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Belgium turns to the EU for Oosterweel investment exception

© Belga
© Belga

Belgium will ask the European Commission for permission to keep the construction costs of the Oosterweel project from being included in the Flemish government’s budget. Under current EU rules, Flanders risks incurring a large budget deficit in order to carry out the planned closure of the Antwerp ring road – the Oosterweel link.

The price tag for the project, of which preparatory works have already started, is estimated at 3.5 billion euro.

The European Commission, which oversees the budget of Member States, only allows countries to exclude investments from their budgets to a limited extent. A country that wants to benefit from this special-case category must have negative economic growth or perform under its economic potential. As a result, Belgium is not eligible.

The Belgian federal state and the three regional communities will now collectively ask the EU to extend the so-called “investment clause” to include the financing of the Oosterweel link. The regional governments agreed on this in the consultation committee today, says Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois.

In concrete terms, Belgium is asking the Commission to allow a deficit of 0.5% of the gross domestic product for a large investment, over four years.

“We are asking Europe to broaden the criteria so that we can get a deviation from the budgetary targets for very large, one-off, sustainable and growth-enhancing investments. Such investments are exceptional”, says Bourgeois. 

“Now we would have to pay the total cost of Oosterweel in a short time and at the same time keep our budget in balance. That is absurd.” Flanders says that it has already implemented many structural savings and therefore needs the leeway to invest, according to Bourgeois.

It remains to be seen whether the European Commission agrees to the Belgian request.

Editor’s note: The Oosterweel link extends over a length of approximately 15 km. By means of a new tunnel under the river Scheldt, the Oosterweel link will connect the E17 (Ghent) and the E34/N49 (Bruges) on the left bank with the E19/A12 motorways towards the Netherlands and E34/E313 towards Liège, Germany and Luxembourg.

The Brussels Times