The week in brief: 6 December


Potential review of ban on gay men being allowed to give blood and decree to organise formation of schools into networks is abandoned

An overview of the week's news

Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters, federal foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders, King Filip and prime minister Elio Di Rupo attended the memorial ceremony for Nelson Mandela, which was held on Tuesday of this week. Mandela died last week at the age of 95. Members of the public can sign a book of condolence at the South African embassy in Brussels.

“His long non-violent struggle against the injustice of the apartheid regime inspired millions worldwide to follow the same path,” said Peeters. “Nelson Mandela proved that one man can change the world, and that one idea and one conviction can be stronger than 1,000 armies. Nelson Mandela has had to leave us, but his legacy will live on forever in the collective consciousness of humankind.”

The crown princess Elisabeth was under special police protection last week after an anonymous letter was received by the newspapers La Dernière Heure and La Libre Belgique from someone threatening to kidnap the 12-year-old daughter of King Filip and Queen Mathilde. An investigation into the identity of the author of the letter, who cited immigration problems as his motive, continues. 

De Persgroep, publishers of De Morgen and Het Laatste Nieuws, has appealed against the decision by the competition council to allow the merger of media houses Corelio and Concentra into the single entity Mediahuis. The council agreed in October to the merger, which joins together De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad from Corelio with Gazet van Antwerpen and Belang van Limburg from Concentra, cutting the number of competing newspaper publishers on the Flemish market from three to two. Arguments will be heard by the court of appeal in Brussels.

The ban on gay men being allowed to give blood could be reviewed, federal health minister Laurette Onkelinx told the Senate last week. The ban is part of European guidelines on blood donor selection, she said, but a Council of Europe decision in March recommended a review of the criteria. Onkelinx said that selection should be based on risk factors rather than identity and that she would ask an expert group to report on possible changes to the policy.

Flemish couple Bart Philtjens and Geertrui Praet, who paid a surrogate mother to carry a child for them, have had their conviction of abuse of a child overturned by the court of appeal in Ghent. The couple took the surrogate mother and her partner to court after they sold Baby D, who is the biological child of Philtjens, to a couple in the Netherlands for €12,000. The court in Ghent found that Philtjens and Praet had at no time treated Baby D, who is now eight years old, as merchandise to be bought and sold. The child has been left with the Dutch couple to avoid disruption to her well-being – although her parents were each sentenced to eight months suspended for their part in the transaction. The surrogate mother received a sentence of one year suspended and had to return the €12,000 to the Dutch couple.

Flemish education minister Pascal Smet has confirmed that a decree to organise the formation of schools into networks will not be introduced during this term. This is the minister’s third plan, after the reform of secondary education and teachers’ career tracks, that will not be translated into a decree before the elections in May. Instead of through a decree, the reforms will be carried out in phases through a master plan, at the request of the education sector, said Smet.

Petrus Jozef Triest, the founder of a number of charity organisations that cared for the poor, has been exhumed from his last resting place in the mortuary of Lovendegem in East Flanders to be taken to the convent of the Sisters in Kortemark, West Flanders, as part of the process of having him beatified as a saint. Triest died in 1836.

Dozens of workers for Ford Genk and its supplier companies were requested to repay sums ranging from €1,250 to €3,750 received in error from the state service for employment benefits (RVA). The “crisis premium” is paid out in cases where a worker receives a redundancy payment no higher than the legal minimum, and varies according to the number of year in the job. In the case of Ford and its suppliers, unions wrongly indicated workers who chose to leave early were eligible for the benefit. The  RVA later informed unions that the benefits received will not have to be repaid, as "the mistake was ours".

This year’s BOB campaign to discourage drinking and driving during the holiday period was launched last week in the city hall of Brussels. The campaign is organised by the institute for road safety, insurance industry federation Assuralia and the Belgian brewers’ federation. “Thanks to BOB campaigns in the past, a great many victims and fatalities were avoided,” said federal interior minister Joëlle Milquet at the launch. “However, alcohol remains a frequently cited cause of road accidents.” The campaign has the support of the restaurant industry, employers’ organisations, taxi companies and public transport authorities De Lijn and MIVB.