I am proud to be a Belgian Citizen and a citizen of Europe. It is my roots and my country.

 

I was born and raised in Belgium and took my first international flight to Andalucía for my honeymoon. For many years, I dedicated my efforts and attention to my country, despite its small size and the disappointments that the evolution of Belgium provoked. It was only after the government of Belgium granted dual citizenship that I decided to apply for citizenship in the United States, as I could not consider losing the nationality of my origins: it would have felt like a betrayal of my family and friends. To me, it is a question of belonging to the complex reality of a country, even though I perceive it as often dysfunctional. I have listed below several of my associations and positions that exemplify my continued commitment to Belgium. I would like to add a personal element of that attachment: my respect for the Belgian Monarchy, and King Philippe. It is not easy to navigate the prejudices and difficulties of their tasks. I know that, like most European reigning families, they are fully committed to the well being of their countries and people.


As the Chairman of the Privatisation Commission for the Valuation of the Assets of the State, I represented the French speaking social democracy (this was the closest I got to holding political position). I succeeded one of the most respected Belgian Statesmen: former Minister of Finance and former Chairman of Societe Generale de Banque, Robert Henrion. It allowed the privatization of Belgacom, the Belgian telecommunication company. I was asked to take this role by Philippe Maystadt who was Minister of Finance and worked also closely with Elio di Rupo, the Minister of Economic Affairs. The privatization of the gas distribution company, Distrigaz, was done through an initial public offering. The sale of the Societe Nationale de Credit a l’Industrie was a deeply divisive disposal. I had to counter the “advising” bank and the management of the Caisse Generale d’Epargne et de Retraite that had been privatized in favor of the AG Group.

The bail out of Fortis Group confirmed my conviction that the collusion between the Government and the Belgian establishment was more powerful than ethical. I accepted to be the independent Chairman of restructured Board of Directors and was approved by the Annual General meeting only to find out that the governance rules of the Company were broken again through the candidacy of an insider that made it impossible to reform the company and resigned.  I had followed the Group that included my first employer, Societe Generale de Banque, through conversations with Maurice Lippens who had built a remarkable financial conglomerate that was one of the most successful Belgian financial Group. I had the privilege to work at the Bank under the leadership of Paul-Emmanuel Janssen, who remains a mentor and a friend. A combination of personal ambitions and grandiosity eventually led Fortis to acquire ABN Amro at a high price, finance it with a deeply discounted capital increase and the loss of 90% of the value of its shares:a complex maneuvering ultimately, deprived the shareholders of their value. In the middle of the financial crisis, it led to massive purchases of toxic assets that lost their value. It was and will remain, my last attempt to have an added value in my country. I remain available, but will no longer volunteer.

The Belgian American Chamber of Commerce was going through a crisis that. In the middle of the Detroux pedophilia scandal, involved unsavory characters leading to the arrest of the Director General when I was asked by the Consul General to take over the Chamber. It remained one of my most important commitments to the country over 18 years. I stepped down from my board position and am now Honorary Chairman.


The Catholic University of Louvain is my Alma Mater. My mentor and the source of my decision to become a banker were Andre Rostenne and Alexandre Lamfalussy who became the Gemeral director of the Bank of International Settlements. . I studied Law and Economics and eventually became lecturer in Economics at the Faculty of Law.

This happened when the university world was in turmoil (1968) and when the conflicts between Walloon and Flemish had reached a rioting level. At Leuven, we lived under constant army protection from the Flemish extremists who wanted the City to expel French speaking students. This was my first encounter with racism and nationalism in my own country. The worst day was when one of my fellow students got hit by a broken bottle thrown on his head by a Flemish Theologian.

I continued to be involved through the International Advisory Board of the University that has now been dismantled. As a banker I worked on the construction of the University’s francophone site in Ottignies Louvain-la-Neuve through a complex legal structure that was giving the University the real-estate rights necessary to finance the construction of the new campus without the full ownership that needed to remain in Government hands. I would also sit on a committee that was attempting to restructure the precarious financial  situation of the University. I was aiming to start an Academic career at the University: I owe to the then Rector  of the University, Mgr Masson, not to take that direction.



The Belgian Monarchy remains a long term commitment that started when my father, sometimes with high risks, fought for the return of King Leopold III. It remains an anchor and I was particularly happy to see the smooth transition that allowed King Philippe to succeed his father, King Albert II. Monarchy is a symbol of unity that Belgium badly needs. On many occasions, I had and have contacts with the Royal Palace and the Royal Family. The rule of discretion continues to apply to those contacts.

The Belgian Government became part of my life ever since I became responsible for the consortium of banks in charge of the financing of the Kingdom of Belgium. When I left the Bank, Minister Guy Verhofstadt and his Chief of staff Luc Coene, now Governor of the Belgian National Bank, appointed me to the committee in charge of reforming Belgian sovereign financing. International capital markets had changed and there was a need to internationalize sovereign financing: it made the underwriting system of the Belgian debt obsolete and was replaced by a system of periodic allocations known as OLO.

 

I was also involved with international efforts to promote Belgian companies and products around the world. However cynical the functioning of politics have become, I would like to praise many Ministers, Ambassadors, Governors of the Central Bank of Belgium and high level officials who are deeply serving the country. Their presence at those levels of responsibility remains essential and should not be underestimated.