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Belgium A storied past that fashioned modern Europe
July 14, 2013, 10:39 am
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It is exactly three years since I arrived in Kuwait to take up my assignment here. Along with my wife and little daughter I have made this my secondhome, was how His Excellency Damien Angelet, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Kuwait described his stay in the country. In an exclusive interview with The Times the ambassador added, "I would like to state that the years I have spent here have been both professionally stimulating and personally exciting.

The hospitality of the people and the host government have been excellent and I am extremely happy with our stay in this wonderful country." Prior to his appointment in Kuwait, Ambassador Angelet worked at the Belgian embassies in London, Manila, Bujumbura in Burundi and in Geneva, as well as in Brussels. However, a major part of his diplomatic career and main activities were with the United Nations in New York. The diplomat went on to say, "Arriving here, after a diplomatic career that has taken me to various capitals around the world, I must say that I am extremely impressed by the tremendous achievements Kuwait has made in every field. Especially on the diplomatic front, where Kuwaiti diplomacy has enabled the country to successfully conduct bilateral and multilateral engagements around the world.

The Kingdom of Belgium is very proud of its long standing and strong relations with the State of Kuwait, and we are pleased that in 2014 the two countries will be celebrating 50 years of diplomatic links." Elaborating on the strong bilateral ties, the envoy added, "The strong and deep-seated relations were further cemented in 1991 when Belgium participated in the liberation of Kuwait. Three naval minesweepers from Belgium were involved in clearing mines off the Kuwaiti coastline. We believe that we were right in taking part in these operations and in helping Kuwait to once again become safe and secure country. We are happy that the Kuwaiti people still remember and appreciate this support by the Belgian government."

Clarifying that besides diplomatic and popular relations, there were strong bonds of friendship and respect between the Royal families of both countries, the ambassador continued,"Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium visited Kuwait at the end of 2011 as a special representative of the United Nations to advance discussions on UN Millennium Development Goals. Also, before his ascension, King Albert II of Belgium visited Kuwait at the head of trade delegation to get acquainted with development projects in Kuwait and to explore ways of strengthening economic and financial relations in different fields between the two countries. Through their various meetings with the rulers, government officials and influencers in the country, the Royal Family has facilitated and reinforced bilateral relations."

Cordial relations at the highest level have also led to cooperation between the two countries in political, economic and social fields like health and education stated the envoy adding: "In December 2012, the Belgian vice Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Didier Reynders visited Kuwait to further enhance mutual relations and to examine ways of increasing trade and investment between the two countries. During his significant visit, Minister Reynders held fruitful discussions on bilateral issues with His Highness the Amir, as well as with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait.

Talks between the leaders centered on strengthening economic and investment cooperation, as well as support in noncommercial fields such as education and health." "Belgium has a lot to offer Kuwait in different sectors of the economy, especially in the fields of health and education where Belgium is recognized as a world-leader. According to the Global Competitive Index, Belgium is ranked second in the world in terms of healthcare delivery, and fourth in providing education and training.

The Global Competitive Index, which is released each year at the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, identifies and measures drivers of economic performance of countries around the world." In a move designed to further boost bilateral cooperation and collaboration in the health sector, in May, 2013, Kuwait's Minister of Health, Mohammad Barrak Al-Haifi, headed a high-level medical delegation to Belgium. During their two-day visit the Kuwaiti delegation toured several hospitals and medical institutions, and held discussions with representatives of various healthcare facilities. The visiting Health Minister also held talks with Foreign Minister Reynders, and the two agreed to set up mechanisms for bilateral exchange of expertise and training. "

Following discussions it was decided that a team of health officials from Belgium would visit Kuwait regularly and for Kuwaiti doctors to travel to Belgium for advanced studies and training in different medical specialties. With extensive experience in the field of delivering high-quality healthcare, the Belgian side also expressed their keen interest to collaborate with the private sector and participate in engineering, financing and constructing hospitals and other medical facilities in Kuwait." Located strategically at the center of a highly industrialized region, a closely integrated transport infrastructure that links it to the rest of Europe and a strongly globalized economy, Belgium is an ideal location for trade and investment.

It is also a country with a historic past that helped fashion modern-day Europe. Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium, it is also the headquarters of both NATO and the EU, and as such is the venue for decisions that have profound influence across the world. While bilateral trade between Belgium and Kuwait has increased by 20 percent annually in recent years, there is plenty of scope for boosting trade and investment between the two countries.

Elaborating on the suitability of Belgium for investments, the ambassador said, "Belgium welcomes Kuwaiti investment in its economy and in fact is keen to increase current levels of trade and commerce between the two countries," said Ambassador Angelet, adding: "Belgium is also an ideal tourism destination with toprated hotels, restaurants and shopping venues that are home to many of the world's luxury brands. There are several cities across Belgium that are exciting to visit for their beauty, as well as being some of the best shopping venues for jewelry, fashion and food. For instance, the city of Antwerp, besides being one of the biggest ports in Europe, is also one of the world's centers for diamond trade." Looking at future relations between the two countries the diplomat stated, "I am confident of the continuation of healthy partnership that exist in our strong bilateral ties. Belgium and Kuwait are linked together by many similarities, we are both small countries surrounded by large neighbors, and this has created a particular frame of mind in our people and governments.

We both favor cooperation rather than confrontation in our relations with neighboring countries, and we share the experience of having gone through and successfully survived wars and invasions. We are both openminded societies and in general have a high regard and appreciation for our respective Royal Families." The constitutional and popular monarch King Albert II of Belgium (73) recently announced his intention to abdicate, for health reasons, in favor of his eldest son Crown Prince Philippe. While the King will transfer powers to his son through a ceremony at the Royal Palace in Brussels on Sunday, 21 July, which is the Belgian National Day, the 53- year old Prince Philippe will be sworn in as King Philippe I of Belgium in a solemn civil swearing-in ceremony that will be held before a joint-meeting of the two houses of the Belgian Parliament. "The abdication and ascension ceremonies are expected to be a very Belgian affair. In Belgium, we tend to do things in a more somber manner, with little or no international fanfare.

Of course the new king will officially meet with all members of the diplomatic corps in Belgium after assuming office," added the envoy. Pointing to the frequent constitutional crises that keep cropping up in both countries as in a way a good thing, the ambassador noted, "It is a clear sign that both our peoples and leaders want to solve issues in a broad, democratic and consensual manner. Governments and leaders in both countries remain close to the people and prefer to work in harmony with civil-societies in order to meet the desires and needs of citizens and to help them achieve their aspirations. When you have the engagement of strong civil-societies and a desire for broad consensus on issues, there is bound to be delays in the decision process.

A government that is non-authoritarian and which encourages active participation of all sections of society in the decision forming process may at times be perceived to be slow and indecisive; but in the long term, this is certainly good for the country as well as for society." "Since arriving here three years back, we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in this wonderful country and the hospitality of the people and government has been remarkable. Moreover, we so enjoy our stay here that we do not even leave this country, not even in summer," said the ambassador, with a smile, in conclusion. 

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