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Mini-Europe director retires, passes diplomacy baton to daughter

09:00 21/03/2024

Mini-Europe’s director Thierry Meeùs is retiring from running the popular Brussels attraction, passing the baton to his daughter during the site’s 35th year of operation.

“It’s a special year in every respect,” Meeùs told Bruzz.

Meeùs (pictured right) has been managing director since 1988 and helped develop Mini-Europe from the start, having inherited his love for theme parks from his father who founded the Walibi Group of amusement parks.

The 35th anniversary of Mini-Europe is being marked not only by his retirement, but also a number of events that coincide with the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

“We try to do something new every year and respond to current events: for example, in 2020 we gave attention to Brexit and in 2022 to the war in Ukraine,” said Meeùs.

Starting in April this year, 15 new miniature scenes will be built at Mini-Europe that tie in with current events and explain exactly what Europe does and can do for its citizens. Themes include migration, biodiversity and the Erasmus programme.

Meeùs will retire in June, becoming chairman of the board of directors while handing over operations to his daughter.

“Creating Mini-Europe was so much more than just management,” he said. “We built something that didn't exist yet, we had no example. Everything depended on our own creative ideas. That's what made it so much fun.”

When Mini-Europe began in the late 1980s, the European Union did not have as many member states as it does now. With each new member state, a new miniature had to be devised for the theme park.

This is always in consultation with the ambassador of the country in question, making Meeùs somewhat of a diplomat himself, navigating business and cultural needs.

“Hungary, for example, wanted something very big, but we only had a limited budget,” recalled Meeùs.

“As a result, discussions took a long time. Then when a new ambassador arrived, the talks had to start all over again.

"Eventually there was even attention to it in the Hungarian parliament because someone wondered why there was nothing from Hungary in Mini-Europe yet. This work is very political."

There was also some discussion with the Netherlands.

“We got comments that the windmills were turning in the wrong direction,” Meeùs said. “People were not happy about that. So you see, things can be very sensitive here.”

Meeùs has personally grown increasingly fond of the European cause over his years spent managing the attraction, saying he has come to feel like an ambassador for it.

“I really think we need Europe when you look at the challenges we’re facing now, such as the war in Ukraine and climate change,” said Meeùs.

Mini-Europe attracts 400,000 visitors a year, making it the second most popular tourist attraction in Brussels after the Atomium.

For a time, it looked as though Mini-Europe was going to have to make way for Neo, a major project for the Heysel area that includes a shopping centre, housing and other economic activities. It was only in 2021 that a decision was made allowing the theme park to be included in the new plans.

Mini-Europe will, however, face competition from new amusement parks registered in Neo's plans, which include a thematic amusement park Spirouland based entirely on the cartoon character Spirou, and a science-themed park, La cité des enfants.

“Neo was supposed to start already in 2011, but was always postponed,” Meeùs said. “It’s a complex project and it’s unclear to us when and if it will come. Anyway, we’re still allowed to stay until at least 2032, so we are happily continuing to plan.”

Photo: Timon Ramboer/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons