|Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is extremely unhappy about the plans of Mayor Gerd Leers of Maastricht to sell cannabis at the Belgian border. Consultations will be held at Benelux level today.|
Leers announced on Tuesday that he wishes to move seven so-called 'coffee shops' - bars allowed to sell limited amounts of cannabis - from the Maastricht city centre to three locations along the borders with Belgium and Germany. Large parking areas are to be developed there for foreign customers. The planned locations are popularly known as drugs boulevards, although Leers has dubbed his scheme Coffee Corner.
Verhofstadt has sent a letter to Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende. The Belgian premier points out in it that Belgium and the Netherlands agreed in February "not to take unilateral initiatives in the battle against drugs and coffee shop tourism".
Verhofstadt expects Balkenende to "respect the principles of good neighbourliness between our countries". He hopes his Dutch counterpart will do "everything possible to ensure that these plans, which are disputable on legal and policy-related grounds, do not become reality".
At Verhofstadt's request, the subject has been included in a previously planned meeting between the Benelux countries scheduled for tonight. The Home Affairs and Justice Ministers of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg will meet in Luxembourg.
Leers expects that moving the 'coffee shops' out of the built-up area will make them easier to control and lessen the nuisance caused by foreign drug tourists in the city. According to Verhofstadt, Leers' plans will not only generate nuisance in the Belgian border region, but also violate agreements on free traffic within the EU.
A spokesman for Leers countered that one cause of the problems is the Belgian tolerance policy. "You are allowed to possess up to three grams of cannabis in Belgium, but there is nowhere you can buy it. So all those Belgians come to Maastricht."