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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2013-01-05 10:48:51
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Doubling of French applying to become Belgian citizens

A total of 126 French people submitted applications in 2012 compared to 63 each in 2011 and 2010, according to Georges Dallemagne, the president of the naturalisation commission of the Chamber of Representatives in the Belgian parliament. “It has really been a French phenomenon. There was a general increase in demand last year, but only the French grew by so much,” he told the news agency AFP. The government of François Hollande has been pushing for a 75% tax rate on incomes over one million Euros, causing mega-rich celebrities and business people to publicly announce their intentions to move to Belgium and other places with lower tax rates.

The French actor Gérard Depardieu has been particularly outspoken on the issue, and has bought a house in a Belgian village two kilometres from the French border. On Thursday, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, granted Depardieu Russian citizenship. Russia has a flat income tax rate of 13 percent. Europe’s richest man and the head of the French luxury group LVMH, Bernard Arnault, has also applied for Belgian nationality, although he insists it is not for tax reasons. Belgian press reports say Arnault’s application may be rejected as he does not meet residency requirements.

Dallemagne said the jump in French applications could also be related to changes in Belgian law which came into effect in the new year. Instead of having to live in Belgium for three years, applicants will now have to show they have lived in the country for at least five years; however the naturalisation commission can accord Belgian nationality to people who may be able to contribute to the country as artists, entrepreneurs or athletes. The commission received a total of 15,700 nationality applications last year. Estimated 200,000 French live in Belgium.


Wholesale TV market struggles to take off

The resale of TV services has yet to get going in Belgium, according to a report from Datanews. Belgacom and the major cable operators are both required to resell their TV services to other providers. The cable operators have already published a reference offer, and Belgacom is expected to do so in April or May. 

The small providers such as EDPnet, Dommel and WeePeeTV say it's difficult to implement the wholesale services. Bart Dom from Dommel said Belgacom is charging EUR 22-23 per subscriber, while he estimates the costs at EUR 12-15. Resale will not be profitable without at least 50,000 to 60,000 customers. EDPnet also said it's not possible to compete on price. In addition, the alternative providers need to negotiate their own broadcast rights for each channel. Belgium has no legislation requiring broadcasters to provide their channels to alternative providers.

KPN Group Belgium has recently agreed to take VDSL2 services from Belgacom, over a five-year contract. According to Datanews, there are rumours that KPN's subsidiary Base is in talks with Belgacom to take a TV service directly, rather than based on the reference offer. 


Is Belgium still the capital of chocolate?

Belgium invented the praline in 1912 and soon became known for making the best chocolates in the world. But 100 years on, the supremacy of local chocolatiers is under threat from international competition. The smell of warm, melted cocoa is wafting around the kitchen as Ryan Stevenson meticulously pipes a rich, buttery filling into dozens of delicate chocolate shells. Tall and slim with a ginger beard, the 36-year-old grew up in Toowoomba, Australia.  Since moving to Brussels in 2005, he has twice won the title of Belgian Chocolate Master. In 2009, he took the Best Praline prize as a finalist in the World Chocolate Masters competition. "I am not actually a chocolatier by trade, I trained as a pastry chef," he says, with a grin.  So how did he end up becoming one of Belgium's most sought-after chocolatiers?

"It's a long story," he says. "I originally studied to become an actuary, a statistician who works out insurance premiums. But I found it boring and couldn't imagine working in an office all day." He soon realised he preferred his part-time job in a bakery to university, and sought out experience in hotels and patisseries in Munich and London, before finally arriving in Brussels. He found himself a Belgian wife and started working at his father-in-law's cake shop Le Saint Aulaye as well as entering cookery contests. "I started with pastries, but here there is such a strong culture of chocolate that whenever I needed to do a competition, it was always chocolate-based. It is a good product to work with - I mean, everyone loves a Belgian chocolate!" Despite abandoning his background in mathematics, he says his analytical mind helps him develop new recipes and understand the technical processes of making good chocolate - for example, melting the mixture at the right temperature and keeping out air bubbles. After many long nights practising his craft, he won his first Belgian Chocolate Master Award in 2008. But he claims the second time he won the prize was most rewarding "because by then the Belgians knew it wasn't a beginner's luck".

"It was actually a very good feeling being Australian and winning here in Brussels," he says, smiling.  "I think it's because I took all the expertise of the Belgians and I beat them at their own game." Stevenson isn't the only foreigner making a big impact on the Belgian chocolate scene.  Yasushi Sasaki, from Japan, runs a popular patisserie in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, a quiet residential part of Brussels.  He is often described as someone who crafts chocolate with the precision of a sushi chef. The label seems fitting the moment you step inside the store's simple exterior. Its glowing glass counters are packed with colourful sweet treats that resemble works of art.  "Belgian chocolatiers should absolutely be worried about international competition from people like me," he argues. "We can do things just as good as them and put our own spin on things as well. I agree that we could pose a threat."

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