As part of Belgium's economic mission to the UK, Brussels Secretary of State for Foreign Trade and International Relations Pascal Smet praised the city’s cosmopolitan credentials that make the city an economic hub for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions.
These attributes are also referred to as making Brussels a “MICE” location, with Smet underlining the diversity that the city fosters: “We don’t want to assimilate people in Brussels, we want people to be who and what they are and live and thrive together.”
“We are a truly diverse city. The thing that unites all of us in Brussels, is Brussels.”
With an audience of British and Belgian economic stakeholders and policymakers, Smet highlighted the benefits of doing business or simply living in Brussels, beyond the standard perks of the presence of so many European institutions.
Not just the capital of Europe, but the capital of Belgium
“Forget all your prejudices about Brussels: we’re not talking about European institutions or European organisations, we're talking about the capital of Belgium, which is also the capital of Europe,” Smet said. “A perfect city is a museum, not a living city – we are not perfect.”
The city's strategic location – just a short ride from other major European capitals via a high-speed train – was highlighted. But the less tangible benefits of the city were also put in the spotlight: its diversity, tolerance and status as a crossroads of the cultures its residents bring from near and far.
Brussels is considered the second most cosmopolitan city in the world after Dubai, a fact Smet was keen to share, along with its place in the top 10 of the most innovative cities in the world.
He also noted the presence of Michelin star restaurants, world cuisine (sometimes even eaten in the sky), music and arts festivals – and of course, beer.
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“We are a nonconformist city that embraces independence. Brussels is more than a city, it’s an attitude. Here, we dare you to be yourself. Speak the languages you want, do the things you want – that's Brussels.”
But the high praise was tempered with advice to ground expectations.
“We are not a city you fall in love with at the first sight,” Smet said. “But as many of you may know, love at first sight doesn't last. It's passionate, if you're lucky, but it doesn't last. When you fall in love with Brussels, it's love forever.”