Brussels Stories

How is your boiler, and what about your partner - grappling with the Belgian census
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What fuel does your boiler use? When did you begin co-habiting? And does your home have a concealed well?

What fuel does your boiler use? When did you begin co-habiting? And does your home have a concealed well?

Forget worries about a gas attack or biological warfare, the Belgian population has a real battle on its hands, and this time the enemy is a familiar one: bureaucracy. The census has arrived, and it is a minor masterpiece, combining questions of mind-numbing detail with those which elsewhere would be considered downright rude.

This is a particularly testing time for heads of households (that apparently includes me), who have not one, but two forms to fill in. The first invites me to pick from a full two-column page of possible academic or professional qualifications, a list so extensive it seems designed to make a mere university graduate feel grossly inadequate.

The second involves a similarly detailed interrogation about the age of our home, its facades, its aesthetic qualities and, of course, the workings of the boiler and water systems.

Finally, the Belgian National Statistical Institute gets personal. It wants to know our year of marriage before asking, a little later on, when we began cohabiting – married or otherwise. Not the sort of question one expects in a predominantly Catholic country.

The accompanying instructions do not list the penalty for incomplete form-filling but do provide one piece of good news: this is the last time Belgians will ever have to complete a census. Thanks to the size of its social security databank, the government reckons it will know enough about its citizens to avoid the need for one in future.


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An unusual question of protocol has been hanging over the Belgian royal court: what should a king do when he is accused of paedophilia? Several weeks after the publication of a book which made exactly such a claim about King Albert, we now have the answer, and it involves his majesty's learned friends.

In an extraordinary development the Belgian royal family has taken a legal action in Paris against a French publisher, Flammarion, over a book which alleges that, before assuming the throne, King Albert took part in sex parties with underage girls. The palace, which usually treats such incidents with silent disdain, had taken off its gloves by issuing a rare royal denial of the claims made in the book, Paedophile Dossier, by Jean Nicholas and Frédéric Lavachery.

Now the French courts are being asked to force the insertion in each copy of a leaflet refuting the allegations. The royal family also wants damages (which will be donated to a charity fighting paedophilia). For the authors, it's all great publicity.