Today, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have been attending a closed-door meeting with 70 or more corporate leaders of Big Polluters to launch a declaration for a ‘European Industrial Deal’ at BASF’s chemicals plant in Antwerp, the so-called Antwerp Declaration.

The industry summit was a collaboration between major chemical and intensive-energy-using corporations and their lobby groups – including the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) and its Belgian member Essenscia. Shockingly it was organised under the auspices of the Belgian EU Presidency.

At the same time, activists from local citizen groups and NGOs gathered in front of BASF’s site to denounce this blatant case of corporate capture of the Belgian Presidency and the EU institutions. The activists held banners close to the entrance of the event in the Port of Antwerp, saying, “Antwerp doesn’t want your secret toxic deal”.

Earlier this morning, a coalition of more than 70 civil society organisations released an open letter addressed to De Croo and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urging them to stop providing privileged access to industries known for harmful products and their lobbying against ambitious action on the toxic pollution, biodiversity, and climate crises. This NGO coalition called for the prioritisation of the protection of people and environments affected by pollution over corporate interests.

The so-called Antwerp Declaration has been signed behind closed doors at a time when the need for change has never been so urgent among NGOs and polluted communities. As reported by the European Environmental Bureau, in October 2023, victims of pollution from different European countries requested an audience with President von der Leyen to address the devastating consequences of hazardous substances on people’s health. Shockingly their request was ignored.

Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory researcher and campaigner, says: “EU and Belgian political leaders today once more chose to sell out their credibility, participating in a Pact precisely with those corporations and lobby groups that have undermined, derailed, and delayed key actions for environment, health and climate in the Green Deal. They were able to do so using multi-million-euro lobby budgets and highly misleading lobby tactics. This is a slap in the face of democracy. Whatever is pledged today behind closed doors, we will not accept that this is how the agenda for the next five years to come is shaped.” 

Katrin Van den Troost, Climaxi coordinator, expresses her fears about the chemical sector’s strategy: “Climate and citizens’ movements are worried about the climate plans, and they want stricter rules to safeguard the environment and local residents. The tightening of PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ rules have already been pushed to the agenda of the next EU Commission while it is high time for stricter standards so that situations like the one in Zwijndrecht, near Antwerp, never happen again.”

Pierre Jamar, Canopea Health and Environment Officer, concludes: “In its initial version, the Green Deal was concerned with the general interest and the preservation of the commons. As well as undermining the ambition of this agreement, industrial lobbies and conservative parties are now trying to create the Industrial Deal, an agreement that will put the economic health of big companies, supposedly in difficulty, before our health. When will we see a better regulation of these lobbies, which are just as toxic as the substances and practices they defend?”

The original article can be found here