Brussels Soirée Internationale
Brussels is not only the cold institutional heart of Europe. Brussels also has a strong human component - social networking.
Even though there has been a general stereotype that the dull, ambitious and overpaid expats took over Brussels years ago, there is still something charming about this city. And expats are a part of it.
Brussels is probably the most important centre of different nationalities and cultures in Europe. It is a city where deals, new alliances and initiatives are formed and signed. City where people come and go. And in between, they learn. Not only how to do the high level business, but also how to use each other's talents and contacts for the future.
I met him a couple of years ago. The Brussels white wolf, a Clint Eastwood on a folding bike, as he likes to call himself. The man who probably has the largest list of contacts in Brussels. The man who knows everybody and everything. A friend of a friend knew I was trying to find my way in this Babel-land and suggested I should meet Frank. I thought it will be a kind of job interview but it was a funny storm of information starting with telling my telephone number out of the blue.
A grey man with curious eyes of a child, with a natural passion for combining and connecting thoughts, things and people, was drawing the energy efficiency strategy on a paper napkin and explaining me why the European Union is a great project.
In London, his favourite restaurant in front of the European Parliament, he told me so many interesting things, stories about people that crossed his way in all those years in Brussels, that I was left speechless. I didn't say much and what I did wasn't really in the context. But he gave me a good piece of advice: instead of looking for a job, I should be creating one and just go out and meet people. Meet people that might have nothing to do with me, but can, in fact, change the course of my life. Or simply my perspective of it.
So I did.
I joined Soriées Internationale in Brussels about two and a half years ago, after I met
Frank Schwalba-Hoth, an independent political analyst and strategists, former politician, a founding member of the German Greens and former MEP (1984 to 1987). Since he left the European Parliament he has been a consultant and networker in Brussels. He was director of the Greenpeace liaison office for several years. He has started with monthly networking events in Brussels Soirée Internationale back in 1989.
Michal Mlcousek from TIME FOR WORDS (family-owned business with expertise in film, TV and media production) produced a lovely video story about Frank's Soirée International.
As expected also these soirées have rules. You have to be invited by Frank and he gives you exact instructions where and when to come. Once the roughly 40 participants comprising never less than 25 different national backgrounds have arrived at the restaurant, he shortly introduces each participant. He always tells a story about each of them, a detail from his life that makes him interesting. Even if it is funny, embarrassing or just an old information, it ussually works. You are supposed to fill your plate at the buffet and sit at several tables in order to meet as many people as possible. At every soirée, a special speaker introduces his work, followed by questions and answers.
This time the speaker was Philippe De Bruycker, Professor at the Institute for European Studies and at the Law Faculty of the ULB, who talked about the upcoming Odysseus 2017 conference “'Beyond 'Crisis'? The State of Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in the EU'. And a good half of the participants probably registered for the conference.
There were people from everywhere, a group of people from China who came to Belgium to make business with chocolate, two opera singers, musicians, NGO people, a Palestinian human rights advisor, a Belgian real estate agent, a German yoga teacher, the best student from a German school in Denmark, a Bulgarian communication expert, a British MEP, a Hungarian lawyer, a Czech Parliament trainee and many more from very various fields and countries.
"Hello, my I join you? Are you here for the first time? Where are you from? So, you work for the Parliament in the children's rights commitee? I am very interested in what you do. Would be nice to stay in contact. Here, my business card...." and so it goes.
Maybe it is time to use some of these business cards. To tell stories about people and ideas from the Brussels Bubble we normally don't hear.
About things and thoughts that could actually make a change.