Belgium is in the thrall of a war on drugs, with its Antwerp port becoming a global hub for cocaine smuggling and drug crime spreading fear in the province. It is hoped that increased fines for drug use will help tackle the solution.
Since the death of the 11-year-old girl in Antwerp who fell victim to a drug-related shooting, attention has been turned not only on those who smuggle and deal hard drugs such as cocaine, but also on those who use them.
For this purpose, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne plans to increase fines for using hard drugs from €150 to €1,000, he said on the Zevende Dag on VRT.
Van Quickenborne said that those who fail to pay the heftier fine will see the amount collected via taxes, "as with traffic fines". The argument given by Van Quickenborne for the increase is that "anyone who can pay €50 for a gram of cocaine can pay €150 with ease."
This is currently the most notable suggestion, but possibly also the easiest to implement: Van Quickenborne argued it could be put in place relatively quickly as it does not need to go through parliament first.
Van Quickenborne recalled that fines of €75 to 150 were introduced last year for those caught using, but these fines could be a bit higher, he argued. Whoever can pay €50 for a gram of coke can also pay the €150," he said.
More political suggestions
The minister also wants to extend the checks currently only carried out at festivals to the whole territory, a suggestion backed by various politicians. Through those checks, more than 6,000 people were fined last year.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, meanwhile, called for an increase in checks on suspicious containers and setting up a harbour police force for the giant port domain, made up of regular police officers rather than deploying the army, as Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever advocated for last week.
De Croo explained this would be more practical as "police officers can arrest and interrogate people". However, his suggestion is challenged by the staff shortage within the police.
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In turn, De Wever criticised De Croo's idea on Twitter noting "a port corps already exists. It's called the federal maritime police and there are less than 100 of them. On paper, there should be 180 of them."
Tweet translation: "The Prime Minister launches a harbour corps at VTM. Good because that already exists. It's called “the federal shipping police," consisting of just 100 officers. On paper, there should be 180. And that's less than half of what is needed. At least 350 are required. Please do something about it."
Finally, Home Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden called to introduce the new position of national drugs commissioner "to align the policies of different levels in our country". This drew scepticism from many drug fighters on the ground as questions about the added value were brought forward.