FEBRUARY 23, 1998
Belgium is in
THE Belgian Grand Prix has been saved thanks to some neat political side-stepping by the government of Walloonia, the region of Belgium in which the Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit is situated. The event will take place on August 30. The Belgian government in Brussels voted in November to ban all tobacco sponsorship from the start of 1999. The new law was to be one of the strictest in Europe and much tougher than the proposed European ban. The hard-line attitude taken by the Belgians resulted in the FIA cancelling the 1998 event unless the Belgian government backed down. All attempts to get the law changed in the Belgian courts failed and the race seemed to be doomed.
Belgium, however, has a very strange system of government which has come about because the country is split between those who speak Flemish (Flemings) and those who speak French (Walloons). Political tension between the two groups led to the establishment of three regional governments: Walloonia, Flanders and Brussels. Each of these has its own powerful assembly and government. The national government retains power to make decisions in foreign policy, defence and budget while also controlling the judges and the legal system, but the regional governments make the rest of the laws.
The Walloonia Regional Government, headed by Minister-President Robert Collignon, has decided to introduce a law which allows all kinds of sponsorship for world-class events - sporting or cultural. If this law is passed by the regional parliament there will be no further problems for Spa.
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