Louis Verbeke, born in Bruges 71 years ago, has received in the summer 2022 the high distinction of ‘Officer in the Order of the Crown’, Belgium’s highest Order.
Louis has been since 1987 honorary consul of Spain, the first Spanish consulate in Bruges since 1530. Louis has deep ties with Spain. Before studying at the College of Europe, he studied Spanish for 4 years taking evening classes and each summer, as a student, he applied for 1-month internship abroad. Thanks to these exchanges promoted by AIESEC, Louis was trainee at the headquarters of a warehouse chain in Essen/Germany, a shipyard in Valencia/Spain, a building company in Milano/Italy, a state cement factory in (communist) Krakow/Poland, and a machinery company in Valencia/Spain. Since bursaries were not available, Louis worked from time to time as regular dock laborer in the harbor of Antwerp to support his stays abroad.
After his studies at the College, in the ECO department, and his military service, he won the ‘Laureate of the Prize of the Belgian Foreign Trade Minister’ and was sent to the Belgian Embassy in Madrid – at the time, Spain was negotiating adherence to the European Economic Community (EEC) and NATO - to make some advanced market studies and elaborate cooperation plans between Belgian and Spanish companies. During that experience, Louis matured a deep belief that consulates are a necessity because of the practical support they offer directly to citizens.
Once back in Belgium, Louis started thinking about the upcoming growing presence of Spanish students at the College of Europe, the increase of Spanish tourists (for example, 19 000 visited Bruges in July-August 2019), and Spanish citizens either looking for a job or conducting business in Bruges. Spain and Belgium have deep historical ties not only in the modern era, but also recently (Belgium had a Spanish Queen, Dona Fabiola de Mora y Aragon). In this context, Louis pitched his idea of opening a Spanish consulate to the Embassy of Spain in Brussels. After negotiations and checks at highest levels between the governments of both countries Spain and Belgium (their Ministers of Foreign Affairs), the idea was accepted, and Louis Verbeke was appointed Honorary Consul, a position that, after 35 years, he still holds.
For this record-breaking state of service, Louis became last summer Dean of the Belgian ‘Corps Consulair’. For his service (always given free of charge and without making any distinctions between Belgians and Spaniards asking for consular help), His Majesty Philippe von Saksen-Coburg Gotha, King of the Belgians, made him Officer in the Order of the Crown, a honour never given before to any Honorary Consul.
This is not the first decoration Louis has received: for 25 years of service, he received from His Majesty Juan Carlos I, King of the Spaniards, the decoration of ‘Commander of the Order of Civil Merit’, and for having contributed to the positive resolution of a special call for consular
assistance during the negotiations for adherence to NATO, the Spanish Minister of Defence, exceptionally, granted him the distinction of ‘Great White Cross for Military Merit - First Class’.
Beside continuing with his consular duties, Louis offers a one-day intensive seminar to train perspective honorary consuls because of the increasing need, and lack, of professional profiles.