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Interview with Ambassador Rudolf Huygelen

13 oktober 2017

In July, Ambassador Rudolf Huygelen took up his post at the Embassy of Belgium in the UK after 3 years at Belgium’s Foreign Ministry in Brussels. He has been active in the Belgian diplomatic service since 1989. On 12th October, he presented his Letter of Credentials to H.M. Queen Elizabeth (
image below).

H.M. Queen Elizabeth & Ambassador Rudolf Huygelen

You have been in London for about 3 months now. What are your first impressions?

London is a fantastic multicultural city as is Brussels, albeit on a smaller scale. It makes for a very rich place, also from an historical perspective. I’m very happy to live in the centre of this magnificent metropolis which offers endless opportunities to visit and explore.

What do you hope to achieve during your posting in London?

During these past three months, I have already made numerous contacts within different sectors of British society; officials, politicians, academics, the Belgian community over here, … It’s an incredibly rich environment which makes it easy to accomplish one’s objectives but, on the other hand, it also creates a vast workload since there are so many topics that can we worked on.

However, the main issue, which we regret but accept, is Brexit. We have to get through this separation process. It is my job to report back to my authorities on the British position and developments on this subject. At the same time, there are messages to be conveyed from my authorities to the various sections of British society. My key message is ‘we are sorry that you are leaving but we are and will remain friends. You are important to us but we are also important to you’. Belgium is a small country but our trade with the UK amounts to 50 billion euros a year which is considerably more than with other larger countries. We are one of the UK’s main trading partners. Despite Brexit, we will strive for good bilateral relations which will become even more important as the UK leaves the Union. I also would like to assist the Belgian regions in enhancing or at least maintaining their trade levels, again despite Brexit, which will undoubtedly have consequences for both trade and investment. Also, I would be very happy to assist Belgian artists and culture in general and encourage academic projects and exchanges between the UK and Belgium.

What made you decide to join the Belgian diplomatic corps?

I have always had a keen interest in international politics. The main task of a diplomat is to report on the political situation of the country where he or she is posted. But also, for instance, I was Belgian ambassador to NATO where you have 28 ambassadors of each member country negotiating around one table and sometimes making very difficult decisions. It’s a very interesting career with various opportunities. Every four years you end up in another country with new  challenges and that appealed to me. Hence I decided to participate in the Belgian diplomatic exams.

How do you view the role of an Ambassador?

First of all, I have a managerial role within the embassy, almost like in a private company. Then there is a representational role. I represent the Belgian King and Government when I participate in events to which I get invited by the British authorities. As I mentioned before, I have the role of informer towards both the Belgian and British authorities and it is also my task to enhance the public image and the image of Belgium in the UK.

What have been your most interesting professional experiences to date?

I have had many interesting experiences throughout my diplomatic career. My very first posting in Bonn, the German capital at the time, came just after the Berlin Wall came down in October 1989. I was dealing with post reunification matters such as the status of foreign forces in Germany, etc. It was a fascinating time to be living in Germany.

In Washington DC as First Secretary, I was in charge of Middle Eastern, African and Asian affairs and I was there when 9/11 happened and the Pentagon came under attack. It was an extraordinary day. All the Americans were ordered to leave and got stuck in an almighty traffic jam like I’d never seen before. We at the Belgian embassy, located near the Pentagon and State Department, continued to work until late by which time the roads were empty.

Acting as spokesperson at the Foreign Ministry was an exciting experience too; to get the know the world of the media and the press.

I was Belgium’s Permanent Representative to NATO at the time of the military operation in Libya and the beginning of the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

And last but not least, head of the Private Office of the Foreign Minister Didier Reynders was also a very intense and interesting job.

Now London, in the middle of Brexit, another challenge. I started my career with the Berlin Wall coming down and the German reunification and now I’m sadly experiencing a divorce process.

Do you have a message for the Belgians residing in the UK?

Firstly, I’m quite confident and optimistic that there will be an agreement between the EU and the UK on the rights of Belgian nationals here and UK nationals in Belgium in the framework of a larger agreement. Nobody wants to see people in limbo, people need security.

Secondly, I would like to appeal to you all to be Belgian ambassadors in the UK and spread the news that Belgium is a beautiful country and compared to some other parts in the world, it is a good place to live.