Daylight shooting in EU capital raises alarm
A shocking killing in an expat enclave in Brussels and another mugging outside the European Parliament have reinforced a feeling among EU workers that the city is becoming more dangerous.
A 46-year-old Belgian mother of three was on Friday (5 March) killed by a shot to the head at the wheel of her Renault Clio in an attempted carjacking on Avenue Brugmann in Uccle, a wealthy district in the EU capital which is home to one of the highest concentrations of personnel from the EU institutions.
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"It could have been me," Andrea, an EU Parliament official and mother of two, who lives a few blocks away from the scene of the crime, told this website.
The shooting follows the mugging of an Estonian liberal MEP, Vilja Savisaar, on Tuesday evening shortly after leaving the EU Parliament building in the Etterbeek district, which is also home to the European Commission and the EU Council. A German MEP was attacked nearby last October.
The EU Parliament has called a meeting with local police on 22 March. But the police has already indicated there are no special resources to step up security in the area.
"It's normal to have extra policing around important public institutions in other EU capitals," a spokeswoman for EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek told EUobserver, when asked if EU officials risk looking as if they consider themselves more important than ordinary Belgians.
The "international community" in Brussels numbers at least 70,000 people, if you count staff at the EU institutions, the Nato headquarters and the diplomats, lobbyists and journalists who work alongside them.
New figures published by the Belgian authorities show that the parts of Brussels favoured by high-earning expats are in fact relatively safe.
A person is twice as likely to be violently assaulted in Saint Josse, Molenbeek or Anderlecht - some of the city's poorest quartiers - as in the more privileged Uccle, Etterbeek, Ixelles, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre areas. Crime in Ixelles is falling sharply - there were 266 violent assaults in the first nine months of 2009 compared to over 500 in the same period in 2008.
Dramatic incidents such as the one in Avenue Brugmann are also rare in Brussels, which has one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe.
But some trends in the city's EU-favoured districts are worrying.
Armed robberies and burglaries are climbing steeply in Etterbeek. The area recorded 171 assaults, 97 muggings and 30 armed robberies in the first nine months of 2009. Assaults and armed robberies are on the up in Schaerbeek. Woluwe-Saint-Lambert is seeing more armed robberies and car thefts. Woluwe-Saint-Pierre is witnessing a spike in burglaries.
The figures also show that St Gilles, which is loved by younger expats, is one of the city's edgiest areas. The rate of violent assault is the same as in Saint Josse. The rate of armed robberies is more than double that of Anderlecht.
Crimes against women - handbag snatching, indecent assault and rape - are also climbing in expat haunts. Etterbeek saw 14 cases of indecent assault in the first three quarters of 2009, compared to 17 in all of 2008. There were 10 rapes in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, compared to five in 2008.
"It doesn't matter if you are in a nice area or somewhere less fancy. Brussels is a big city and you have to be careful," a Belgian police spokesman said.
"There's not really an increase [in crime]. The numbers are more or less the same. But if there's a criminal act, it tends to be more violent. We have the impression there are more guns around," a spokeswoman for Belgium's interior minister, Annemie Turtelboom, added.