The week in brief: 19 June


Heat brigades to help animals locked inside cars, Brussels has the most politicians and the rest of the week's headlines

An overview of the week's news

Self-employed women who have recently given birth will now automatically receive 105 free service cheques, the government has said, intended to make housework slightly easier. The right already exists, but last year some 650 eligible recipients did not apply for the cheques. However, the social insurance organisations did pay out 477,192 cheques to new mothers.

Ostend is introducing “heat brigades” charged with making sure there are no animals locked inside cars in warm weather. The idea came from the Blue Cross Ostend. Animals are often left in empty cars, where the temperature can rise to 60 degrees and more. Inspectors will call police each time an animal is found.

The Brussels Region has 166 ministers, mayors, councillors and OCMW chairs, more than Antwerp (64) and more than Berlin (71) and Paris (42) combined, according to research by the Free Universities of Brussels (ULB and VUB) commissioned by Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort, who aims to cut the number. A reduction of one-third, researchers found, could mean a saving in public spending of €1.7 million a year.

Buses, cars and taxis should shut off their engines when they are not moving, according to a member of the Brussels parliament, Anne-Charlotte d’Ursel. The problem is particularly prevalent among public buses, which tend to let their engines idle while they are at a terminus waiting to set off again. Such a practice leads to noise nuisance, fuel waste and unnecessary air pollution, she said.

The federal government is looking into moving the population registers of all 589 municipalities to the cloud, according to home affairs minister Jan Jambon and digital agenda minister Alexander De Croo. Population details would be available for consultation by all government levels, with changes of address automatically notified to banks, telecoms providers and health insurers. The ministers aim to have a bill ready in the autumn.

Investigators into the sudden death of a 29-year-old woman who died after drinking in a bar in Izegem, West Flanders, have confirmed that traces of methanol were found in one of the vodka bottles in the bar. The bar was immediately closed but so far no charges have been brought.

The recent marriage of Sharia4Belgium leader Fouad Belkacem to the mother of his children will not shelter him from possible deportation once he is released from prison, federal justice minister Koen Geens has said. Belkacem, from Morocco, is serving 12 years for membership of a terrorist organisation and married while in prison. He is said to fear that his naturalised Belgian nationality will be taken away when he is released.

The federal parliament has rejected a proposal to extend the period of time a terrorism suspect can be held without being brought before a court from 24 to 72 hours. The vote was 97-52 in favour, short of the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. The measure would also have extended the detention time for all other offences from 24 to 48 hours.

The Oosterweel project to nclose the Antwerp ring road has attracted applications from 15 architects from across the world, according to Alexander D’Hooge, in charge of the project. One entrant is Flemish, with others from the UK, Germany, the US and Japan. Before the summer recess, five teams will be given the job of designing one of five sections of the ring.

The court of appeal in Antwerp has confirmed the sentences handed down to senior members of the Limburg-based Aquino drugs gang, ranging from six to 10 years in prison. Lucio and Rafael Aquino and Nico Beckx were convicted of involvement in a criminal enterprise that has imported at least 2.4 tonnes of cocaine to Limburg from South America.

A power cut at Brussels Airport last week led to chaos because the airport does not have enough personnel to keep passengers informed, a spokesperson said. Many passengers had to wait outside the terminal, with delays developing because all baggage had to be screened manually using emergency generators. Flights were delayed or cancelled as a result, while some passengers had to take off without their luggage.

Virtually every product found in Belgium’s shops is more expensive than in at least one neighbouring country, according to figures from the EU’s data service, Eurostat. On average, a basket full of groceries is 10% cheaper in the Netherlands and 5% cheaper in Germany. Bread is 18% cheaper in the Netherlands and meat 13% cheaper. For dairy products, Germany can be up to 25% less expensive. Only in the fruit and vegetable category is Belgium competitive, at up to 20% cheaper than in France.

Unizo, which represents the self-employed, has described as “unacceptable” a change to the VAT laws that allows tax authorities to pursue cases up to seven years in the past, while the general rule in force limits investigations to three years. In the past, the term could be extended where there was serious evidence of fraud.