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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-10-08 11:47:00
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24-hour strike paralyzes Belgium train traffic

A 24-hour strike by Belgian rail workers on Wednesday paralyzed train traffic throughout Belgium and the international high-speed service to London and Paris. The strike, which started late Tuesday, reached its peak during the Wednesday morning rush hour when tens of thousands of commuters had to take to traffic-choked highways to get into the capital or work. Many employees had taken precautions and even though long traffic jams were reported early Wednesday, they were not as bad as initially feared. Both Thalys and Eurostar cancelled services to the Belgian capital. "In Brussels, the strike is a success, around 80-90 percent of the people are on strike," said Philippe Peers of the socialist CGSP trade union. "Many of the stewards as well are on strike, so I can tell that there will be not a single train in Brussels."

Rail service was expected to resume late Wednesday and be back at full service on Thursday morning. Despite the weeklong warning, it still caused plenty of hardship. Georgina Saldena, a Mexican tourist, was heading for the Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport. "Until today, we thought we had to go there by train," she said after she was surprised by the strike. And as tourist, she felt stranded with few indications of alternative options. "There is no sign, nothing that says that we have to come here to take a bus," she said at a bus stop that would take her to Paris, Saldena said. Matthieu Regibout, who works in Brussels, said he took the last train on Tuesday, and slept in his office to avoid the strike's effect.

Rail workers are fearful their employment conditions will be undermined under a new plan to revamp and streamline the three companies currently overseeing train traffic in Belgium. Unions want to go back to a single company controlling the rail grid and train traffic, saying the numerous and lengthy delays of the past could be blamed on managerial disorganization. The state-controlled rail sector has traditionally been a huge employer in Belgium, a historic trailblazer when it comes to its dense rail grid. It still employed some 65,000 people two decades ago, but it has now dwindled to 37,000 with no personnel expansion in sight, said socialist union leader Jean-Pierre Goossens. "Every day, pressure at work increases since there are no hirings," Goossens said.


Belgium pioneers organ donation from euthanized patients

The practice of transplanting organs from patients who die after voluntary euthanasia is becoming relatively common in Belgium. A leading specialist, Dirk Van Raemdonck, told a conference in Brussels recently that there had already been nine cases. A year ago, a team at a hospital in Leuven announced that it had successfully transplanted lungs from four euthanized patients between 2007 and 2009. Over the next three years there appear to have been another five.

According to the website De Redactie, run by the Flemish public broadcasting company VRT, Belgium is the world leader in organ removal after euthanasia. This has been done only once elsewhere in the world, in neighbouring Holland, Dr Van Raemdonck told De Redactie.

Only a small proportion of euthanized patients are able to donate organs, since most of them are terminally ill with cancer. About 1,100 Belgians were euthanized in 2011. Most of the patient donors have muscular or neurological disorders.


Port of Antwerp aims to triple marketshare

One year ago the Expertise Centre for Fruit and Perishables was founded by the Port of Antwerp. This is a joint effort of the Antwerp Port Community (Port Authority together with the Private Operators, all of whom are specialised in the cold chain). The goal of the project is to improve the specific supply chains of fruit and perishables coming through the Port of Antwerp in a sustainable way. Antwerp has always been an important port for food imports, it is of course the biggest banana port in the world, and has 2 million m³ of cold stores for chilled and frozen goods. Wim Dillen, senior Business Development Manager at the port, explains that it was important to have a strategy with specific focus domains to outline areas in which to grow, defend or actively attack the market. The port is very well established in conventional reefer traffic, but the team saw the need to further improve containerised reefer throughput of the port. With the amount of refrigerated containerised reefers expected to grow there is potential to increase Antwerp's share in this market. They currently focus on five southern hemisphere countries, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador and South Africa.

According to Wim many people are unaware of the Port of Antwerp trumpcards as a perishables gateway to/from Europe. In order to make the port more attractive to importers a number of 'roadblocks' have been removed. "Many people have the perception that inspection and customs checks are too slow, so first we needed to optimise & speed up this process, afterwards we needed to communicate efficiently on the progress made. We have done so by enabling the administration process to start 24 hours before the ship comes into port; we have also reduced inspection times by combining customs and phytosanitary/veterinarian controls, so now when goods are selected for a control the process only takes between 1-2 hours. This is quite fast compared to other ports."

"We are also focussing on the delivery time to the hinterland, a normal flow allows for delivery to a destination within a 500km radius, within 24 hours of arrival at the port. This has been achieved by the Expertise Centre." The Belgian Federal Government has also taken measures to remove a fiscal roadblock by reducing the impact of the deposit required when importing to Belgian ports. Wim argues that it makes sense to use the shortest possible route to the destination, "a lot of European imports go to Rungis market in France and Antwerp is closer than other ports, less distance on the roads also reduces the carbon footprint." Looking back after one year, Wim says decent progress has been made and the Port of Antwerp is becoming even more important for perishable goods. "We also need to measure our progress and so we are developing a system where we can check our progress every three months. Our goal is to eventually triple our market share."

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