The blanket ban on the public sale of fireworks in Flanders needs to be reconsidered, following the events of New Year’s Eve, according to Win Dries, mayor of Genk and president of the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG). “It’s very easy for the Flemish government to say to the municipalities that there’s now a ban in place on setting off fireworks, and it’s up to us to see that it’s implemented,” Dries told Belga.
This past New Year was the first on which the ban was operative: a general ban across the region, except in communes where the authorities explicitly gave permission for fireworks to be used.
However both Dries and the fire service network in the region have now pointed to the inconsistency of having a ban on using fireworks at the same time as they are openly and legally available for sale. “The Flemish ban is difficult to implement,” he said. “You’re always too late. And the actual number of offences recorded is also rather limited.” The ban, he said, is “fighting a losing battle,” and needs to be accompanied by a ban on sales to have any effect.
Among firework-related incidents over New Year in Flanders: a 26-year-old horse in her field in Hoeselt in Limburg province died of heart failure caused by the fright of fireworks going off in the area. The commune was one where fireworks were allowed. At the same time, an animal shelter in Mechelen has suspended adoptions for its 35 dogs and 20 cats, after the animals suffered shock as a result of fireworks being used close by, despite the commune ordering a perimeter of safety so as not to disturb the animals.
“We are disappointed, saddened and frustrated that people are so careless about what they’re doing,” said Wendy Kerselaers of the city’s animal protection department.
Now, following on from the association of fireworks retailers, the federal economy ministry is bringing an action against the Flemish ban before the Constitutional Court. According to the minister for the economy and consumer affairs, Nathalie Muylle, the ban on the use of fireworks is “disproportionate, and tantamount to a ban on trade. As such it is in breach of European directives.”
The idea of her party colleague to review a ban on sales – which would be a matter for the federal government – is not operable, she said. “The legislation on fireworks has to meet the European directive, which says that there can be no sales ban, as that would be equivalent to a ban on trade. And exactly because the Flemish ban on using fireworks represents a ban on trade, we, like the fireworks trade, have launched a procedure with the Constitutional Court. The economy minister is obliged to take such steps by European rules.”