Belgium refuses to pay Westerschelde bill

The Belgian government is refusing to pay the Netherlands €300m it had agreed to hand over in compensation for environmental damage caused by deepening the Westerschelde estuary, news agency ANP reports on Monday.

Belgium and the Netherlands are in the middle of a diplomatic row over the estuary, which separates the two countries and accesses Antwerp port. Belgium wants to deepen the estuary to allow bigger ships access but the Netherlands has not completed its share of the work amid planning and legal delays..
Belgium is refusing to pay because the Netherlands has decided against flooding an area of land known as the Hedwige polder to compensate for the loss of wildlife habitat caused by the dredging. The polder stretches from Antwerp into the Netherlands.
The Dutch council of state has also halted the dredging process after protests from environmental groups.
Last Friday, prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende pledged that the Netherlands would honour its part of the deal, which was signed in 2005.
Belgium is in the process of flooding its part of the Hedwige polder, and a dyke is being built to keep the Dutch section dry. ‘If the Netherlands won’t flood its land, then it should pay for the dyke,’ ANP quoted a Flemish government official as saying.
ANP also reports that Belgium’s foreign minister Yves Leterme will be in the Netherlands on Wednesday to discuss the issue and other topics with his Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen.

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