The week in brief: 13 December

Summary

New Brussels-City mayor is sworn in and Leuven is Flanders’ most sustainable municipality

An overview of the week's news

Yvan Mayeur (pictured) was sworn in last week as the new mayor of Brussels-City, taking over from Freddy Thielemans. Mayeur, formerly head of the social aid agency OCMW, was given the ceremonial keys to the city hall. In his inaugural address, he laid out his vision for the centre: the creation of two traffic-free squares at Beurs and De Brouckère. Plans were due to be announced this week for the makeover of the central artery linking North and South stations, first mooted under Thielemans and largely inspired by the popular Picnic the Streets movement.

Leuven is Flanders’ most sustainable municipality, according to an annual award given by Cofely Services, part of the GDF Suez group which offers advice on energy management to companies and public authorities. Leuven won for its plan for climate neutrality by 2030, described by the jury as “innovative and ambitious”, which calls on the public, government and private sector to work together on reducing energy consumption. Projects include making the city centre traffic-free, premiums for home insulation and installing 32,000 parking places for bicycles. www.duurzaamstegemeente.be

A group of 133 Brussels businesses are ready to help set up the capital’s 4G mobile data network by accepting a new mast on their buildings, it was announced. Brussels lags behind Flanders in making 4G available because of stricter radiation limits, which make it necessary to install new GSM masts to cover the capital. 4G offers mobile internet at up to 10 times normal speeds for those equipped with a suitable smartphone or tablet. The 133 volunteers were among 1,000 businesses approached by economy minister Céline Frémault.

A man sacked by his employer because his daughter was born with a serious handicap has won his case before an employment tribunal in Leuven. The man, who brought the case with the support of the Centre for Equal Opportunities, was awarded damages of six months’ salary and an additional sum to be determined. He began to work for the fitness centre in 2003, and in 2010 his third child was born handicapped. When he told his employer, he was fired in what the centre called a case of “discrimination by association”.

Pilots for Brussels Airlines have issued a pamphlet calling for more industrial action, as talks to reach a solution to problems ran into difficulties. The pilots and management agreed a solution in principle in November, but problems arose in giving it definitive form. Now unions say management has stopped talking. “The ball is in the management’s court,” said one union representative. “The dialogue has completely dried up.”

A group of pig farmers have filed a legal complaint against the animal rights group Bite Back after they released an undercover video showing the treatment of pigs at locations in Antwerp province, East Flanders and West Flanders. The farmers claim the group trespassed on private property to make their film; Bite Back say the doors were open and no break-in was required. Bite Back have in turn reported the treatment of animals to the prosecutors in Bruges, Ghent and Turnhout.

Belfius bank has withdrawn an advertising campaign for loans intended to allow football fans to travel to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. The loans were criticised for their 10.5% interest rate, described by consumer organisation Test-Aankoop as “ethically unacceptable”. “We realise the campaign may have shocked people,” a spokesperson for the state-owned bank said. “That is not at all what we intended.”

Supermarkets will close early on 24 and 31 December, De Standaard reports. Colruyt stores will close at 18.00 instead of 20.00; Delhaize and Carrefour both close at 18.00 but will be open on Sundays 22 and 29 December. Local supermarkets in the AD Delhaize, Proxy Delhaize, Carrefour Market and Carrefour Express chains will vary in closing times, as they are run by independent franchise managers. Banks and post offices will close at 16.00.

Public transport authorities De Lijn (Flanders) and MIVB (Brussels) will, together with rail authority NMBS, offer increased and cheaper services over the holiday period. The MIVB (www.mivb.be) will increase bus and tram services during the two weekends as well as the first weekend in January. De Lijn (www.delijn.be) will increase capacity in Ghent and offer free travel in Bruges, Torhout and Roeselare. Hasselt will offer a shuttle service for shoppers linking the centre with outlying areas. And each weekend in December, as well as every day in the holiday period, the NMBS (www.nmbs.be) is offering cheaper train tickets.

The Brussels region has issued 50 licences for electric taxis, the first to operate in the capital, due to come on to the roads in spring. Electric taxis already operate in Utrecht, Amsterdam and London, as well as in Asia, but this is a first for Belgium, public works minister Brigitte Grouwels said. The taxis will be distinguishable from their less green counterparts only by a logo.

The man accused of being the brains behind the robbery of a Swiss aircraft carrying diamonds at Brussels Airport in February has been freed on bail of €20,000 by a Brussels court. French-born Marc Bertoldi is one of eight suspects arrested in connection with the case; he was extradited from Metz in France to Belgium in July. His release was not contested by the Brussels prosecutor. 

Photo credit: Yvan Mayeur