The week in brief: 16 January


Flemish tennis player breaks into WTA’s top 100 for first time, record number of trains arrive late, and the rest of the week's headlines

An overview of the week's news

Flemish tennis pro Elise Mertens won her first WTA title this week and broke into the WTA’s top 100 ranking for the first time. Her victory over Romanian Monica Niculescu (32) at the Hobart International in Australia has put her at number 82 in the women’s singles. She is in third place among Flemish women, behind Yanina Wickmayer (60) and Kirsten Flipkens (70). Wickmayer and Flipkens are currently competing at the Australian Open.

Only 82% of trains arrived on time, meaning up to six minutes late, in November, according to figures from rail authority NMBS. It’s the worst result since November 2014 and down from nearly 87% in November 2015. A spokesperson blamed a number of incidents involving people on the tracks and signalling faults that coincided with morning and evening peaks.

The construction of the Oosterweel connection on Antwerp’s ring road is likely to cause traffic chaos unless as many as 30,000 vehicles are taken out of traffic at peak hours, according to a study ordered by the government of Flanders. Oosterweel is a colossal project on one of the country’s busiest roads, and construction is due to last for seven years. In related news, enclosing the ring road, creating tunnels, will only reduce emissions by some 30%, according to consultant Alexander D’Hooghe. That’s because only 60-70% of emissions will come within reach of the ventilators used to clean the air. Of that portion, only 60% can be cleaned effectively, giving an overall success rate of 30%. “Better technology just isn’t available for the time being,” D’Hooghe told MPs.

Flemish public broadcaster VRT is launching a free online video platform called VRT NU on 30 January. The service will carry all VRT-produced programmes for a month after broadcast, as well as archive video. VRT NU will begin as a website, with apps following later in the year.

The Flemish parliament has unanimously approved a resolution calling for a ban on beauty pageants for children and young people. Last year, federal labour minister Kris Peeters banned the election of Mini Miss Belgium after social inspectors described it as “child labour”. The new ban would cover contests where children are judged mainly on their appearance.

Bart De Smet, CEO of insurance company Ageas, has been voted Manager of the Year by the readers of Trends magazine and a professional jury. De Smet, 59, becomes the 32nd recipient of the award, on his third nomination. The jury praised “the way in which he was able to raise an insurance company with a strong identity and a robust balance-sheet from the ashes of Fortis”.

The musical department of the Royal Library of Belgium has been bequeathed the Toots Thielemans Fund, an extraordinary collection of documents, music recordings, photos, scores and personal letters. Thielemans had discussed the bequest before he died in August last year.

A statement  by the European food industry to stop aiming advertisements for fast food and sweets at children is “an empty promise,” according to a report from the Institute for Media Studies at the University of Leuven. In the EU Pledge from 2007, the industry promised to stop marketing certain products to children under 12. However, says the report, the guidelines “leave many loopholes open”. One example: advertising sweets and Happy Meals during prime time is allowed because the under-12s make up less than 35% of viewers.

The city of Brussels has confirmed that an investigation is taking place into the trafficking of false passports that involves a city official who has since been dismissed. The situation came to light during an internal audit of the Population section of the administration, and the prosecutor’s office was informed. A spokesperson for Alain Courtois, councillor for population matters, declined to give further information while the case is ongoing.

A 32-year-old Cameroonian woman gave birth to a baby on board a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Brussels last week, two weeks before her due date. She was attended by a doctor and a nurse, who were among the passengers, and the delivery went without incident. The baby boy was greeted by a round of applause from the other passengers.

Fruit growers in the Haspengouw area of Flemish Brabant and Limburg have planted 1.7 kilometres of hedgerows in an effort to attract more bees to pollinate the trees. The planting was subsidised by the cross-border Interreg programme of the EU’s regional development fund and the province of Limburg. A similar planting project is planned for this year.

Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits found herself caring for a nine-day old baby at the weekend when she witnessed a car accident on the Antwerp ring road. While her chaffeur, who is also a volunteer firefighter, assisted the woman who was driving the car, Crevits held the baby in her own vehicle until an emergency team arrived. Both driver and baby are fine.

Police in Brussels last week raided the home of a man suspected of receiving stolen goods and discovered a cache of scarves, jackets, shoes and vacuum cleaner parts worth €100,000. The man was advertising his wares on Facebook, and the ad was spotted by someone from the fashion industry whose goods had been stolen.

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