Dutch promise talks on border ‘coffee shops’
2 June 2006
BRUSSELS — Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner will enter into talks in the near future with Maastricht Mayor Gerd Leers over his controversial plans to relocate ‘coffee shops’ that sell marijuana away from the city centre closer to the Belgian border.
Donner made his announcement on Thursday night after hastily-staged consultations were held with Benelux colleagues during an earlier planned summit in Luxembourg. The sideline talks were held at the request of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
The Christian Democrat CDA minister wants to enter into “open consultations” with Leers, but remain tightlipped over the possibility of blocking the mayor’s plans.
Donner said he understood Leer’s plan to relocate the coffee shops to parking lots near the border to minimise drug tourism problems in the city centre, but said understanding should also be shown for Belgium’s objections.
Belgian Interior Minister Patrick Dewael requested on Thursday night that talks be held between all involved mayors, public prosecutors and high-ranking police officers from the border areas. “Those talks could be held before the summer holiday,” he said.
Dewael also said the talks had been penciled in following an agreement at the start of this year.
Dewael had represented Verhofstadt during the talks in Senningen after the Belgian Liberal VLD leader sent Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende a letter requesting urgent dialogue over the “contestable plans of Maastricht”.
Verhofstadt does not want Belgium to be faced with the problems of having coffee shops located along the national border. He also said the plan is in breach of European agreements.
Both prime ministers will probably discuss the issue again in two weeks time at an EU summit in Brussels.
Flemish mayors had earlier raised concerns about Maastricht’s plans, claiming that crime problems in their municipalities will worsen if the public can buy soft drugs — and possibly also hard drugs — near arterial roads to the border.
The municipality of Lanaken is considering placing surveillance cameras on the border if Maastricht proceeds with its plan.
Heated opposition also came from Tongeren last week as the city’s public prosecutor, Ivo Delbrouck, said: “Keep your own rubbish and misery and don’t cause trouble for us”. The statement was made as the Dutch Parliament’s justice committee staged a public hearing in Lanaken.
But Maastricht mayor Leers has since criticised the Belgian drugs policy, calling it hypocritical. In Belgium, anyone caught with 3g of marijuana usually escapes prosecution.
The sale and purchase of drugs, however, is illegal. This means that many Belgian users buy their drugs in Maastricht. The city’s 16 coffee shops attract 4,500 drug tourists every day.
Meanwhile, public prosecutors in the Flemish Limburg border districts Tongeren and Hasselt have said they want to keep the possession of three grams of cannabis officially prosecutable. Belgian law gives them this possibility, but in practice, possession is not prosecuted.
[Copyright Expatica News 2006]
Subject: Belgian news