The Gulf State of Dubai is eyeing Antwerp’s pivotal position as diamond trading centre. Boasting a turnover in this sector of 30 billion euros compared to Antwerp’s 40 billion, it may not sound so farfetched. Especially if one considers its location halfway between Africa, the biggest supplier of rough diamonds, and the two biggest growth markets for diamonds: India and China. Another trump card is the fact that it’s a free trade zone where diamond traders are exempt from taxes.
This week’s world congress for diamond traders, which has been labelled ‘The New Silk Route’, is attended not only by the CEOs of all the big names in the industry, including De Beers, Alrosa, Rio Tinto and Rosy Blue, but also by politicians from South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Zimbabwe, the biggest producers of diamonds. The focus of the industry has shown a shift from West to East, African production outperforming Canada and Australia. Meanwhile India and China, with their growing middle classes, have emerged as the biggest consumer markets. The market in India is currently 23 billion euros strong and increases at a rate of 10% to 15% each year, with sales in China totalling an estimated 7 billion each year. This is exacerbated by the fact that India has the highest number of diamond cutters in the world at a time when the numbers in Antwerp are dwindling. “Dubai is complementary to the Indian diamond industry. Mumbai, where most of the diamonds are cut, is only about a 2 and a half hour flight from Dubai,” says Vipul Shah, president of the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council. India and China currently make up one quarter of the global diamond market and it seems that by 2020 they will be ready to overtake the US, which still holds the lion’s share of the market at about 40%. This would most definitely hurt Antwerp, which trades mostly with the US. They nevertheless remain well positioned during the congress, with Dilip Mehta, the CEO of Rosy Blue, even featuring in a promotional film of the event. One may wonder if they plan to relocate from Antwerp to Dubai, but the official reply to any such guesses is simply that “Rosy Blue is a congress sponsor. We also have a branch in Dubai”. But with Mehta up for fraud in Belgium, it won’t be surprising if he decided to take his business elsewhere. Dubai currently counts 660 diamond traders. Peter Meeus, former CEO of the High Council for Diamonds (HRD) in Antwerp, is now the president of the Dubai Diamond Exchange. “Whatever the critics suggest, we have the same diamond controls as in the rest of the world,” he says. This refutes allegations that Dubai does not take 'blood diamonds' with a suspicious origin so seriously.
Following the closure of the Ford plant, Genk has become the most vulnerable local job market zone in Flanders, with only 50.2% of its local residents employed within the region and the remainder in jobs in regions such as Hasselt. The reconversion policy introduced after the closure of the car factory will determine whether Genk maintains its status as job market zone.
Most Flemings live in the surroundings of the city where they work, according to a report released by the Centre for Employment and Social Economy (WSE). The institute has divided Flanders in fourteen local job market zones, identifying them as areas surrounding cities where most workers are employed. The region around Brussels and Antwerp are identified as the biggest job zones, with 83.5% and 75.7% of those working in the city living in its surroundings. The region around Genk, which is at the bottom of the list, is now even more threatened as regional employment hub. After the closure of the Ford plant and its suppliers the number of job seekers (8 800) is supposed to double. According to the researchers, “much will depend on the reconversion policy and the success at creating new jobs in the region”. As it is, jobs in the region are scarce, with only 62 jobs for 100 residents of a working age. And at 60%, the region struggles with the lowest employment and highest unemployement rate (10.2%) in Flanders. It seems inevitable then that most of the job seekers will have to venture outside the region to find employment. This could lead to the employment hub of Genk becoming part of the hub of Hasselt.
The Flemish government needs to raise 319 million euros if it hopes to keep this year’s budget on track, Flemish minister for the budget Philippe Muyters (N-VA) says in the free newspaper Metro today. Any hope to save some of the budget for new policy has gone. “The most recent figures released by the Federal Planning Bureau are disappointing,” says Muyters, adding that “with growth dropping from 0.7% to 0.2%, the region’s allocations from the federal government will decrease by 319 million euros”. When questioned about the impact of state reform on the Flemish budget, Muyters could not answer, saying simply, “I don’t know anything. I have still not seen a single text on the labout market or financing act (distributing federal funds to the regions, ed.). My colleagues are also in the dark. Let’s take the usurping powers for example. I heard we need to contribute 300 million euros, but no consensus has been reached within the federal government, so far; at least I have not been informed. The federal government cannot take it for granted that we take over the financing. That’s simply not acceptable”. The usurping powers come under Flemish policy but have always been financed by the federal government, who now plan to pass this financial burden onto the regions.
The Flemish government has approved Flemish culture minister Joke Schauvliege’s (CD&V) concept plan for its future arts policy. The plan is the result of months of debate with cultural stakeholders that started in the run-up to the new round of distribution of cultural subsidies in June last year. The minister announced her plan to re-evaluate the Arts Decree which governs the allocation of multi-year grants. The changes in the art landscape urged a new allocation of funds. The new plan will see a blurring of the barriers between music, dance, audiovisual or textual theatre. From now on grant applicants will submit their personal ‘artistic DNA’ across all the arts disciplines, with subsidies approved for a period of five years to ensure organizations can enjoy continuity and being a government term at the same time. With the introduction of Flanders Art, often overlooked aspects such as support to the artists, the purchasing of art, commissioning (for musical and creative compositions) or international work (the support of tours abroad or promotion abroad) will receive attention. It will operate as a stimulus fund much like in the film industry, with earnings reinvested. An impulse policy for the regions (for example the art in Limburg) or target groups (the poor, diversity) will also be rolled out. The top six existing institutions (De Singel, Flemish Opera/Flanders Ballet, two major museums and orchestras) will serve as an umbrella for the Flemish art canon, which may eventually incorporate the city theatres such as Toneelhuis (Antwerp), KVS (Brussels) and NTGent. The Literary and Audiovisual Funds will continue to operate, while the Parliament is considering the allocation of additional funds such as a music fund. There will not be much time to finetune the concept note given the fact that it must be voted on by the end of this year. Current agreements with ‘major institutions’ run until 2015 and the current Arts Decree runs until 2016.
The Louvain-based biopharmaceutical company Thrombogenics has been granted approval by the EU drug authorities to commercialize its first product Jetrea (ocriplasmin), a drug that treats symptomatic vitreomacular traction adhesion (VMA) and is already sold in the US. An estimated 250 000 to 300 000 people in Europe suffer from central blindness, a condition which causes the aqeous humour to shrink with age and results in sticking on the retina which may distort vision. The go-ahead triggers a 45 million euro milestone payment for Thrombogenics. The company already owns the rights to commercialize the drug in the US, but Alcon, an affiliate and specialist in eye diseases of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, has aquired the rights from Thrombogenics to commercialize the drug outside the US. They plan to first launch the drug in the UK and Germany, where it will be available within a couple of weeks. Alcon must have the price of the medicine fixed by each of the health institutions in the countries, which will differ from one country to the next. Once the price has been set, a procedure will follow to fix reimbursement for the therapy by the respective social health insurance systems. The whole process could take as long two to three years, but Thrombogenics is ready to bag its earnings. Their partnership with Alcon has triggered a 375 million-euro payment, with the first 75 million euros received when the deal was signed last year. A further 45 millions will be paid now, and once Jetrea has been distributed commercially, they will receive another 45 million euros. Thrombogenics employs a sales team of 32 in the US. Financial prospects seem excellent at this stage, but financial director Chris Buyse prefers to wait for the first quarter results. Analysts believe Jetrea sales will peak at 700 million euros per annum in the US and Europe by 2020.
Jetrea’s incredible success is excellent for the Flemish biotechnology, with Thrombogenics another feather in its cap. The excitement is not shared by all analysts, though, and some say the company produces only one drug, which is only prescribed for one specific disease. But Thrombogenics have also explored the use of ocriplasm to treat other eye diseases such as AMD or age-related blindness and eye problems among diabetes patients. The company recorded a profit last year and this year will be no different. In the US one Jetrea treatment costs 3 950 dollars for a 0.5 milligram bottle and according to De Haes, the price in Europe will be more or less on a par. Another milestone event for the company is its listing on the Brussels Bel20 index today.
The Flemish government approved the regional spatial implementation plan (GRUP) for the Antwerp port area on Friday. This secures the future of the harbour development plan on the right and left banks of the River Scheldt, which will be rolled out once the government has obtained the advice on the matter from the Council of State. A new harbour area, the Saeftinghe zone for maritime, logistic and/or industrial use, will occupy the site next to the Deurganck Dock on the left bank. The existing buffer zones will be extended. A natural area with water and tidal marshes has been earmarked for the area between the Saefinghe zone and the Dutch border, adjoining the swamp known as The Drown Land of Saeftinghe. Those areas which are not owned by the port area and have not been earmarked for natural development will be used for agriculture. The town of Doel will be demolished and the polder villages of Saaftinge, Ouden Doel and Rapenburg will disappear. As the Antwerp Polder (the right bank of the Scheldt) offers no room for extension, it was decided to develop and densify the area, with a few buffers in the Berendrecht and Stabroek polders extended. Retail outlets on the Noordlaan will eventually make way for harbout activities. ‘Noordland’ in the north of the Zandvliet Polder will become a new waiting area for inland shipping. Residents, farmers, independent businesses and companies will enjoy access to a social guidance plan of the development.
Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters and his Dutch colleague Mark Rutte are scheduled to visit Texas early in July. Peeters, a Christian Democrat, and Rutte, a liberal, have been in talks for quite some time about Flemish-Dutch missions abroad, including one to South Africa. When the South African authorities indicated that the proposed time did not suit them, Flanders and the Netherlands opted for the American state of Texas. They will focus their visit on Houston and Austin, two centres of the petrochemical, energy and logistics industries.
During their visit they want to promote the so-called common Delta Region (the Rhine, Maas and Scheldt deltas), as both regions share the intention to offer a trans-border logistic network to internional partners. “Multinationals no longer choose to use either Antwerp or Rotterdam for their logistic base of operations,” Peeters explained during his reading at the World Museum in Rotterdam on Monday. “They choose the Delta Region for the comprehensive range of services available on this small surface.” Peeters would like to see these joint economic missions take place on an annual basis and is keen to position the Delta Region as “the global logistics hub of Europe”.
American aluminium giant Aleris showed its brand new cold roller in Duffel yesterday. This huge machine, installed at a cost of 53 million euros after 18 months in production, is used to press aluminium sheets with a thickness of eight millimeters to half a millimeter. “Many people are negative about the future of the industry in Flanders,” minister-president Kris Peeters (CD&V) said during the inauguration. “They can consider this to be their answer.”
The CEO of Aleris, Steve Demetriou, came to Duffel to be present at the event. Spending a number of years in Flanders in the nineties, he has nothing but praise for the region, which he finds extremely business-friendly. “It’s a very entrepreneurial region that encourages investments and offers talented, highly trained staff,” he said.
Andy Ishmael, CEO of the Duffel outfit, was equally enthusiastic, saying: “We enjoy excellent relations with the Flemish government and the region has exceptional engineers and workers. When we needed eighty staff to accommodate increased production, the Flemish region wasted no time to provide them.” Demetriou further believes that the region’s position in the heart of the European auto industry makes the cold roller perfectly positioned to serve this sector as carmakers are always seeking ways to make their vehicles lighter – especially their premium models – in view of stringent EU guidelines concerning CO2 emissions. With aluminium increasingly used to replace the heavier steel for coachworks, this perfectly explains why in Duffel a cold roller for alluminium was installed, whereas cold rollers for steel at ArcelorMittal’s in Liège were closed down.
Roeland Baan of Aleris does not see any real problem with high wage costs in Flanders, saying: “Wage costs are high, that's true, but they can be offset by focusing on high-quality technologies that are hard to copy.” The site in Duffel, originally called Sidal and eventually being part of Corus, the current Tata Steel, was erected in 1946. Corus sold the site to the American Aleris in 2006. The Duffel site, which employs a total staff of about one thousand, will not be recruiting in the near future, but will secure the site, says Demetriou.
A new dispute is brewing between the Flemish and federal governments concerning the auction for a mobile internet licence. According to Wilfred Vandaele, MP for the Flemish Nationalist N-VA party, it could create “a huge problem” if the federal government fails to share the income of the 800 MHz licence with the regional communities. The 800 MHz band was used up till now to broadcast analog TV and hence comes under Flemish government power. The release of the bandwidth could now be auctioned for digital broadband, which is a federal power. The federal government initially seemed prepared to pay the regions up to 74 million euros to release the band spectrum, but is said to change its point of view. Vandaele, who fears the licence will be used to force the regions to pay an additional contribution to the federal budget, has warned that the Flemish government could veto such a proposal. “If Flanders fails to agree, the federal government will not be in a position to auction, and that will give the Flemish government the authority to contest every decision on licensing at the Constitutional Court and the Council of State,” says Vandaele, who calls for a cooperative agreement in respect of the distribution of returns.
The most important dispute between the federal and regional levels is the fate of the usurping powers, regional powers paid for by the federal level. The transfer of these powers to the regions will earn the federal government 300 million this year. But so far no agreement has been reached with the regions and the Flemish government is opposed to the transfer. It believes the federal government should be liable for any agreements they entered into until they have phased out. On top of that there is the issue of pensions for regional officials, which is currently mostly financed by the federal government. Plans to get the regions to contribute much more have been tabled and the Flemish government has already put aside funds in anticipation, but so far not agreement has been reached.
Meanwhile Flemish minister-president Kris Peeteres and federal minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister Didier Reynders (MR) are still at each other following Peeters’ decision to approach the Council of State in opposition to Reynders’ plans to create a corps of economic diplomats on federal level. Peeters believes this is a purely regional power. Yesterday Reynders responded to his accusations in parliament by insisting that these officials will provide counsel on federal powers on a purely voluntary basis. He further reminded that the initiatives were in fact started by his predecessors Yves Leterme and Steven Vanackere (both CD&V). The federal government is struggling to stick to Europe’s austerity measures, but any effort to devolve more responsibility to the regions have so far been unsuccessful.
Following an invitation from The American Academy of Arts and Letters for membership as Foreign Honorary Member about six weeks ago, Belgian painter Luc Tuymans has officially joined the US’s artistic elite. “This is a cultural organization which I support. In their hundred years of existence only 75 foreign members have been invited, so I consider it a great honour. Moreover I like their motto of ‘the pursuit of excellence’.” Rothko, Paul Auster, Theodore Roosevelt, Ezra Pound, Bob Dylan, Roy Liechtenstein... These are but a few of the luminaries on the long member list of this prestigious academy. Their think tank distributes awards to American artists. Tuymans, who will fly to New York in May, hopes to “meet certain people and forge enriching contacts”.
After American car maker General Motors closed its Opel factory in Antwerp suddenly, the Flemish government has explored the possibilities of reclaiming their original support for the factory. Minister-president Kris Peeters (CD&V) commissioned a legal analysis to determine the reclaim options in respect of the 20.4 million euros in training and environmental support Opel Antwerp enjoyed in five cases during the past ten years. “At least three cases, involving a total cost of 17.5 million euros, have a legal basis for repayment,” Peeters explained in response to questions raised by Güler Turan (SP.A) and Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) in the Flemish Parliament’s economic commission. His assurance that a process to reclaim the amounts had been set in motion was welcomed by Turan, who said “It sets a precedent for other companies that receive support from the Flemish government”. Should GM repay the support, the Flemish government will use the money to create job opportunities in the neighbourhood of the Opel factory. The Flemish government is still discussing the sale of the factory site with GM, to which the Antwerp port authority holds a pre-emptive right. According to Peeters, the intention is stil to use the site for a labour-intensive manufacturing industry.
Belgian doctor Peter Piot (64) has been awarded the Japanese Hideyo Noguchi Prize for his research into infectious diseases. As a young doctor, Piot worked at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp and went on a mission to the Congo with the first outbreak of the ebola virus. Following his co-discovery of the virus, he and a handful of doctors used primitive means to stop the outbreak. “The inhuman conditions, the unbearable suffering and the diseases extreme poverty had cursed these people with prepared me for life,” he wrote in his memoires many years later. When the HIV-virus led to a new pandemic years later, he once again left for Africa to launch the first international project in the fight agains HIV. His tireless work in this field has now been recognized by the Japanese government. His colleague Alex Coutinho, who works in Uganda, will receive the same honour for his pioneering work in the treatment of AIDS patients. The Hideyo Noguchi Prize, which is the most prestigious prize for medical research in Africa, is named after the renowned Japanese biologist who died of yellow fever in Ghana in 1928. Piot and Coutinho will each receive 800 000 euros. “I will use the money for bursaries for African students and to contribute to the new research institute for infectious diseases at our London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as infectious diseases are in no way a thing of the past,” says Piot, who serves as director of the London institute. Until the end of 2008 Piot was director of UNAids, the United Nations’ organization which coordinates global programmes against the HIV/Aids epidemic. During an interview Piot once told how the early days of his fifteen years of tireless fighting against Aids were a real Golgotha: “Initially nobody wanted anything to do with me. Aids was about sex and contaminated needles. If you were involved in the struggle against Aids, you should have been infected yourself, many believed.” His speeches and attendance at banquets across the globe had a common goal, and that was to raise funds to fight the pandemic. So far he has enjoyed considerable success, securing huge discounts on antiretrovirals in developing countries and raising enough funds to offer free drugs for millions of sufferers. No wonder he is considered to have been the best UNAids lobbyist ever.
The Wakati is what 26-year-old Arne Pauwels from Antwerp calls the portable climate chamber he developed. It must serve to stop 45% of crops being discarded through a lack of refrigeration space. The concept of storage by means of relative humidity is nothing new. “I based my development on an ancient Egyptian technique,” says Pauwels. “What many people do not know is that a high humidity rate can also be used to preserve fruit and vegetables for short periods. That is much cheaper than our high-energy refrigerators.” Although the technique has been used before, 350 litres of water it required each week, which made it hard to implement. Pauwels’s technique works directly with humidification, which drastically reduces the need for water. “In our test 600 grams of water was sufficient for five days,” he says.
The product has not been launched on the market yet as Pauwels is still trying to establish a non-profit organization to put him into contact with the necessary aids organizations in Africa. Once a network has been put into place, it will be all systems go – especially at 10 dollars a piece.
The Wakati is a spinoff of a technique which won the the James Dyson Award for young designers and engineers in Belgium a few years ago. “The prize gave me the necessary confidence to continue,” says Pauwels. Applications for this year’s contest open today.
Eastman, the dance company led by Antwerp choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, has been chosen as one of Europe’s three cultural ambassadors for 2013 together with the Berlin dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests and the French music festival of Aix-en-Provence. This title wins them 200 000 euros each.An additional 32 Flemish organizations were also given an opportunity to showcase their work internationally with the support of the European Commission this year, says minister for culture, Joke Schauvliege (CD&V). The European Cultural Programme makes it possible for cultural organizations to submit requests for projects which promote sustainable international collaboration and focus on shared cultural values and diversity in Europe. Their budget for 2007-2013 is more than 400 million euros. Cherkaoui, born in Antwerp to a Moroccan father and Belgian mother, did his dance training at choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company P.A.R.T.S before working with choreographers like Alain Platel, Wim Vandekekybus and other international names. After producing ‘Something to Bach’ with Alain Platel, he left to work for the Antwerp Toneelhuis, where he created ‘Myth’ and ‘Origine’. Staged in 2010, Babel was the first production staged by his own company, Eastman, and the third part of the triptych with Foi and Myth. His dance creations, which have a strog multicultural approach, seek to understand the traditions of major cultures. Some of his company’s offerings include ‘Play’, a duet with the Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa and TeZuKa, which is inspired by manga grand master Osama Tezuku. Cherkaoui has won numerous international awards, including the Flemish Community Prize for Performing Arts last year.
In keeping with the Lisbon Strategy, EU member states are urgently requested to invest 3% of their GDP in research and development, of which governments must contribute 1 percent and business 2 percent. After years of struggling to meet this objective, recent figures suggest that Flanders is finally moving in the right direction, increasing its investments from 2.12% in 2009 to 2.4% in 2011. At 1.91%, private financing was only marginally below the required 2% in 2011, with state-financed investments in R&D standing at 0.80%. These were the results of the biennial survey conducted among 5 000 businesses that were approached by the Flemish government’s Expertise Centre for Research & Development (ECOOM). The overall increase is largely due to private business investments, which grew from 2.6 billion euros in 2009 to 3.4 billion euros in 2011. One should add here that a third of this increase could be attributed to the fact that this was the first time a number of leading players in the innovation arena responded to the survey. Their investments in R&D proved to be higher than previous estimates. The survey further concluded that the total number of staff employed in research and development grew from 34 000 in 2001 to 39 000 in 2011, with both public and private institutions contributing to this increase. Flemish innovation minister Ingrid Lieten (SP.A) believes these figures confirm that the Flemish government’s innovation policy is showing results, saying: “The Flemish government and businesses continued to invest in science and innovation even in times of crisis. Flanders is way above the European average. That gives me hope for the future. With these results we will finally be able to meet the European standard.”
German carmaker Audi plans to increase global investments to 11 billion euros in the next three years. About 200 million will be destined for Audi Brussels, where the A1 model is assembled. When the group announced its intention to invest in the Brussels factory last year, the exact amount was not mentioned. Hedwin De Clercq, chief delegate of the socialist trade union of workers, ABVV, is happy with the outcome, saying: “A larger, modernized painting division and additional investments in the production line will make it possible for us to manufacture other models apart from the A1 in future. Like the Q3 or Q5, for example.”
The plant is meanwhile awaiting the outcome of a decision that could see them manufacture a successor to the A1 after it was suggested at Audi’s headquarters in Ingolstadt that Brussels was in pole position. A final decision has not been taken, however.
The gross bonus of 4 030 euros which employees at the Forest plant received for their performance last year, was the same as the year before, while their colleagues in Germany were given twice as much. Last year Audi recorded its biggest ever turnover and sales at 48.7 billion euros – 11% up from the previous year. They upped their production by 13% to 1.47 million vehicles, but operating profit remained stable at 5.4 billion euros at a time when most car makers suffer from the crisis in the European car market. Sales in China and the US performed well, however, and increased their figures by 30% and 20% respectively. The unioins welcome the bonus even though it came at a cost, including the 18 days’ leave they surrendered, the switch from a 35- to 38-hour week and the introduction of shifts on Saturdays.
Audi Brussels has come a long way. When VW relaunched its factory in 2007 in Vorst, 1700 staff were employed. Today the Audi Brussels staff totals 2 700 employees, including a relief staff of 130. In recent years 300 temporary employees were given a fixed contract at the factory, which rolls out 120 000 vehicles a year and roughly 500 each day. With ambitions to do the same this year, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler estimates total production to reach the 1.5 million mark this year. The group plans to extend its factory in the Hungarian city of Gyoer and will be opening a new factory in the Chinese Foshan later this year. And the construction of a new production site in Mexico is scheduled for May. Audi, like luxury brands BMW and Mercedes, are offsetting sluggish sales in Europe with an increase from markets in China and Northern America. Last year Audi's total global staff complement stood at 68 800, which is 8% up from 2011.
Yesterday was marked by records. A majority of employees made it to work late and many failed to leave their home at all. It wasn’t hard to see why, considering the 1 600 kilometres of traffic jam during the morning rush hour and the worst railway delays in fifteen years due to heavy snowstorms in the night from Monday to Tuesday. Flemish mobility minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V) called an emergency meeting with the respective traffic institutions to determine what went wrong during the heavy snowstorms.
According to the employers’ organization Voka, the day cost the economy 116 million euros. “According to our estimates, half a million Belgians didn’t go to work,” says Johan Grauwels. “Normally a working Belgian brings in 220 euros per day.” As it is, at least 60% of Belgians arrived late. The heavy snowstorms were predicted days ago and still it went wrong, both on the road and on the railways. Minister Crevits, who stressed that the weather conditions were exceptional, will discuss the matter with the Flanders Road and Traffic Agency (AWV), the Flemish Traffic Centre, the automobile associations Touring and VAB and the transport federation Febetra. “I want to check if salt was scattered sufficiently and in due time on the roads,” she says. “And I want to try to find out what can be improved in future so that we can change the schedule of the winter plan if necessary,” she said.
Halfway through 2010 one in three handicapped persons had a job. When the Flemish government signed a pact with its social partners (employers and unions) in 2002, the employment percentage among this group increased from 37.4%in 2002 to 42.2% in 2007. But that was before the crisis hit and by 2010 the figures were at their lowest with only one third or 33.5% gainfully employed. The tide however turned after it hit rockbottom and by late last year the figure had climbed to 39.9%, according to a report commissioned by the Flemish government’s research unit (SVR) by expert Erik Samoy of the Flemish government’s department for work and social economy.
This improvement is not due to possible effects of shortages on the job market which will only become visible in the next few years, neither are quotas the reason, as they are hardly ever complied with. Samoy refers to the change in policy measures. Budgets for jobs for persons with handicaps were increased and the Flemish Employment and Training Service (VDAB) also increased their support staff to train them. Moreover a Flemish support bonus (wage subsidy) was introduced in addition to increased efforts from the authorities to accommodate the growing group of job seekers with mental handicaps. And according to Samoy, health insurance companies have started to activate long-term sick persons.
The Rhineland model for capitalism has been succesful in Flanders and the Netherlands, but has run its course and the Low Countries are ready for a new socio-economic model. These was the key idea behind minister-president Kris Peeters' (CD&V) speech of the annual D.G. Van Beuningen lecture at the World Museum in Rotterdam yesterday. The CD&V-figurehead seemed to reject the legacy of fellow party member and former prime minister Yves Leterme, who strongly advocated the Rhineland model during his term of office. He even published a booklet entitled ‘The Rhineland model for sustainable and social wealth’ in 2009. The model advocates a socially controlled market economy and traditionally opposes the Anglo-Saxon model for the economy, which leaves more room for a less regulated market. “The Rhineland model secured a distribution of wealth which led to a strong middleclass,” says Peeters, immediately adding that it also resulted in an aversion to risk, which should be kept in check as the individual entrerpeneurs, according to Peeters, drive the economy. In an effort to offer entrepreneurs more oxygen, Peeters is keen to adopt a ‘model for the Low Countries’ which combines the strengths of Flanders and the Netherlands with the best features of the German and Scandinavian models. In practice that means that wage and energy costs should be tackled and career flexibitily and a stable business climate must be boosted, with the state keeping its budget under control and 'embracing globalisation instead of rejecting it'.
Here the Netherlands fits perfectly into Peeters’ plan for the two countries. “Globalisation will become an inherent part of our model,” he explains. “That implies that we no longer see our neighbour as our biggest rival, but as a natural ally in the global economic competition.” Peeters and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (VVD) have been working on the notion of a Flemish-Dutch partnership in the long term, and both agreed on a joint economic mission in July to promote the so-called Delta Region with a focus on selling the logistic trump cards of the two countries. “Multinationals are no longer choosing either the port of Antwerp or Rotterdam as their headquarters. They choose the Delta Region,” says Peeters. “They opt for a range of services that a small area can offer.” Peeters expressed a desire to make such a joint trade mission an annual occurrence, adding that he would like to see this region position itself globally as “the logistics hub in Europe”.
Sixteen top chefs have signed a charter for sustainable fishing. Among them are Michael Vrijmoed, Filip Claeys (restaurant De Jonkman), Rudi Van Beylen (Hof ten Damme) and Flemish Foodies Kobe Desramaults, Jason Blanckaert and Olly Ceulenare, all of them strong advocates for simplicity, sustainability and locally grown products. They have all had it with imported, environmentally unfriendly fish and plan to serve only North Sea fish that was sustainably caught outside mating season at their restaurant tables. “We must learn to eat what the fisherman brings ashore, not expect him to catch what we want to eat and throw away the rest,” says two-star chef Filip Claeys, the driving force behind the North Sea Chef project. Classic fish species like cod and salmon are under threat as a result of overfishing. “We plan to promote less familiar or more unpopular fish such as sepia and dog fish, to show our customers that they are tasty and teach them how to enjoy it.” According to Claeys, the problem lies also with demand, saying: “Once people see how tasty smelt is, they will buy it from the fishmonger and wholesale orders will hopefully follow. It may not be an easy exercise, but a mindshift is necessary.” People should also be made aware of the scourge of bycatches: fish that are simply thrown overboard after being caught up and dying in fishing nets because of their lack of commercial value. “The downside of too much choice,” says Claes. “Eating less familiar fish is essential. I wouldn’t like my children to be stuck with only farmed fish because there is no more fish in the sea.” So from now on, the chefs will feature bycatches like sprat and pout on their menus. The North Sea chefs, who will partner with Belgian fishermen, will enjoy support from Flemish minister-president and minister for fisheries Kris Peeters (CD&V), the European Fishery Fund and the Institute for Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO). The question remains whether this noble endeavour will not be a lost cause as only 10% of all Belgian fishermen have committed to refrain from dumping dead bycatches into the sea. Even with lighter and large-mesh nets the road ahead is a long one. The WWF has warned of an exploding fisheries industry plagued by overfishing and the destructive methods of disrupting the seabed with drag nets.