Brussels in 2018: 16 major events that shaped the city this year

The year is ending and another one is about to start. But before we bring in the new, it’s time to recall all the events that defined and redefined our lives in the past 12 months.

For Brussels, 2018 turned out to be a year of defining moments, interesting events, and some surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Before we say goodbye to this year, let’s look back on some of the happenings that made 2018 a unique year for the city.


1.   Launch of campaign to allow non-Belgians to vote in the Brussels regional elections – February 7

A non-partisan citizens’ initiative led by Thomas Huddleston of Migration Policy Group and Ixelles Councillor Bertrand Wert launched the #1Bru1Vote campaignMore than 5,000 people have signed the petition to grant voting rights in the Brussels regional elections to about 310,000 non-Belgians or 35% of the population of the Brussels-Capital Region.

Cinema Palace

2.  Reopening of Brussels’ oldest and largest cinema – February 28

After 14 years of renovation, the national theater of Belgium on Boulevard Anspach reopened its doors to the public. The former Pathé Palace, which can accommodate 2,500 people, became the largest cinema in Brussels in 1913. Now called the Palace, the fully renovated Art Nouveau building houses four screening rooms featuring films with both French and Dutch subtitles.

3.     240,000 cigarette butts collected in Brussels – April 21

In just three hours, volunteers from citizens’ initiative Leo Not Happy picked up 240,000 cigarette butts all over Brussels. More than 60,000 butts were also gathered from the streets of Antwerp, Liège, Namur, and Ostend all in one day.

4.    Record participation at Belgian Pride Parade – May 19

Approximately 100,000 people including more than 70 delegations participated in the 23rd edition of the Pride Parade in Brussels. With this year’s theme, “Your local power,” event leaders called on local governments to work towards a more explicit and integrated policy for the LGBTI+ community.

In the midst of the festivities, a riot broke out when a group of extremists attacked the float carrying the banner of Flemish nationalist party New Flemish Alliance (N-VA). The group protested the right-wing party’s participation in the event. Five people were arrested by the police.

5.     Mark Zuckerberg at the European Parliament – May 22

The founder and chief executive officer of Facebook appeared before members of the European Parliament to answer questions on personal data breach. However, the lawmakers didn’t get much out of Zuckerberg except for generic answers and an apology.

Zuckerberg was invited to a hearing in Brussels after reports came out that a data analytics firm that worked with  American President Donald Trump accessed millions of Facebook profiles to influence voters in the last U.S. presidential elections.

6.     E-scooter sharing makes an entry in Brussels – June 29

You’ve probably noticed those electric scooters parked everywhere in Brussels. The e-scooter sharing revolution reached the Belgian capital during the summer. Belgian start-up Troty was the first to launch in June, followed by American companies Bird in September and Lime in November.

7.    Trump tantrum at the NATO Summit – July 11-12

U.S President Donald Trump practically hijacked the summit with warnings that the United States will pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if European leaders don’t increase their defense contributions to the military alliance. While berating his allies and accusing them of military underspending, Trump even broke with diplomatic protocol and addressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her first name.

8.   Red Devils Victory Celebration – July 15

The elusive sense of Belgian national identity came alive during the grand homecoming party of Belgium’s national football team. Francophones and Flemings gathered together to celebrate the return of the Red Devils after winning third place at the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

All in all, around 40,000 fans joined the victory parade from the Royal Palace in Laeken all the way to the Grand Place. The football stars entertained their fans from the balcony of the Brussels City Hall.

The 2018 World Cup saw the Red Devils in their best performance since 1986 when Belgium last made it to the semi-finals.

palais de justice

9.    Palace of Justice controversy rekindled – August 2

The controversy over the miserable condition of Belgium’s most important courthouse was reawakened when the Belgian government announced that the renovation of the Palace of Justice will not be completed before 2040. The year before, it was announced that the works would be done by 2028.

The 135-year-old building has been covered in scaffolding for more than three decades. Crumbling and infected with fungus, the palace has become unsafe for court employees and visitors. Just three months ago, part of the ceiling above the Court of Appeals’ registry fell apart.

10.   King Philippe drives new tram 9 – September 1

The Belgian king test-drove STIB’s new tram service which shortens the travel from Simonis in Brussels City to Arbre Ballon in Jette, and passes through the UZ Brussels Hospital.

The city also bid farewell to tram 94 and hello to tram 8 on September 29. The new 2-kilometer tramway offers improved connection from Roodebeek to other parts of Brussels with four additional stops.


11.  STIB strike disrupts public transport – October 2

Metro, bus, and tram operations were disrupted in the city when the Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company (STIB) and labor unions launched a massive strike to demand better pensions. Two previous demonstrations also took place in February and in May.

12.   Bono at the European Parliament – October 10

U2 vocalist Bono visited the European Parliament to campaign for stronger relations between the European Union and Africa. The Irish music icon came in behalf of ONE, an international non-governmental organization he co-founded to advance efforts to end extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa.

Pierre Kompany
Ganshoren Mayor Pierre Kompany, first black mayor in Belgium

13.   Historic communal elections – October 14

The 2018 communal elections in the Brussels region was an election of firsts: Pierre Kompany became the first black mayor elected in the history of Belgium when he won the elections in Ganshoren. Voters in Ixelles and Forest elected a mayor from Ecolo-Groen for the first time. And never before did Brussels have four mayors of non-Belgian origin in a row.

Gilets Jaunes

14.  “Yellow Vest” protests turn violent – November 30 and December 8

November saw the advent of the Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests, a grassroots movement fighting for lower taxes and fuel prices, and higher wages in France. The movement eventually spilled over to Brussels and other parts of Belgium.

On November 30, hundreds of protestors in fluorescent yellow vests converged at 16 Rue de la Loi and started hurling rocks at the prime minister’s office. Belgian police fired water cannon and tear gas to subdue the demonstrators who fought back by throwing stones and setting fire to police vans. More than 60 people were arrested and more than a dozen were injured.

The incident didn’t stop Yellow Vests from staging another protest at the European Quarter on December 8. The demonstrations once again escalated to violence resulting in more than 30 injuries and about 400 arrests. The movement may have encouraged the nationwide strike organized by labor unions on December 14.

Climate change

15.  Climate change march attracts large turnout – December 2

More than 65,000 people showed up during the “Claim the Climate” demonstration, according to the police. Participants marched peacefully through the EU district to remind governments to honor the commitments they made in the 2015 Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The demonstration was carried out while a U.N. climate change summit was taking place in Katowice, Poland.


16.  Protest against U.N. Migration Pact – December 16

Thousands of people took to the streets to express their objection to the Belgian government’s decision to support the U.N. Migration Pact, a non-legally binding agreement to adopt friendlier and more humane policies and actions towards migrants all over the world.

The highly controversial pact triggered a major political crisis that will forever mark the year 2018 in Belgium. Insurmountable disagreements over whether or not to back the U.N. deal led to the collapse of the Belgian government.

Flemish nationalist political party New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) pulled out of the government in protest of Prime Minister Charles Michel’s decision to sign the pact at the Marrakesh Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration. Michel was eventually forced to resign. Belgium is now under a caretaker government until the next federal elections on May 26, 2019.