Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A noisier EU Quarter in Brussels

Since 6 February, planes have been rerouted from their route over the leafy suburbs of Flanders east of Brussels to straight over the EU quarter. People in the eurobubble say it's another example of Belgium dumping problems on people who cannot vote in general elections.

Today, members of the European Parliament rejected a European Commission proposal that would have allowed the European Union to overrule local authority decisions on the banning of flights at certain times.

The vote was only a rubber-stamping of a decision taken back in January to reject this part of the airport noise proposal. However, some MEPs saw this week's vote as an opportunity to bring up an airport noise issue closer to their hearts – new flight plans in Belgium that send planes from Zaventem airport straight over Brussels city centre and the EU quarter.

Since 6 February, planes taking off from Zaventem have been using a new route ordered by the Belgian federal government. The ‘Wathelet plan' – named after its designer Melchior Wathelet, Belgium's secretary of state of environment, energy, mobility and institutional reforms – has rerouted 80% of flights that used to fly over sparsely populated areas of Flanders east of Brussels. One hundred flights a day are now flying at low altitude through Brussels city - straight over the EU institutions.

The unilateral decision by the federal government is the result of five years of debate. A group of Brussels residents, many of whom work for EU institutions, have formed a grassroots campaign against the plan. They say Brussels would be the only city in Europe sending flights directly over its city centre. They are also pointing out security concerns over allowing planes to fly so low over the European Council building even while all of Europe's heads of state and government are inside.


During a debate on the airport noise proposal, Belgian Green MEP Isabelle Durant told the chamber that the topic “has an added and ironic significance in the context of the current situation at Belgium's main airport just outside of Brussels.” She said the plan has been introduced “with scant consultation and impact assessment [and] has seen flights now being directed towards the most-densely populated parts of the country in downtown Brussels, spreading the nuisance and increasing the risks instead of curbing them.”

Durant insisted that even with the ability to overrule local authorities taken out, the airports noise legislation as passed yesterday will still result in bad outcomes. Any decision taken about flight paths and flight restrictions will now have to involve local authorities and other stakeholders. Green campaigners fear this means the decisions will be forced to take economics into account over noise and pollution – meaning more flights.

“This is exactly the kind of ill-conceived policy and absurd outcome that will become increasingly common under these revised EU rules, which so narrowly confine the set of abatement measures available to those trying to tackle noise pollution around airports," Durant told the chamber.

However, an EU official who preferred not to be identified, said the Brussels example is an illustration of why the legislation is necessary. “The bickering between the regions and the illogical outcome we've ended up with is an example of why we need this legislation to make the process more transparent and neutral,” he said.

The grassroots campaign, called Pas Question, is collecting signatures against the new flight plan. Many in the group think it is not a coincidence that the planes are being diverted over sections of the city that are home to many foreign nationals – who can't vote in Belgian general elections.

The change has lowered noise levels for affluent areas to the east of the city, such as Woluwe-Saint-Pierre. Wathelet has defended the plan by saying that the levels of noise that these eastern suburbs were having to endure was unacceptable. But for the grassroots campaign, it looks to them like Brussels city is once again getting the short end of the stick in a classic ‘compromise à la Belge'.

2 comments:

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Rick said...

" The ‘Wathelet plan' – named after its designer Melchior Wathelet, Belgium's secretary of state of environment, energy, mobility and institutional reforms – has rerouted 80% of flights that used to fly over sparsely populated areas of Flanders, east of Brussels."

There are no sparsely populated area's in Flanders...