Everyday Politics

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Since almost one year, there have been night construction works in the car tunnel next to the place where I live. There were no fliers or any information whatsoever about these works, so you can imagine the pleasure of being woken up in the middle of the night by the noise from construction machines and having no idea when these works will end.

I tried to contact the authorities in charge. They recommended an ombudsman, a polite person who gave me some information and deadlines. Deadlines which were never respected. All he kept on telling me was to have patience one more month, and again one more month …

Afterwards, I contacted the biggest French speaking newspaper - Le Soir -explaining them the situation and asking for their opinion about a problem which had disturbed many people ‘s sleep during the night. No answer. Thus, I took the decision not to follow anymore a newspaper that is more interested in investing in new layouts than in listening to its readers.

I tried to understand the logic behind the disrespectful attitude to perform construction works during the night. The ombudsman told me the works were planned during the night because otherwise they would affect the daily car traffic. So health issues - that is, quality of sleep - of the people living in close proximity to the tunnel are less important than car traffic. This is the attitude in Brussels, in a city where you officially care about the well-being of people and where car free zones are encouraged …

I contacted the Minister of quality of life, Celine Fremault (CDH), in Brussels and there was no answer. After months of noisy nights, I finally read in the newspaper that the Minister of Mobility, Paul Smet (Spa) will celebrate the end of the construction works in the tunnel with a big party accompanied by a big speech. I read many times that speech, hoping to find a deadline for the works which are still going on, by the way, and for a polite gesture to say thank you to those who had to bear the negative effects of the night disturbances. Nothing. A party in the tunnel was cooler. Image.

The elections are coming and even if a politician told me that the trendy topics are now climate change, retirement, I thought to do an experiment to help me decide, and eventually those who read me, which way to vote for on Sunday. 

The experiment was a letter (in French) sent on 18thof May 2019 explaining the situation about the construction works and asking each party or political alliance to give me their answer to a solution (see the list below).

Which climate issue should we talk about when cars are more important than people? What image is Brussels promoting when people can’t sleep during the night because there is noise coming from construction works? Why should I care about big promises when in my everyday life I don’t even have an answer from a politician who is paid also from my taxes?

By now, these answers came back in response to my letter: 

-       Listes Destexhe: the reply was fast, personalized and empathetic. It was mentioned that on their election list 88% of the candidates never participated in an election process. They read my letter.

-       Défi: a confirmation of receiving my letter and that it will be forwarded to the president of the party. Nothing more.

-       Groen: polite message but it promotes the goals of the party. Good marketing.

-       A personal letter from the Minister Pascal Smet, not in the name of his party (One.brussels-sp.a) but of the Brussels government; he spoke in general terms about the schedule of the construction works and that they ended on May 1st, 2019, but the normal maintenance of the tunnel will be going on for approximately two nights per month. Even if the personal response is appreciated, the reality looks slightly different from how it was formulated in the letter: the construction works often produced noise during the night and my neighborhood had not received any visible information about the schedule of the works. There were no apologies whatsoever or any thanks for our patience.  Elegance and empathy would have compensated for the endured stress. Lack of empathy.

-       NVA: the reply was in Dutch; it was a standard text saying that because of so many emails received it is not possible to reply to all of them. No solution.

- DierAnimal: empathy for the situation and promoting the goals of the party. They read my letter.

The conclusions of my experiment are deceiving: of 21 letters sent only six answers came back, so 25%. The minister took the time to reply personally to my letter— a nice gesture — but he lacked empathy. Is it considered apologizing a weakness instead of a human gesture?

I consider myself to be educated and well informed about politics, it’s true, more on a European level. I do recognize populist parties and their lack of real solutions to society’s challenges. But more and more people, myself included, want solutions to our everyday problems, we want communication channels so that our politicians can be who they have promised to be.

Even if the conclusions are not optimistic, the experiment was a good lesson for me: listening is very important. I try to do my best as a medical doctor, but my expertise in lifestyle medicine also obliges me to be more involved in the life of society, and this by writing and promoting solutions for a healthy lifestyle in the capital of Europe.


List with the parties/alliances I sent the letter to: Ecolo, Groen, Open VLD, MR, CDH, CD&V, Parti Populaire, NVA, Vlaams Belang, Défi, PTB, Listes Destexhe, PS, One.brussels- sp.a, PVDA, Agora, Act-Salem, DierAnimal, Plan B, Be.One, Collectif Citoyen.

There was no contact information for Hé.