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Published: 26 August 2009
Scheldt deepening to go ahead – but when?
The River Scheldt will be deepened as agreed, the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has assured Belgium's Flemish government, but he did not add how and when
The Dutch cabinet is due to consider the options this Friday, 28 August, following a meeting between Balkenende and the federal Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme.
Balkenede put himself in the spotlight, after it emerged that in April he took direct control of the Scheldt deepening file (as a "chef’s matter") from the Dutch environment ministry.
His move included the volte face of dropping the agreed environmental compensation measures. Flemish PM Kris Peeters was told this in The Hague on 16 April.
Expecting a routine meeting on the execution of the bilateral agreement, Peeters was informed instead that the Dutch would not flood the 300-ha stretch of agricultural land along the border at the Scheldt's left (south) bank. Instead, they would fill a number of strips on the river’s shore to create new tidal flats.
The Hague had given in to strong opposition from local farmers and the general public in the Dutch province of Zeeland, which is also "home turf" for the Christian Democrat Balkenende.
In effect, however, the switch meant that the treaty had feet of clay. This was quickly exploited by the Dutch green organisations, whose appeals were endorsed by the Dutch Court of State a few weeks ago.
The Belgians have finished dredging their stretch of the river, but no work has started in Dutch waters and, following its provisional ruling on 14 July, the Dutch Court of State is not due to deliver a definitive judgement until the end of this year, so the issue could be blocked until then.
The Flemish government and the Port of Antwerp are furious. A call for Flemish restaurants to boycott Zeeland mussels – a massive 60% of the entire Dutch catch is exported to Belgium – has failed, however.