It is up to the Flemish government to decide on the new Scheldt crossing. Will it involve the BAM solution, which includes the much-debated Oosterweel viaduct? Or will it be the Arup/Sum route, which uses tunnels as an alternative? This in itself is an extremely hard decision to make, but it is complicated further by the fact that there is a lot at stake for every coalition party.
CD&V, for instance, wants to see its minister-president Kris Peeters succeed. He has vowed to solve this issue personally. Peeters wants to be seen as a doer, not a doubter. He faces one major problem, though. In a referendum, the people of Antwerp voted down the BAM solution and the Oosterweel link (named the “Lange Wapper”, a reference to an old Flemish legend about a giant), which his party favours. Can he brush the will of the people aside?
Then there is the socialist party sp.a, which includes Antwerp mayor Patrick Janssens. For a long time, Janssens backed the Lange Wapper. Amidst growing protest, he spoke the words: “Walk and don’t look back.” (In fact, if quizzed, the chances are that more Antwerp people will associate this quote with Janssens rather than reggae singer Peter Tosh.)
However, shortly before the Antwerp referendum, he changed his mind and is now the most outspoken opponent of the BAM option. Changing his mind again will be tricky. Not only would Janssens lose face, but he also stands to lose the support of the Antwerp population.
The Flemish nationalist party N-VA is also involved, as party president Bart De Wever, another Antwerp resident, is one of the most outspoken supporters of the Lange Wapper. Oddly enough, he opposed it at first because of its many flaws, which makes him the exact opposite of Janssens.
After a fierce clash between Janssens and De Wever last week, the Flemish government has opted to resolve the issue discreetly. At this point, a typical “Belgian compromise” – in which no-one loses out too obviously – seems a long way off. But who knows what bridge might cross these troubled waters?