2023: Belgium's year in headlines

Political scandals, terrorist attacks, landmark court cases and remarkable sporting achievements: we take a look back at the top news stories of 2023 in Belgium.


2023 began with a number of long-running stories that would continue to make headlines throughout the year. In the first few days of the year, a group of farmers unhappy with talks on a deal to limit nitrogen emissions disrupted the new year celebrations of Flemish nationalists N-VA, the party of Environment minister Zuhal Demir.

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Asylum reception crisis deepens in Brussels
The situation of asylum seekers in Brussels seems to be worsening by the day. Many immigrants are forced to live in dire conditions, while...

Meanwhile, the crisis in asylum reception places was already a serious problem, and police were struggling to deal with drug-related violence in Antwerp after the fatal shooting of an 11-year-old girl in the city.


In the courts, there was a guilty verdict for a window cleaner who murdered four women in their own homes in the 1990s, while the leader of a Vietnamese human trafficking gang was sentenced to 10 years for his role in the deaths of 39 people in a refrigerated lorry travelling to the UK.

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Domenico Tedesco appointed as new manager of Belgian Red Devils
The rumoured appointment of Domenico Tedesco as the new manager of the Belgian Red Devils was confirmed by the Royal Belgian Football Association...

In sport, the Red Devils football team found a new manager in Domenico Tedesco and the Flanders Classics cycle races decided to award male and female racers the same prize money.

It was also calculated that the price of a packet of fries had almost doubled in the past 20 years.


Belgium’s Nafi Thiam celebrated a successful spring: the heptathlete took gold at the European Athletics Indoor Championships and broke the world record in the progress.

Wastewater analysis confirmed Antwerp as the cocaine capital of Europe, while a terrorist investigation uncovered a plot to assassinate politician Bart De Wever.

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Wastewater analysis confirms Antwerp is 'cocaine capital' of Europe
Wastewater analysis in Antwerp by the European drug monitoring centre have confirmed that the city has the highest cocaine consumption in Europe...

Musician Stromae cancelled a number of shows in France because of poor health, and eventually cancelled his entire tour, including dates in Brussels. And in Flanders, Frank Deboosere called it a day after 36 years of presenting the weather on VRT.


April saw continuing disputes between supermarket chain Delhaize and unions, after management announced plans to franchise its stores. Striking workers forced many branches to close for long periods, and customers were urged to boycott the chain.

Belgium’s intelligence service warned of vastly increased threats of foreign interference and cyberattacks.

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Delhaize CEO video sparks anger as reconciliation meeting fails
A video message from Delhaize CEO Xavier Piesvaux on the company's internal communication channel sparked anger among employees on Saturday. Later...

In Antwerp, there was a legal challenge to chemical giant Ineos’ plans to build an ethane cracking plant – another story that would run and run – and the port welcomed the largest container ship in its history.


May’s headlines were dominated by the release of Belgian NGO worker Olivier Vandecasteele from prison in Iran, where he had been held for 455 days on charges of spying. Three other Europeans were also released, in return for the release of an Iranian prisoner.

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Olivier Vandecasteele freed from Iranian prison and returning to Belgium
NGO worker Olivier Vandecasteele is returning home to Belgium after 455 days in an Iranian prison. Prime minister Alexander De Croo confirmed the...

Another important story this month was the verdict in the Sanda Dia trial. The 20-year-old engineering student died in 2018 in a brutal hazing ritual. Eighteen members of the Reuzegom fraternity were given community service sentences and fined for their part in his death. There was considerable outrage against the sentencing.

Snooker player Luca Brecel, meanwhile, became the first player from mainland Europe to win the World Championships in the UK, beating Mark Selby to take the title.


There was controversy in June over the presence of an Iranian delegation at the Brussels Urban Summit. In the aftermath, Pascal Smet resigned as Brussels secretary of state.

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State secretary resigns over Iranian expenses at Brussels Urban Summit
Brussels secretary of state Pascal Smet (One.Brussels-Vooruit) resigned on Sunday afternoon over allegations that Belgian funds were used to pay...

Belgium enjoyed more sporting success this summer, with the Belgian Cats basketball team winning their first ever European Championship and Team Belgium securing a record haul at the Special Olympics.

And energy provider Engie reached an agreement with the federal government on extending the life of Belgium’s nuclear reactors to ensure security of energy supply.


More than seven years after the bombings at Brussels Airport and Maelbeek metro station in which 35 people were killed, six defendants were found guilty of terrorist murder following a seven-month trial. Meanwhile, a former soldier was arrested in Norway after threatening prime minister Alexander De Croo in a video posted on social media.

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2016 Brussels attacks: 6 found guilty across the board, 2 defendants fully acquitted
After a seven-month trial, the verdict of the Brussels terror trial was reached on Tuesday evening. Six of the 10 accused, including figureheads...

Elsewhere, iconic news anchor Martine Tanghe died from cancer, and King Philippe marked 10 years since he succeeded his father, Albert II, as monarch.


As banks continued to offer disappointing interest rates to savers, Belgium launched a one-year government bond. The response was remarkable: savers invested to the tune of 20 billion euros.

With the reception crisis ever present, state secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor announced a temporary freeze on providing shelter for single male asylum seekers.

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Criticism over suspension of shelter for single male asylum seekers
The decision to temporarily stop offering shelter to single male asylum seekers in Belgium has sparked fierce criticism. Both ruling parties and...

Another continuing crisis was in education, with Flanders’ schools struggling to recruit teachers. As children prepared to go back to class after the summer, one in four schools was short of teachers.


Prisons across the country were in the spotlight this month, as prisoners rioted and wardens went on strike, in protest against overcrowding and poor conditions.

In Wallonia, there was controversy over the Evras decree, which obliges schools to teach a total of four hours of classes on sex and relationships during a child's education. There were arson attacks on a number of schools in protest.

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School burnings and protests over compulsory sex education
Since Tuesday night, several schools in the Charleroi region have been set on fire in protest against Evras, the compulsory sex education in...

Following the broadcast of a documentary about sexual abuse in the Catholic church, politicians backed calls for an inquiry.

And as large swathes of Europe recovered from summer wildfires, Belgium experienced its first ever September heat wave, with temperatures reaching 25°C for five consecutive days.


Two Swedish football fans were shot dead in Brussels ahead of a match against Belgium. Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne resigned in the aftermath, as serious staff shortages in the justice system emerged.

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Brussels shooting: Suspect from Tunisia illegally living in Belgium
The suspect of the terrorist shooting in Brussels on Monday evening is a 45-year-old Tunisian man who is known to the police but was not on the...

In politics, the Flemish government reached an agreement on the issue of nitrogen emissions, which has been a major headache for MPs for a number of years.

The news since 7 October has been largely dominated by the war in Gaza. Dozens of Belgian citizens have been evacuated from the region, marches have taken place in Brussels to demand a ceasefire and to protest against antisemitism, and Belgium has provided millions of euros in humanitarian aid.


Conner Rousseau resigned as the leader of Flemish socialist party Vooruit after racist and sexist remarks he made to police were leaked to the press. He had previously admitted to making derogatory comments about the Roma community during a late-night conversation and apologised, but stepped down when more details were published by Het Laatste Nieuws. He went on to resign as an MP too.

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Vooruit leader resigns after racist remarks leaked
Conner Rousseau, leader of the Flemish socialist party Vooruit, resigned on Friday over racist remarks he made in early September. Rousseau...

In Antwerp, a new port security corps was launched to tackle the continuing problem of drug crime. And the PFAS scandal grew as it emerged that warnings of contaminated water in Wallonia had been made two years ago but no action had been taken.


A report presented to the Senate in December showed that Belgium’s railway operator “almost certainly” received payments from Germany for the deportation of Jews, Roma, political prisoners and forced labourers during the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the Vatican announced that the Pope would visit Belgium in 2024 to mark the 600th anniversary of the founding of Leuven University. The announcement brought cautious optimism about progress on a series of social issues.

Finally, the big winners of the month were Ghent-based game producer Larian. They took home a remarkable six prizes at The Game Awards in LA – including Game of the Year for their international success story Baldur’s Gate.

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Belgian-made Baldur's Gate 3 takes home six prizes at The Game Awards
Baldur's Gate 3, a computer game created by Ghent company Larian, won six awards at The Game Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday night. Among them...


Olivier Vandecasteele returns to Belgium following his release from prison in Iran after 455 days © BELGA PHOTO POOL DIDIER LEBRUN

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