Belgium is prepared to take additional measures to combat its crisis, Prime Minister Elio di Rupo said in a New Year's address. "The aims of the new government is to come out of the crisis as soon as possible, to re-launch our economy, to shore up our welfare system and re-establish confidence among citizens and businesses," he said in a statement Sunday. "To do this, we will implement decisions already taken and will take, if necessary, some additional balanced measures."

The prime minister didn't specify the measures that may be needed.  Di Rupo's comments come after Belgium Central Bank Governor Luc Coene said last week that growth in 2012 could be lower than expected and as a result the new government may have to make greater fiscal consolidation efforts.  For Di Rupo, who stitched together a six-party coalition government in late November after months of delicate negotiations, additional fiscal consolidation could prove a tough political balancing act.

Coalition talks nearly broke down over disputes on how to find EUR11.3 billion in savings for next year and took several weeks to complete. Finding additional tax revenue or spending cuts could test the coalition's political mettle.  The 2012 budget is premised on growth of around 0.8%. Coene said growth may be closer to 0.5% this year.  In his message, Di Rupo said the economic downturn of recent years has been "a profound crisis" which has "destroyed entire sectors of the real economy." "2012 will be a decisive year," he said. "We will have to transform these difficulties into new opportunities," he said.


Belgium to investigate beer price increases

Belgium's economy minister has asked the country's competition authorities to investigate the announced price hikes of beer producers Anheuser-Busch InBev and Heineken's Alken Maes. The request comes days after both companies said they would increase their wholesale prices for canned and bottled beers in Belgium, citing increasing costs for energy, staff and raw materials. AB InBev said it would increase its prices from March 1, 2012 by 5.9 percent, while Alken Maes said it would up its prices by about 6 percent from March 12.

"We will ask the competition authorities to investigate whether this is a case of unfair competition or price fixing," a spokeswoman for economy minister Johan Vande Lanotte said on Thursday. AB InBev said it had not consulted its competitors about the price increases.

"Information about our price and cost structure is sensitive and is never shared or discussed with competitors, in line with laws regulating commercial practices and competition," AB Inbev Belgium said in an emailed statement. Belgium's competition authorities were not available for comment. (Reporting By Robert-Jan Bartunek)


Belgium's Tintin paved the way for cartoon celebrities

Bold murals dot walls and buildings in Brussels - a token of Belgium's love for comics. With Steven Spielberg's Tintin movie, the country's comic past is getting more attention than ever. One intrepid boy reporter and his white dog have made a triumphant comeback this year with the release of the Tintin movie by Steven Spielberg.  Tintin is the most widely-translated comic strip hero of all time and it is partly thanks to his creator, Herge, that Belgium became the birthplace of scores of other iconic comic strip heroes such as Lucky Luke and the Smurfs. "Herge was like the locomotive for the entire comic strip train," said Willem De Graeve of the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, an Art Nouveau temple dedicated to what the Belgians refer to as a "ninth art."

"Herge was the very first artist in Belgium to become famous with his comics," added De Graeve. "Tintin was a bestseller from the start and that inspired other artists here to follow in his footsteps." When Herge, whose real name was George Remi, first put collared crayon to paper in the early 1920s, Europe was still lurking in the comic strip dark ages. The United States had already forged ahead with the first weekly comic adventures inserted within newspapers, but European artists were still mainly working on graphic novels for children.

"Along came Herge, with a completely different way of drawing and storytelling," said De Graeve. Gone were shadows and dark outlines; in came bold, bright colours which enabled readers to grasp the entire scene in seconds. Yves Fevrier, from the Herge foundation Moulinsart, explained, "It was a super-simplified style, not just visually but also terms of the dialogue. The stories are very well structured, which caught on instantly with an entire generation of children." To his very own ligne claire or "clear line" style, the 22-year old Herge added speech bubbles and juxtaposed contrasting characters, with the voluble, boozy Captain Haddock a perfect antidote to Tintin's goody-two-shoes ways. The style caught on fast and, soon, Belgian comic strip magazines were publishing a mix of home-grown strips as well as the popular imports from the US, home of the comic super hero.

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