Corps diplomatique: a fascinating insight into Belgian diplomacy

 

Published on 17 July 2020


Former Prime Minister Charles Michel arrives at the UN in New York.
Former Prime Minister Charles Michel arrives at the UN in New York.
(© Canvas)

 

From 20 to 25 July 2020 Canvas will once again broadcast Corps Diplomatique, with one additional broadcast about Mali. Journalist Bart Aerts follows Belgian top diplomats in key positions all over the world.

For many, diplomacy remains a mysterious world. Diplomats are hard to fathom, it is often quipped. They think twice before they say something, and then decide to remain silent.

Yet, that image is no longer of our time. A five-part series on canvas shows this in no uncertain terms. In this series, (ex)-(top)-diplomats and ex-ministers lift the veil on how the diplomatic world works. You can rely on well-known and slightly less well-known names like Frans van Daele, Etienne Davignon, Johan Verbeke, Lode Willems, Willy Claes, Louis Michel, Yves Leterme, Didier Reynders, Herman van Rompuy and Bénédicte Frankinet.

The timing of VRT reporter Bart Aerts turned out to be spot on. After all, Aerts recorded the series in 2019, a year in which Belgium was a member of the UN Security Council, the largest economic mission to China went ahead and a Belgian - Charles Michel - became President of the European Council.
 

New York and Mopti

The series offers a fascinating insight into what exactly happens behind the scenes at the UN Security Council and during a UN General Assembly. You also learn why the topic ‘children and armed conflict’ is so crucial to Belgium. "Never in the world have so many children been killed or maimed in conflicts as last year," says diplomat Annelies Verstichel. Belgium is trying to change that within the UN system.
 

Brussels and London

Many do not realise that Belgium's largest diplomatic post is in Brussels. After all, the European Union is extremely important to Belgium. A huge amount of regulation depends on the EU. And then there's Brexit that throws a spanner in the works.

Belgium must, however, put forward a common position within the EU. "And that is becoming increasingly difficult because Belgium is so complex," says top diplomat François Roux. "We don't always reach a common position with all stakeholders".
 

Washington and Arkansas

The U.S. remains an important country. Even though something has definitely changed since President Trump came to power, Ambassador Dirk Wouters says. "It was immediately clear that we would no longer find our information in the White House, but also, for example, among congressmen and diplomats in think tanks." Every year, he visits an average of 12 states. "Texas, California or New York have the status of a global economy."

 
A company visit to China. In the middle Princess Astrid, to the left of her then Foreign Minister Didier Reynders.
A company visit to China. In the middle Princess Astrid, to the left of her
then Foreign Minister Didier Reynders.
(© Canvas)

 

Beijing and Shanghai

No fewer than four ministers, a secretary of state, a princess and almost 700 businessmen took part in the largest economic mission. The presence of Princess Astrid was extremely important. "She really opens doors," emphasises Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon. "Without her, we can't meet the Vice-President."
 

Bamako

This rebroadcast features a fifth new episode, specifically on Mali. Maybe unexpectedly so, but Mali is also an important place for Belgium. After all, this unstable Sahel country ultimately determines safety in Europe to some extent. Our country is actively participating in a UN peacekeeping mission there.
 

A stable Mali ensures a safer Europe.
A stable Mali ensures a safer Europe.
(© Canvas)

 

Multilateralism

The series shows how crucial diplomacy is for our country. Not to mention consular assistance to Belgians abroad. This aspect was certainly prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic, with the repatriation of thousands of Belgians.

But diplomacy itself defends the interests of Belgium as a small country in a world with many foreign countries. It helps bring Belgium's economic interests to the fore and plays an important role in our peace and security.

In a world where countries are increasingly interdependent and a whole range of issues (climate, migration, health, etc.) can only be tackled internationally, diplomacy is playing an increasingly prominent role. And this despite the tendency of a number of countries to increasingly shield themselves from the international stage. As a small country, Belgium will, in any case, continue to set great store by 'multilateralism'.


Corps diplomatique - from 20 to 25 July on Canvas (VRT) and on VRT NU