“Belgium is one of Europe’s best kept secrets”
Interview with Alison Rose, Britain’s new Ambassador to Belgium
By Martin Banks
Alison Rose, Britain´s new Ambassador to Belgium, says one of her key tasks is to promote jobs and growth and work closely with Belgian companies to promote the UK’s reputation as a place to do business.
Appointed in August as successor to Jonathan Brenton, Rose is an EU specialist. She has worked for the UK foreign office in Paris, London and Brussels, and for the Cabinet Office during the UK’s 2005 EU Presidency. In previous posts she dealt with employment, industrial, equality and devolution issues.
In an exclusive interview with The Brussels Times, she spoke about a wide range of issues – including her new fondness for tweeting in French and Dutch!
Q: How are you settling into the new post?
Rose: Very well thank you, helped enormously by the warm welcome I have received from everyone I have met. I arrived in August at the height of events to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War and the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Belgium. So I very quickly started to get around Belgium and meet communities. I am now in full swing meeting businesses, political contacts and members of the British community here in Belgium.
Q: Do you have any previous experience of living/working in Belgium?
A: I had the pleasure of living in Belgium from 1999- 2003 when I was posted to the UK Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels, leading on EU regional economic development policy and health and cultural policy. I am delighted to be back and always say that I find Belgium is one of Europe’s best kept secrets.
Q: How would you define your role here?
A: My job here is to represent the UK and promote relations between our two countries. I have four main priorities:
– Promote the prosperity of the UK by seeking to increase trade between Belgium and the UK and promote the UK as an investment location. Belgium is the UK’s sixth biggest export market.
– Work with Belgium to improve international security – on issues ranging from helping tackle Ebola to countering the threat from ISIL
– Support British nationals in Belgium with a focus on those in the most vulnerable situations
– Promote reform of the European Union to help us be better equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century
Q: What problems / challenges / issues have you experienced thus far?
A: The main challenge has been that there are so many things to do and so many people to meet but so little time to do it! But that’s a good problem to have.
Q: How do you evaluate the political federal structure in Belgium?
A: I find the general political landscape in Belgium most fascinating. I am glad to have presented my credentials just as a new federal government has been sworn in. And I look forward to getting to know and working alongside Prime Minister Charles Michel and his Ministerial team, and with the regional and community governments and their Ministerial teams on a range of issues of mutual interest to both the UK and Belgium.
Q: Do you see this system as being a successful model for other EU countries?
A: Belgium’s system has developed over time to meet the particular needs of this country. One of my jobs as Ambassador is to explain how Belgium operates to my colleagues in the UK. I certainly think we should take the time to look at different systems and reflect on how our own structure works. But I think we need to recognise from the outset that one size doesn’t fit all, and we need to take account of each country’s individual situation.
Q: Can any comparisons be drawn between the Scottish independence movement and that of Flanders?
A: That’s not for me to say. What I can tell you is that the UK and Scottish Governments reached agreement to ensure that a referendum on Scottish independence could take place. The agreement ensured the referendum was legal, fair and decisive and commanded the confidence of all sides. As you know, on 18 September this year people in Scotland voted, and a clear majority rejected independence. As Prime Minister David Cameron said, now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together, and to move forward. A vital part of that will be a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.
Q: Do you find it equally easy/difficult to work with the Flemish and Walloon communities here? Do you detect any differences between the two and if so, what are they?
A: I have already had the pleasure of meeting representatives from all three communities (including the German speaking community). I and my team at the Embassy seek to work with all of the communities across Belgium to strengthen the UK’s relationship with them. And I am lucky to have a team that is multilingual which makes doing business in Belgium easier. I have started tweeting in Dutch and French as well as in English, so I apologise in advance for any grammatical mistakes you might come across! You can follow me on @alisonrosefco
Q: What do you hope to achieve here during your term?
A: I want to promote jobs and growth, and help keep people safe. So that means working closely with Belgian companies and investors to promote the UK’s reputation as a place to do business, including with innovative companies that have high growth potential. It also means working ever more closely on areas of international security issues and cross-border crime. And all of this in the context of a more competitive and more flexible EU.
Q: What is it that you like most about this new position … and also about Belgium/Brussels?
A: I am already a great fan of Belgium. I look forward to discovering new places while revisiting old favourites such as the inclined plane at Ronquières and the cathedral in Antwerp. I am looking forward to cycling in the Forêt de Soignes and as a big classical music fan, making the most of attending the many concerts on offer throughout the year.