Geopolitics

Flemish Fishers, Brexit And A 350-Year-Old Backup Plan

Authorities in Belgium say that regardless of how Brexit negotiations unfold, fishers from Bruges have 'royal privilege' to continue operating in British waters.

More than half of the income of Flemish fishermen comes from catches in British waters
Jaume Mandeu

BRUSSELS — Charles II of England had a hectic life. He married the same woman twice, with two separate ceremonies; had no legitimate children but at least 12 with his lovers; and his father was beheaded. On top of all that, he spent nine years in exile before taking the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland after the death of Oliver Cromwell.

The Merry Monarch, as he was known, spent three of those exile years in the Flemish city of Bruges. And it was there, in 1666, that Charles II — grateful for the city's hospitality — granted it the Privilegie der Visscherie, the privilege of fishermen that gave 50 boats from that city eternal rights to fish in British waters.

All of this may seem like a minor, irrelevant mishap in history. But this past October, Charles II's three-and-a-half-century-old favor was suddenly back in the news when Belgium's ambassador to the EU, Willem van de Voorde, raised the issue in a meeting on Brexit negotiations.

Fishing is one of the three major obstacles that remain in the negotiations.

Government data suggest that more than half of the income of Flemish fishermen comes from catches in British waters. They have a modest fleet, 67 boats, but the sector as a whole provides work for 2,500 people, according to Crevits, who says that "expelling Flemish fishermen from British waters poses an existential threat to the entire industry."

To the surprise of his colleagues, the ambassador pointed out that even if Brexit negotiations fail — and European fishermen lose access to British waters — those based in Bruges would keep their rights. Fifty boats from that city could continue fishing based on that privilege of more than 350 years ago, which they are now carefully dusting.

The Flemish government insists on this right, which they believe will serve them if the Brexit negotiations do not bear fruit. "A first legal analysis indicates that the privilege of fishermen is still valid," said the Flemish minister for the economy, Hilde Crevits, who is ready to play this card if necessary.

Charles II of England — Hendrick Danckerts painting

Although Flanders has unearthed this 1666 privilege, its legal value is far from being proven. The document was wielded on two previous occasions but never led to conclusive results. The first opportunity came in 1849, in fisheries negotiations between the United Kingdom and Belgium, which had just become an independent state. The argument failed to impress the British much.

The second attempt was more picturesque. It occurred in 1963, when a Bruges councilor, Victor Depaepe, sailed into British waters with the declared intention of being arrested and taking the case to court. To do this, he sent individual telegrams to give the Queen of England and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan advance warning of his departure. The stunt generated publicity, but not to the extent that judges intervened — even though advisers of the British Ministry of Agriculture would have recommended not to go to court because they could not guarantee that they would win the case.

What luck the privilege might have this time remains to be seen. It will depend first on the Brexit negotiations, which have intensified in London and Brussels since late October. Behind the provocative statements, the parties are reportedly making some progress, although no one knows if it is enough. January, the date of the disengagement of the UK from the EU, is very close.

The 1666 Fisheries Privilege — Wikipedia

Fishing is one of the three major obstacles that remain in the negotiations, along with the so-called "level playing field" (Brussels-slang to indicate that British products cannot enter the single market if they benefit from state aid that gives them an advantage) and governance, namely how any disputes will be resolved. Then comes fishing, which is proving to be a thorny issue despite its limited economic weight.

The EU has made it clear that there won't be a agreement without an accord on fisheries, and although the issue only affects eight of the EU's 27, all countries have closed ranks against what is considered British attempts to open cracks in the bloc.

With some realism, European fishermen can't expect to have the same rights that they currently enjoy, but they are trying to keep the reduction of their quotas as small as possible. Meanwhile, the 50 from Bruges might keep the Privilegie der Visscherie up their proverbial sleeves, just in case.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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