To most of the outside world, it is known as the dull Dutch market town where the treaty that created the European Union was signed in 1992. Small wonder then, that the bulk of Maastricht's foreign visitors come not for the history, but for the abundance of Amsterdam-style "coffee shops" selling marijuana.
Now, however, fed up at the growing numbers of drug tourists, Maastricht plans to move up to half of the offending cafes to the Belgian border - a scheme that has tested the spirit of European integration to its limit.
For the town's mayor, Gerd Leers, the move will simply relocate the cafes safely out of Maastricht and closer to their main market, which locals say is overwhelmingly young Belgians anyway.
But officials in Belgium, where cannabis remains illegal, say the plan will completely derail their own zero-tolerance policy on drugs. Because both countries are signatories to the EU's Schengen free movement agreement, the national boundary exists nowadays only on maps, which means that Belgian towns such as Lanaken, right on the border, may end up looking as if they have their own coffee shop.
Dutch police, however, back Mr Leers. By moving some of Maastricht's 16 coffee shops to within a few yards of Belgium, they hope to export not just the cannabis trade but also its undesired sidekick, illegal hard drugs.
"Their fears are legitimate," said Peter Tans, the police spokesman for south Limburg, the Dutch region that includes Maastricht. "Experience has shown that when you move the coffee shop the problem moves, too, and crime levels where the coffee shop used to be drop dramatically. But we say to the Belgians: 'These are your customers, keep them in your country'."
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Interesting EU Story...
From the Telegraph: