Source: Gazet van Antwerpen
January 18, 2008
Today the city council of Maastricht gives it’s approval for the construction of the renowned ‘weedboulevard’ at the edge of the city. Neighbouring municipalities across the Belgian border dread chaos and nuisance through drug tourism.
Belgian Minister of Home Affairs Patrick Dewael (Open VLD, Belgian liberal democrats) has threatened with judicial steps if Maastricht mayor Gerd Leers does not repeal the plan.
Seven coffeeshops were to be relocated from the city centre to the outskirts. Mayor Gerd Leers of Maastricht intends to curb the nuisance caused by drug tourism in the centre. Today the mayor and the aldermen will approve the licences for 3 coffeeshops (Mississipi, Smokey and Smurf). The licences are temporary and limited to 3 years.
In a first phase emphasis will be put on the installation of CoffeeCorner ‘Zuid’ (South) at Oosterweg near Köbbesweg in Maastricht and CoffeeCorner ‘Noord’ (North) at Francois de Veyestraat 9 (see map). It is expected that these coffeeshops would serve their first customers this summer.
A total of 3 CoffeeCorners are planned around Maastricht. For every created ‘corner’, 2 or 3 coffeeshops will disappear from the city centre. On the 18th of October last year procedures were started to approve the temporary exemption to the zoning plan. Mayor Leers and the city’s aldermen find no reason to repeal the obtained temporary exemption.
Belgian cross bordering municipalities Lanaken, Riemst and Voeren fear that the relocation of the coffeeshops might also move much of the nuisance in the direction of the Belgian border. “Maastricht wants to get rid of the nuisance in the inner city”, says Mark Vos, mayor of Riemst, “but in Belgian we don’t want none of the illegal activities surrounding coffeeshops either.”
Wim Ortjens, spokesman for Gerd Leers and the Maastricht council, doesn’t understand the critical attitude from across the border. “Two out of three coffeeshop that will get a licence this friday are now located some 3 kilometres of the Belgian border. The new location will result in a 10 kilometres distance to the Belgian border. Nevertheless the Belgium reaction to the Weedboulevard is quite hysterical. Very peculiar.”
The European ‘unity’ thought seems ultimately lost in the border area of the Dutch and Belgian provinces of Limburg. “This kind of move violates the Schengen agreements.,” claims Mark Vos, mayor of Riemst. “Member states are not allowed to shift their nuisance to neighbouring countries. The number of drug offences in our municipalities is already on the rise. The creation of a ‘weedboulevard’ will surely not bring those numbers down.
“This plan is sheer madness”, says member of the European Parliament, Ivo Belet (Belgian Christian Democrats). “The Netherlands signed up to the European Union’s frame decision in which is stated that the drug trade should be fought with a cross bordering and coordinated approach. None of that is mentioned in this plan”.
Answering to a question of Melchior Wathelet (cdH, Christian Democrats) Minister of Home Affairs Patrick Dewael said he would begin legal procedures if Maastricht mayor Leers sticks to the plan to relocate a number of coffeeshops at the Belgian border. Dewael emphasized that negotiations could overcome most differences as experience with the city of Terneuzen, where a similar problem was at hand, has proven. Talks with the Belgian governor of the province Oost-Vlaanderen soothed the Belgian anxieties in this case.
“Unfortunately, the mayor of Maastricht is a bit harder to get through to”, says Dewael. Next week at the conference of the European ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, he will again bring the problem to the attention of his Dutch colleagues.
Huub Broers, mayor of Voeren, is anxious and fearful of the coming of the coffeeshops.
“Maastricht is relocating it’s self-inflicted drug problem. The Netherlands have been advertising it’s tolerant attitude towards drug use long enough. It’s only logical that this would draw a lot of users. It’s unfair to shrug off the resulting problems to a neighbouring country. The move is surely to cause loads of problems. Anyone who doubts that, does not know the local situation enough. Maastricht recognises itself that it wants to get rid of ‘the nuisance’ in the inner city.”
The municipalities Lanaken, Riemst and Voeren already hired a Dutch lawyer to dispute the relocation judicially. “We will have a fitting answer for Maastricht”, states Vos, but yesterday he wouldn’t yet elaborate on what he really meant.
The CoffeeCornerplan has angered more people. Prime Minister Verhofstadt earlier reported the Belgian protests to his Dutch colleague, Balkenende, who promptly inserted a ban on relocating coffeeshops in the border area in his government policy. Nevertheless mayor Leers will officially announce his plans today.