"Environment minister is completely losing it"

An interview with minister Joke Schauvliege (Christian democrat) in the Sunday newspaper 'De Zondag' is not going down very well with environmentalists, to say the least. The Flemish Environment Minister was quoted as saying that "trees have always had the function to be chopped down". Ms Schauvliege retorts that the quote was taken from the context.
James Arthur Photography

Schauvliege has been under fire for some time. She is even being nicknamed "the minister of deforestation" by her opponents or environmentalists.

The issue is this one: Flanders has a clear lack of open space, and woodlands are under increasing pressure in a densely populated and industrialised region like Flanders. Every time trees are being chopped (to make room for industrial development projects), Schauvliege argues that this area is being compensated by new green areas. However, there is discussion about whether this compensation is actually taking place, and whether enough money is being earmarked for this.

All this caused friction between forest umbrella organisations such as Bos+, environmental pressure groups like De Klimaatzaak and even a stand-up comedian like Wouter Deprez on the one side, and the minister on the other.

"I had to sit down for a minute"

In this respect, Schauvliege's latest quote is a bridge too far, environmentalists say. "I had to sit down for a minute when I read it", Bert De Somviele of Bos+ told the VRT.

"What bothers me the most, is that people criticising the minister's policies are being labelled as day-dreamers, people who just don't understand it, or a small group of activists."

A study by the National Audit Authority (Rekenhof) showed that the so-called "forest compensation mechanism" is not working properly, as Bos+ claims.

According to De Somviele (photo), the policy is a disaster. "The study shows that we are 1,000 of hectares behind on this account. Citizens paid millions of euros to allow the government to create new forested areas to replace lost ones. But when you see that not even 20 percent has been realised, you could call this bad government."


"They'd better read the whole article"

In a reaction, Joke Schauvliege says it's a pity that the interview caused so much commotion. She adds that the particular quote was being taken from the context. "I was merely pointing out that trees also have an important economic function, apart from their ecological role."

She says the interview was a balanced one, and accuses opponents of just focusing on the quote instead of reading the whole article. "People give the impression I love chopping trees. This is bullshit, of course, and it hurts me. I adore nature."