Bitter feud on Belgian polar station in Antarctica ends in reconciliation

Bitter feud on Belgian polar station in Antarctica ends in reconciliation

The Belgian government and the International Polar Foundation have reached an agreement on the management of Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station. The agreement was announced recently by the Zuhal Demir, the new Belgian secretary of state for science and Alain Hubert, founder and president of the International Polar Foundation.

The agreement follows three months of intense negotiations between the two parties aimed at resolving disagreements over the management of the polar station which have been going on since 2015 and which threatened its functioning. The signing of the new agreement foresees the re-establishing of a public-private partnership that will manage the station.

Only some months ago Alain Hubert expressed exasperation with the way how the Belgian government had been handling the negotiations and its attitude towards the International Polar Foundation which initiated and built the station as the first “zero emission” station of its kind with wind turbines and solar panels.

The station was donated to the Belgian state in 2010 under a partnership agreement but very soon disagreements about the implementation of the agreement surfaced and resulted in several court rulings. They were all in the International Polar Foundation’s favor but largely ignored by the previous secretary of state for science.

In an interview to The Brussels Times Magazine, Hubert said it was “shocking for ordinary citizens to realize their representatives are allowed to disregard the law with impunity. No-one here really understands why a legal dispute has been blown out of all proportions and become politicized.”

According to the new agreement all pending legal proceedings between the Belgian State and the International Polar Foundation have been terminated.

The Belgian state will be the sole owner of the polar station. The Internal Polar Station will be responsible for the management, maintenance, supervision and security of scientific missions undertaken at the polar station for the next six years, with the possibility of an extension for three additional years.

An international non-profit organisation comprised of members from the public sector and supervised by the Belgian state will be established. Alongside a scientific committee will be set up to advice on scientific research undertaken at the polar station.

Both parties are satisfied with the agreement. “We have pressed the ‘reset’ button so we can start on a blank page. Good agreements and good discussions make good friends. I do not look to the past, but to the future, and the future is scientific research,” said Zuhal Demir.

Alain Hubert said: “Our integrity was restored by justice. Having a minister with a sense of the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy for the general good.”

The agreement was reached against the background of new alarming reports from Antarctica about the breaking up of ice shelves, forming one of the largest floating icebergs ever observed. The calving of ice shelves are generally believed to be caused by climate change and risk raising the level of the oceans if also land-based glaciers will rush into to sea.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

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