Lode Willems: chairman Forum 2040
Since 27 September, Honorary Ambassador Lode Willems assumes the chair of Forum 2040, the dialogue platform which brings together various stakeholders to discuss the Strategic Vision 2040 of Brussels Airport Company.
As top diplomat and former chair of institutions such as the European economic commission of the United Nations and the Belgo-British Conference, he has extensive experience in in the role of chair. He was Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva and was later ambassador in London and Berlin. After a rich diplomatic career stretching over 30 years, Lode Willems set up the External Affairs department at BNP Paribas Fortis and was also director at BASF Antwerp N.V.
Why did you accept the chair of Forum 2040?
The concept and the composition of Forum 2040 are unique. I know of no other example in Belgium where a major company has brought together all stakeholders in its Strategic Vision to gather their opinions. The participants can ask questions about the future of the airport, explain their positions, and enter into a constructive dialogue about them. I am convinced that the positive power of this dialogue will promote mutual understanding, both among the participants and with Brussels Airport.
As chair, I am not the ambassador or the driving force of the Strategic Vision 2040, but rather an independent moderator of the dialogue which the participants will hold. My role is to make sure that all participants of Forum 2040 can have their say and can express their opinion freely, so that a structured consultation can arise between the 80 motivated people. In this way, I am pleased to support this initiative.
Will it be possible to arrive at one solution and to reconcile the various views of the stakeholders?
Forum 2040 is not a negotiation, but a consultation platform in which everybody listens to the various visions, concerns and positions that are gathered. Everybody benefits from this and in this way the airport can make plans for the future in a transparent way. Plans that must provide an answer to quite a few new developments in aviation, but which must also take into account the external factors that could come under threat. Brussels Airport Company says that, thanks to the various fora, it will be able to refine its Strategic Vision 2040 further and modify it where necessary.
Do you have experience in chairing a group of stakeholders who, as is the case of Brussels Airport, do not always operate on the same wavelength?
A heterogeneous group of participants certainly doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, it stimulates my desire to set the dialogue in motion and keep it on track. As ambassador, I was chair of the European economic commission of the United Nations in Geneva. The opposing positions of the various members, particular East versus West, often became heated. Later I chaired the Belgo-British Conference, an annual conference between the two countries. Brussels and London have always had very contradictory views on the future of the European Union. That has become all too clear with the Brexit, but at the time we succeeded in holding a constructive dialogue about the issue.
From 2007 to 2013 I also chaired the International Committee of the Association of Belgian Enterprises (VBO), in order to define VBO positions about the European trade policy. The challenge was to reconcile the views of the various Federations - some protectionist, others in favour of free trade - with each other. So I can boast some experience as chair and I hope this will stand me in good stead in Forum 2040. I am certainly looking forward to it.
The subject of debate, the future of our national airport, is no abstraction for me, but rather a daily reality. That is because of the fact that I lived in Vossem and Moorsel for several years, that I now live in Schaerbeek, and that I can well understand many of the situations that will be raised in Forum 2040. In addition, I am a frequent user of the airport. During my career, I lived abroad a lot and I had to travel frequently, so I got to know at first hand not only our national airport but also various foreign airports. Today I still fly regularly, because – unfortunately – all of my children and grandchildren live abroad and I frequently use Brussels Airport when I go to visit them.
The Airport Business District must become a vibrant ecosystem of its own, where large companies mingle with start-ups. With room for biodiversity and greenery. With room for innovation and new activities.
As part of its Strategic Vision 2040, Brussels Airport Company has put together a Quality Board to provide guidance to the company in the conception and design of ambitious planning projects and of the airport’s public spaces.