Belgian authorities present new plan of action against drug crime at port of Antwerp
The Belgian Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs presented a new plan to tackle drug crime at the port of Antwerp in a joint chamber committee on Wednesday morning. The port of Antwerp has become a global drug trafficking hub and the city is facing an increasing number of drug-related violent incidents.
Instead of establishing new agencies in the fight against drug trafficking, Belgium is opting to further centralise its operations. A new port prosecutor will tackle all drug crime and the fight against drug trafficking will be directed by the Antwerp public prosecutor, even if incidents occur in the neighbouring province of East Flanders.
The Stroomplan XXL ('Flow plan XXL') presented on Wednesday is the successor to the first Stroomplan that came into force in 2017. Belgian Justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne admitted that this first Stroomplan was not a great success. "But we remain true to the philosophy of the plan and do not want to establish new agencies," the minister stressed.
The direction of the fight against drug crime will be in the hands of a single port prosecutor.
"The port prosecutor will become the director in the fight against drug crime at a strategic, tactical and operational level," Van Quickenborne stated.
Going forward, the Antwerp public prosecutor's office will also have exclusive jurisdiction. A large part of the Antwerp port is located in the province of East Flanders and would in theory fall under the jurisdiction of the public prosecutor's office of Dendermonde, but "the direction is best taken up by a single prosecutor and Antwerp is best placed to do so," Van Quickenborne said.
The federal judicial police of Antwerp and customs will take control of the entire port area.
"The centralisation of operations at the Antwerp public prosecutor's office will produce a noticeable difference for the federal judicial police. There will also be a permanent point of contact as a result. Such a point of contact also improves communication and the further development of expertise," the justice minister said.
"We don't want to reform for the sake of reforming. Above all, we want a better service for citizens, less fragmentation and more cooperation. We did not wait for the recent drug-related violent incidents in Antwerp. These did make us have to be constantly vigilant, because it is unacceptable that the residents of Antwerp are plagued by these violent incidents," Van Quickenborne said.
Belgium's Home Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden also stressed the need to continue the fight against drug crime to stop the escalation. "However, there is no miracle solution. We also see drug crime increasing in other countries in Europe," Verlinden said.
There are no easy solutions, according to Verlinden. Cooperation among all services is crucial to the Home Affairs minister, but the normalisation of cocaine use in many circles should also be tackled.
"We need to convince our youth that drugs are not a sustainable answer to their pursuit of happiness. Education also has a role to play here."
© BELGA PHOTO LIEVEN VAN ASSCHE