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Antwerp quickly secured a €21 million loan to take advantage of Flemish support: 'Creative Accounting'

Antwerp quickly secured a €21 million loan to take advantage of Flemish support: 'Creative Accounting'

When it merged with Boersbeek, Antwerp received a 50 million subsidy from the Flemish government. To get that money, Antwerp took out a $21 million loan it didn't need, just for Flanders to repay. “Ridiculous,” says CD&V.

Stavros Keleporis

“Creative accounting,” is what Neil Stice (Groen) calls it. On Monday evening, he drew attention to the Antwerp City Council over a €21 million loan that Antwerp took at the end of 2022, only to have it repaid by Flanders and obtain an additional €21 million in support for itself.

This is the situation. In December last year, Antwerp and Borsbeek gave the green light to the merger. Borsbeek thus became Antwerp's tenth district, adding four square kilometers and about 11,000 inhabitants. Plus a nice check from the Flemish government. After all, in the event of a merger, it takes over part of the debts of the respective councils. For a large city like Antwerp, the maximum is €50 million.

To reach this maximum amount, the city quickly obtained a loan of 21 million euros. Koen Kennis (N-VA), Antwerp alderman for finance, acknowledges this as well. We have borrowed for €50 million in subsidies. There's nothing wrong with that, right? With such a large merger, the intention is to take over 50 million debts, so you can invest that money. Just because you are doing well as a city and have little debt does not mean you should receive less benefits.

The question is whether the assumption of debt was intended for this purpose. The Flanders region therefore gives a boost to amalgamated municipalities, precisely because many small municipalities are unable to keep their heads above water financially. Antwerp and Borsbeek only took on additional debt in order to obtain another $21 million from Flanders. “This is not at all the intention of the merger plan. This is to save municipalities like Borsbeek, not to feed the coffers of rich cities,” says Stice.

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50 million in cash

Flemish Member of Parliament Brecht Warnes (CD&V) is also unhappy with the Antwerp maneuver. He has been campaigning for more resources for rural Flanders for some time and believes that larger cities – especially Antwerp – receive much more money compared to smaller municipalities and cities.

“A city like Antwerp that includes Borsbeek, with all due respect, is not a big deal. Ironically, big cities that add a municipality with a few thousand residents get 50 million people. If they do another merger in Next year with another thousand residents, they will get another 50 million.” He also points out that it would have been cheaper for Flanders to simply pay 21 million euros into the city coffers rather than repay the loan, because the interest would also have to be paid.

According to Finance Minister Matthias Diependel (N-VA), nothing technically went wrong. “Flanders has a number of positive measures and all the rules are followed here.” He points out that in the event of a merger, a maximum debt of 500 euros per resident will be seized. “In Antwerp, with a population of half a million, income is less than 100 euros per person.”