FEMA Partners - MAG Belgium
Theo Beeldens from fellow FEMA organisation MAG Belgium gives us a united view of European riders' rights.
Interview by Ralf Bretveld – October 2006
RB: How many active motorcyclists are there in your country and how many of them are a member of your organisation? Is your organisation growing, stable in numbers or are you losing members?
TB: In Belgium there are about 300.00 motorcycles that are registered. Endurance, cross and race motorcycles are also included.
It is not uncommon for one person to own two or more motorcycles, so we estimate that there are about 200.000 motorcyclists on the road. MAG Belgium has about 6.500 members.
This number varies because memberships are not renewed on January 1st, but in the month someone became a member. Every month we lose about 200 members and we gain also about 200 members. At this moment, our numbers are pretty stable.
RB: Would you say your organisation is well known in your country, among bikers as well as among the general public and other parties, such as politicians?
TB: Being well known among motorcyclists has become very difficult.
People stop riding when they start families, whereas people in their late thirties start getting the “childhood dream syndrome”. So there is a huge variation.
In addition, enquiries we held have shown that there are only a few motorcycle clubs left in Belgium. Fifteen years ago, every street would have his own motorcycle club so to speak; nowadays, clubs have narrowed down to the usual two brothers-in-law, a neighbour and a colleague from their job. And these small groups are hard to reach.
When it comes to politicians, that’s a different story. These are often stayers. Their working area may vary after every election, but in the fourteen years that MAG Belgium has existed we managed to step on several sensible toes and embarrass the main players in our political area. They know us for sure!
Because of our correct, well informed files and our open, un-judging way of approaching them most relations are positive ones. In most political parties we have politicians that are member of MAG Belgium.
RB: Besides fighting for riders' rights, are there other activities your organisation is involved in (for example consumer activities such as discount on insurance or fuel, participation in riders' trainings programs etc.)
TB: MAG Belgium consists of three parts. MAG Belgium, the riders’ rights organisation that coordinates the members and the political work, MAG Social for organising events such as our annual bikefestival and runs and MAG Training which houses education, government contracts and motorcycle training programs.
In addition, MAG Belgium contributes in setting up and coordinating actions of other organisations that are held in Brussels.
RB: Could you give some examples of the important successes achieved by your organisation?
TB: Successes? I prefer to call them bonuses, as experience has shown us that we can achieve a large success on one subject, as for example with the cable-barriers in the Netherlands, but ridiculous ideas like this never cease to emerge. However when we get another government we have to start over again.
Our bonuses are usually the result of a chain-reaction. As an example, three years ago our minister of Transport promised us that we could do an awareness campaign at the start of the motorcycling season to make proud users aware that bikers were going on the road again. As a result of this, MAG Belgium has sent out the so-called safety-charter. Politicians that do not sign this charter declare that they think that it is acceptable that bikers die in accidents that are caused by bad infrastructure.
MAG has managed to turn this charter into a vademecum. This means that regional or local authorities do not receive any money from the national government for their infrastructural plans unless they take concerns for motorcyclists into account in setting up these plans. That has convinced many politicians to sign the charter after all, which enables us to keep them to their promises.
The disadvantage is that we need a lot of volunteers to check all these plans and locations.
RB: What are the main subjects you are working on at this moment?
TB: The above mentioned safety charter, training demands for all powered two-wheelers and daytime running lights are the subjects that take most of our time at the moment.
RB: Are there any subjects that will get your special attention in the near future?
TB: We will work hard on perfecting the above mentioned vademecum. It is our task to get as many advantages for motorcyclists as possible into this file. The better we do our work, the more cities and counties will have to carry out these rules if they want to keep getting funds from the national government.
In addition, we have local elections at the end of 2006 that are followed by national elections, somewhere early 2007. This gives us the opportunity to explain to motorcycling voters who we definitely don’t want to join the new government.
It is clear that politicians read our Mag-a-zine. We have received several e-mails and letters from politicians to explain that their (anti-motorcycling) proposals ‘really weren’t meant like that’. In other words, it’s payback time for us.
RB: When did your organisation join FEMA and what was the main reason to do so?
TB: MAG Belgium joined the FEM in 1992. As you all know, FEM joined EMA to form the FEMA. The main reason to join FEM was – and still is – that together we are stronger in our negotiations with European politicians.
RB: What role does FEMA play in your current or future activities?
TB: As I told earlier: ridiculous ideas never cease to emerge. In addition, local or regional ‘spare time politicians’ tend to hide behind Europe. Due to FEMA’s knowledge of European legislation it is very easy to us to stop such nonsense.
I for myself know that politicians were jealous of our knowledge on several occasions. MAG Belgium has – thanks to FEMA – faster access to more accurate information than these local politicians. Where they have to follow endless protocols to get to information, we are informed by our European colleagues a few days after these subjects are treated in the European Parliament.
RB: Do you have some good advice for your fellow FEMA-member organisations?
TB: Join in! FEMA exists only by input of its member organisations. Strong member organisations mean a strong FEMA. If every member contributes to his or her own riders’ rights organisation, this will make that organisation stronger which will in turn strengthen FEMA.
The current co-workers can run out of ideas, and a bit of fresh blood can make any athlete run faster. If we do not take action, there will only be a ‘Vision Zero’ concerning motorcycling and bikers.
Could you look the youth of tomorrow or your own children in the eye if motorcycling would be banned and you would not have tried to stop it?
RB: Why should we all visit your country next summer?
TB: You should all visit Belgium for our fine beers and the laid-back attitude.
And we understand and speak most of the common European languages.