The first of February saw, with Brexit, the most momentous change to the European Union in its history, and the first time the EU has shrunk in size since the departure of Greenland. Belgium is of course, as Capital of Europe, deeply affected, but that was not the only change to take place here on that date. A selection:
Prescriptions: doctors are now obliged to switch from the old style of paper prescriptions to a new one based on electronic transmission to the pharmacy. The decision to change was actually taken in November, but doctors had three months in which to use up old stocks. Patients who are still holding an old-style prescription dated prior to 31 January have until 30 April to present them to the pharmacy. Undated prescriptions are no longer accepted.
Alcohol: alcohol may no longer be consumed between midnight and 06.00 on the streets of central Brussels on and surrounding the pedestrian zone. Signposts have been erected and leaflets will be handed out. The ban covers the main avenues from Place Fontainas to Place De Brouckère, as well as neighbouring streets Rue des Fripiers, Rue du Midi and Place de la Monnaie. Cafe terraces are exempt from the rule.
Meanwhile February brings the start of Tournée Minérale, a month-long challenge to refrain from consuming alcohol altogether.
EuroMillions: the jackpot in the EuroMillions gambling game goes up to €200 million, increasing further by €10 million each time it is won to reach an ultimate maximum of €250 million. The change was decided by the nine countries taking part – France, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg.
Rail travel: The rail authority SNCB adapts its fares structure in an attempt to attract more leisure travel by train, in addition to commuter traffic. The cost of commuter and student season tickets goes up by 2.87%, while the rise for the standard ticket and weekend ticket is only 1.53%, less than the health index. The prices of the multiple or unlimited-use tickets Go Pass 1, Go Pass 10 and Go Unlimited for young people, and the Rail Pass for others, remain unchanged.
Public transport: Flemish public transport authority De Lijn increases the cost of an SMS ticket from €2.25 to €2.65, while an m-ticket bought via the app costs €1.80. The one-way ticket bought in advance goes down from €3 to €2.50. Annual season tickets go up in price: the Omnipas for the 25-64 age group goes up €10 to €329, while the ticket for over-65s goes up one euro to €55. Monthly season tickets remain unchanged.
At the same time, De Lijn is doing away with the need for wheelchair users to make a reservation to travel by bus or tram. They can now make use of the wheelchair-accessible stops which make up about a third of all 36,000 stops on the network. Previously, wheelchair users had to reserve 24 hours in advance to use all but about 60 lines in the region, specifying the exact bus and time.
Electricity and gas: February sees an end to the freeze adopted one year ago on the cost of the social tariff for electricity and gas, afforded to those living in social housing or in receipt of public benefits. The tariff for electricity will increase in line with the 8% increase forecast by the energy regulator for the first six months of 2020. The tariff for gas, by contrast, is forecast to come down by up to 12%. The changes affect roughly one household in ten in the country.
Litter: anyone caught throwing a cigarette end down on the street in Brussels-City commune (B-1000) faces a fine of €200.
The Brussels Times