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Belgium report Belgium report
by Euro Reporter
2011-04-07 09:58:42
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Belgium's Solvay to acquire France's Rhodia in billion-dollar deal

The Belgian chemical company Solvay announced Monday that it is seeking to acquire French competitor Rhodia in a 3.4-billion-euro (4.8-billion-dollar) takeover. The two chemical firms have signed a framework agreement under which Solvay will pay 31.60 per share, 44 per cent over Rhodia's average closing share price in the last three months.

Solvay described the acquisition as 'friendly,' with Rhodia's chief executive calling the deal a 'fantastic opportunity.' The companies are expected to generate 12 billion euros in combined sales. No 'major downsizing' is planned as part of the acquisition, Solvay said in a statement. The Brussels-based company expects the deal to be finalised by late August, following approval by shareholders and anti-trust authorities in the European Union and the United States.

Solvay handles specialty polymers, soda ash and hydrogen peroxide, employing some 16,800 people in 40 countries. Rhodia, which has some 14,000 employees, focuses on specialty materials such as rare earths, along with consumer-market products and engineering plastics. 'We have a shared vision in that we want to create a new group to achieve our goal of sustainable growth and development in chemistry,' Solvay chief executive Christian Jourquin said. 'By joining Solvay, we will accelerate the overall development of our business, capitalizing on a strong financial structure, our leadership positions and an exceptional geographic footprint,' Rhodia chief executive Jean-Pierre Clamadieu added.


Prince’s allowance at risk

In a departure from tradition, Prime Minister Yves Leterme berated the king’s 47-year-old son, Prince Laurent, in Parliament, saying the prince should take government advice on trips or lose his generous royal stipend. Mr. Leterme said that the prince, who did not attend the session, had disregarded a written request by the government when he traveled to Congo this month and met with President Joseph Kabila without diplomatic oversight. The prince, who campaigns for environmental causes, said he went to study deforestation. The prince’s stipend of about $400,000 may be at risk, but there is likely to be little change to his reputation one way or the other — he has long raised eyebrows for his fast driving, expensive tastes and blunt speech.


Belgium will examine payments for abuse

Almost a year after a scandal engulfed Belgium following the resignation of a Roman Catholic bishop who admitted he had sexually abused boys, a parliamentary commission called Wednesday for a new panel to adjudicate compensation claims for the hundreds of people who say they were the victims of predatory priests. The parliamentary investigation was the most comprehensive attempt yet to draw lessons from an abuse scandal that, like those in Ireland and the United States, sent shock waves through the country and plunged the Catholic Church into crisis. The commission did not investigate specific cases of abuse.

And, while a representative of one victims’ group welcomed the findings, she said it would be vital to insure that any new arbitration committee would be truly independent. “Many questions were posed, many things were said and many things were learned about an issue that has been taboo in our society,” said Karine Lalieux, the Belgian deputy who headed the special commission after the conclusions were approved. “The victims were at the heart of our recommendations and at the heart of our report. We were working for them.”

In all, the five-month special commission made 70 recommendations after an inquiry that heard evidence from more than 110 people and held approximately 60 sessions. Its most important proposal was to establish a new body to arbitrate the complaints, with the power to award financial compensation. It also recommended an extension of the statute of limitations on crimes of sexual abuse to 15 years, up from 10, and a host of measures to help victims report cases of abuse and to help the authorities investigate them effectively.

After a marathon negotiating session Wednesday, lawmakers on the commission agreed on a package of conclusions in a unanimous vote. Although they are not legally binding, the fact that the proposals have such strong cross-party support suggested that they were highly likely to be adopted. The commission’s full report will be published shortly. Lieve Halsberghe, who represents the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the committee had done a thorough job, but that it was vital to monitor the implementation of the proposals if they are taken up. “We will have to stay here to be the watchdog for the survivors because the church cannot be trusted,” she said. “This has been a black page in Belgium’s history.”

Toon Osaer, a spokesman for the bishops, said it was too early to give a response because the full report had not been published. “The bishops will look to see what proposals will be useful,” he said. “We will study them carefully.” The church has not committed itself to making any comprehensive financial settlement with victims. But one member of the parliamentary commission, Marie Christine Marghem, said that issue had to be broached. “It is obvious that the church must repair the damage it has caused,” she said. “The obligation is a natural one.”

Since Roger Vangheluwe resigned last April as bishop of Bruges, hundreds of victims have come forward, many with harrowing testimony, and last year a report by an internal commission set up by the church said that 13 people were believed to have committed suicide as a result of sex abuse. The police inquiry in Belgium provoked international controversy, and condemnation from the Vatican, when the church headquarters in Mechelen was raided in June last year and the tomb of a cardinal was disturbed in an unsuccessful hunt for proof of a cover-up. The police investigations into the abuse scandal continue.

Last September the head of Belgium’s Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, acknowledged the scale of the scandal and promised to engage further with victims. But he disappointed groups representing those who say they were abused by failing to offer compensation to the victims or to make substantial promises about further pursuing the perpetrators. At the time, Archbishop Léonard said that suffering had caused a “shiver” to run through the church, but that it was too soon for a detailed response to the crisis.

The scandal shocked Belgium when Bishop Vangheluwe admitted that he had abused a boy who was later revealed to be his nephew. After his resignation Bishop Vangheluwe retreated to a Trappist monastery. He has since gone into hiding somewhere in Belgium. He is not being prosecuted because of Belgium’s statute of limitations, and the church authorities in Belgium have said it was for the Vatican to decide on any punishment for the former bishop.

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