Thursday

19th Sep 2019

Brussels flightpath politics cause public furore

  • Posters in Brussels against the Wathelet plan (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Thousands of people living in Brussels are up in arms about a new overflight plan in place since February which has seen the east and west parts of the city subject to the thundering noise of planes taking off and landing at the busy nearby national airport.

Yet the Belgian government has only a couple of weeks left to find a solution for a problem that dates back many, many years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

It is complex task in a very complex political environment. Brussels Airport is located close to the city centre and thus in a densely populated area.

In whatever direction airplanes fly, a part of the population is always going to be affected by noise pollution.

But the question is which part exactly.

Belgium has been discussing this for over a decade. Unfortunately for all concerned, there is no clean solution.

The big question is how the flights are spread, so that everybody around the airport takes a bit of the burden. Over the years various routes have been selected, tested, used and rejected.

While the issue has slipped up and down the political agenda over the past years, the 6 February entry into force of the new flight path over Brussels has once more brought it to the fore.

Posters dot Brussels protesting the new flight paths and they are a repeated topic of conversation for many residents.

The new overflight routes are down to a decision by state secretary for mobility Melchior Wathelet, a member of the francophone Christian Democrats (cdH).

With elections approaching in May – at the EU, regional and local level – Wathelet decided he wanted to do a political favour for the party's vice prime minister, Joelle Milquet, who was candidate to become minister president for the Brussels region. It was a goal almost within her reach but she needed an extra push.

So Wathelet proposed tweaking the flight paths so that those living in Brussels – the capital has some 1.1 million inhabitants and around half are said to be affected by the noise of the planes – would be less affected.

That sounds reasonable enough on paper. But the reality was more complicated and led to immense squabbling. First of all among the French-speaking parties, who accused cdH of playing an electoral game as the municipalities where Milquet needed extra votes were favoured, to the detriment of municipalities not in cdH-territory.

Then the Flemish parties realised that Flanders would also take a hit. Brussels airport lies just outside the Brussels region, within the Flemish region.

So airplanes taking off and landing are either flying over Brussels or over Flanders.

Delaying tactics

From a legal point of view, Wathelet was entitled to change the routes, even though it was to help his cdH vice prime minister.

So his opponents had to be creative. That is why Flemish socal democrat (sp.a) vice prime minister Johan Vande Lanotte put the constitution to good use.

The document foresees a way for the Flemish government to temporarily block a decision by the federal government, if the decision contains a conflict of interest.

The decision is then blocked for 60 days – a time period that is coming to an end at the beginning of July.

The big advantage of this trick is that it postponed a definitive decision until after the elections.

Under the Wathelet-scenario the decision on the updated flight paths would have been taken just before the 25 May elections – the main reason for the change in the first place.

Now the decision and the implementation will fall in calmer times.

What that final decision will be, is hard to say. One thing is sure however – Wathelet's plan for aiding Milquet did not play out well for them.

There was so much protest against their move, with many voters punishing them. Milquet did poorly in the elections, and has no chance of becoming minister president. She is now very close to the end of her political career.

In the hours following the publication of the election results, Milquet blamed Wathelet, claiming that without his "mistake" the party would have done better at the polls. This comment did not increase her popularity with voters.

Last point on the agenda

It's highly unlikely that Belgium will have a new federal government in time to take the decision by the 60-day deadline.

So it will have to be the out-going coalition that decides. And the issue will certainly be less important than the machinations of forming a new government.

Each party in the old coalition will take any decision on flight paths in light of how it will potentially affect their chances of getting into the next governing coalition – favouring potential future allies and disfavouring political enemies.

So the complexity of Belgian politics will add to the complexity of the issue of overflights. As the signs within Brussels airport say: "Welcome to Belgium."

Opinion

Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration

Brussels' current vision for cooperation on defence, where third countries can contribute but have no say in decision-making and in the guidance of operations, is unlikely to be attractive to the UK.

Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds

National governments have a "crucial role" to prioritise low-carbon cities to tackle climate challenges and secure economic prosperity since high-carbon systems are expected to become unprofitable or inoperable in the near future.

News in Brief

  1. Austria to veto EU trade deal with South America
  2. Brexit minister asks EU for 'flexibility' to secure a deal
  3. Kovesi has 'sufficient majority' for prosecutor post
  4. France, Finland give UK ultimatum for Brexit plan
  5. Minsk talks bode ill for EU's peace summit on Ukraine
  6. Poll: Poland's nationalist rulers to win October election
  7. Irish lawyers clash with EU commission in Apple case
  8. NGOs take aim at EU smartphone pollution

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Podcast

Trumpworld In Europe

Pastors and plutocrats are sponsoring an ultra-conservative agenda in Europe. Many of them have links to Donald Trump.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  2. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  3. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  4. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  5. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  6. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'
  7. A new Commission for the one percent
  8. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us