I always enjoy looking for and finding similarities between my two homelands: the USA and Belgium. Despite the many differences, there is so much they share. Both have a constitution, both love frites (French fries) and both have gridlocked political systems.
Both countries also have their obsessions. The USA has its love affair with guns and the right to bear arms, safeguarded by the second amendment which, according to the US Supreme Court in its last ruling on the issue (District of Columbia v. Heller), protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Millions of Americans ferociously defend this law and are not prepared to compromise, much less repeal it.
Belgians have their own albeit less explosive obsession. Although not enshrined in the constitution as a right, the company car has its place in many Belgian employee’s hearts and minds, and there is no way on earth they will allow it to be taken away. A car fleet supervisor once told me half-jokingly that if you asked someone to list the most important things in their lives, they would mention their family and then their company car, though not necessarily in that order of importance.
There are almost one million company cars on the roads and in the driveways of this country. This is the result of government policy, which introduced the company car at a time when car manufacturers were still big employers, and the tax on income was – and is – very high.
These two obsession are defended vigorously by gun owners in the USA and company car recipients in Belgium. The debates about gun ownership have been going on for decades. The casualties and massacres that result from this liberal course of gun ownership must be reduced by reviewing the law. To accomplish that will require patience and subtle abilities to convince opponents of a need to reform the amendment.
The growth in the number of company cars, added to the number of private vehicles, is gumming up the Belgian road network, adding to pollution, threatening the country’s economic prosperity and substantially raising the stress level of the daily driver. There may, however be hope by way of the old government’s ambitious plan to create a shift in mobility position by providing what they believe is an alternative for the current company car scheme, with the aim for such an alternative to be cost neutral for all parties involved.
This is still a work in progress, as the Belgian government is not what it used to be. Hopefully, when a new government is formed, this question of company cars will be quickly addressed and measures taken to establish a rational and fair policy.
By Arthur Rubinstein