21 September 2004
BRUSSELS – The Belgian government remained locked in stalemate on Tuesday over a decision to allow global courrier DHL to expand its Belgian operations.
The company’s plan to expand its services at Zaventem airport would create thousands of new jobs, but at the expense of local residents who have balked at the necessary increase in night flights.
The ruling Liberal-Socialist coalition of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt backs the DHL bid, which would help the government to meet an election pledge to create 200,000 new jobs.
But it has met with stiff oppostion from regional governments and local residents, with 70 families living near the airport launching a court case to get DHL to cut the number of night flights.
The government set a Tuesday deadline to reach agreement after DHL threatened to pull the plug on the deal altogether.
If its expansion is blocked, DHL could shut its Belgian hub and relocate to Leipzig, Germany or Vatry, France.
“There is a lot at stake here. We are talking about thousands and thousands of jobs. We can’t fiddle around with this,” said Verhofstadt, reported by AP.
Aircraft noise is a sensitive political issue in Belgium and critics of the DHL plan have argued that an increase of night flights would balloon the national medical bill to EUR 250 million annually.
They claim the noise would lead to hundreds of deaths through depression and heart disease.
Linguistic bickering has also fuelled disagreements on the issue.
More night flights would affect Dutch and French-speaking communities near the capital and regional officials want to be seen defending their constituents.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Belgian news