The Right, referenda and the Oosterweel Link
The Oosterweel Link is a new and very expensive project for the city of Antwerp. Although only a small minority of the people in Antwerp seems to want the worst version of it, which would include a big traffic bridge (“the Lange Wapper”) for trucks and cars in the inner city of Antwerp, this month there will be a local referendum on the issue (in the largest city of Flanders). It are mainly members of the moderate part of the Right (Christian Democrats and others) who are trying to get this big bridge constructed. One of the big problems with the Lange Wapper is that it will cause many health problems, as a result of fine particle dust pollution.
The Far Right party Vlaams Belang (translation : Flemish Interest) has been fully gaining from this spectacle. The party even got involved in a campaign to collect 50.000 signatures in Antwerp city in order to stop the construction of the big traffic bridge by having a referendum about it. It was a bit strange and sad, because up until then it were people of the Left collecting a lot of these signatures. There were more than enough signatures collected for a referendum to take place at the end.
Unfortunately, many people with a foreign background will not be able to vote. This is one of the reasons why politicians of the Right like the idea of referenda sometimes, many people of the extreme part of the Right certainly like the idea of a referendum about the issue "Can non-European foreigners also vote during elections?" for example.
Just to give you an idea about the size of the issues here, the road that they are maybe planning to build (with a huge bridge included) would cost more than 3.000.000.000 euros. If too many people would vote NO the 18th of October, the Flemish government will consider building another very expensive road (a less ugly and unhealthy one). There are three options that they see as alternatives for the Oosterweelverbinding (Oosterweel Link)...
According to the well-known Antwerp port alderman Marc Van Peel (a Christian Democrat), the city council of Antwerp should not even base its recommendation to the Flemish government on the results of the Antwerp referendum on the Oosterweel Link. "It is not because the referendum will result in a NO vote to the Lange Wapper bridge that we, as a municipality, should say no”, says 'democrat' Van Peel. He reasons that as a referendum is not legally binding, the municipality and Flemish government need not necessarily act in accordance with the results of a referendum! Yes, this is what Van Peel wants “representative democracy” to look like.
I've been involved in protests against the Oosterweel Link for many years now. This road connection has probably been the most important regional topic for activists of the ecological part of the Left here in Flanders to talk about. And with it hanging above our heads, ideas and discussions about local democracy are more and more a part of the public realm today.