Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Brussels
National Day 21 July
BELGIUM’S NEW AMBASSADOR Bruno van der Pluijm arrived in London back in May in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Active in the Belgian diplomatic service since 1991, he says “it is very exciting to arrive in this mega-city and represent Belgium in the UK over the coming years. Unfortunately,” he continues, “due to the current pandemic, it’s been difficult to gather a clear impression of the city… Like so many others, I’ve been relying on Zoom, Webex, Teams and other virtual means to ‘meet’ people. That is of course not the ideal way to feel the pulse of the city. Hopefully, we’ll be able to turn this page soon and switch to a ‘new normal.’”
He and his wife Hildegarde van de Voorde are parents to four children, who he says have always been very positive about his regular transfers to different countries. “Until this day, they have kept a network of friends on various continents. Social media has made it a lot easier to keep these contacts alive.” For his spouse he admits “the verdict is probably more nuanced as each move creates an amount of stress. This implies a lot of teamwork and if that works well, the transfer works well. I can only say that I’ve been lucky so far in this respect.”
Mr van der Pluijm comes to the capital with a wealth of experience. He was Belgium’s Ambassador to Canada (2010-14) and to Tunisia (2014-16), after which he become Director General in charge of Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid. For a year up until December 2019 he combined this mandate as acting Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation.
So what does he believe is involved in the real role of an ambassador? “Certainly not as a consumer of endless receptions, dinners, champagne and Ferrero Rocher chocolates, even if networking is an essential part of the job, and receptions and dinners are excellent opportunities for precisely that. In the past, the focus was almost exclusively on an ambassador’s role as representative in his country of accreditation with all the responsibilities that come with that. Today, we also have responsibilities as a manager in charge of human resources, a budget and objectives set by headquarters that need to be achieved. My role will cover both these areas, and just for the record, I don’t mind a good (Belgian) chocolate every now and then either!”
Now in the UK, the Ambassador says he “intends to continue along the lines of [his] predecessors. Whether ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the EU, the UK remains a very significant partner for Belgium and an important player on the international scene. Representing Belgium in that context means contributing to the realisation of our bilateral agenda in its various dimensions and making sure that we see eye-to-eye on the challenges that will confront both of us over the next few years. ‘Brexit,’ in whatever shape or form, will of course create a moment of disruption that we will have to manage carefully. By the end of the year, we should have a new UK-EU framework, which in many ways will also create the context for our future bilateral relations. We all hope that framework will be an ambitious one. But regardless of the outcome of these negotiations, the laws of geography will still be the same on 30 December and 2 January 2021, which obviously imply that Belgium and the UK are uniquely well positioned at both ends of the Channel to cooperate and benefit mutually from that cooperation. Making that happen will clearly require teamwork. Together with the representatives of the Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders regions here in London, we will undoubtedly have exciting times ahead. Personally, I feel very privileged to be part of this undertaking.”
Another important aspect of his Ambassadorial role is looking after the Belgians residing in the UK. For them, he has a clear message that he would have normally delivered at a national day reception: “Given the times we live in, I would say ‘take care and stay safe.’ More fundamentally, the Embassy is here to serve, advise and assist you. Don’t hesitate to call on us if you have a problem or wish to share information with us. I hope we can continue the existing positive relationship. The Embassy and I personally are here for you!”
Mr van der Pluijm considers the interesting experiences he’s had in every country he has served. He’s particularly fond of his five years at the UN in New York. “Being able to play a part, albeit a modest one, in an enormous parliament of so many people was a unique experience. But then again, all my other postings have been very rewarding in various ways. I have had the opportunity to meet fascinating people, and occasionally, have had the privilege to witness a moment of history in the making.”
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