Friday’s Consultation Committee is all about corona, but then the recovery policy around it. After all, the federal government wants to lay down the distribution key for the gigantic bag of money that comes from Europe. However, that is immediately a hot topic: who gets some of the 5.15 billion euros in European subsidies? It is an interesting discussion that once again exposes the difficult relationships between the federal states and the federal government.
In the news: On Friday there will be another exciting Consultation Committee.
The details: That committee, which has since become a kind of Belgian supergovernment, puts on the agenda perhaps a much more important question than whether hairdressers are allowed to open again or not: who gets the European billions in Belgium?
- No less than 750 billion euros, that is the total package that the European Union has ready to kick-start the recovery in the EU, and so with this bazooka to combat the economic crisis, which is looming after the pandemic.
- From that package, Belgium will receive “only” 5.15 billion euros, much less than countries such as Spain and Italy, which were much more severely affected in the first wave, and are also weaker economically. When the money was distributed within Europe in the spring, it was not known yet that Belgium would perform so poorly in fighting the corona crisis and the economy would be hit harder.
- Either way, € 5.15 billion remains a huge sum to hand out. For this, the European member states must of course submit plans to the Commission to explain how they are going to spend the money to strengthen their economy.
- This discussion has been going on in Belgium for months now: who gets which share? Because most European money that historically flowed to Belgium, in the form of subsidies, went to Wallonia. After all, they were sums from the European Structural Fund, which is specifically intended to get poorer, disadvantaged regions in Europe out of the doldrums.
- This allocation key cannot apply this time, according to Flanders. Because the Flemish economy has been hit harder in this crisis than the Brussels or Walloon economy: proportionally there was more “impact” from COVID, they say at the Martelarenplein. The division they put forward there: do it on the basis of GDP, gross domestic product.
- In those proportions, Flanders gets about 57 percent, Wallonia 24 percent and Brussels 19 percent. That means more than 3 billion euros for Flanders, an amount that the Flemish Minister of Budget Matthias Diependaele (N-VA) also repeated in the autumn of 2020.
- After all, the Flemish government wants to use it to finance a large part of its own recovery plan worth € 4.3 billion. And the Walloon government, with Elio Di Rupo (PS) as a strong man, also has plans with that money: there is also a great regionalist mindset present. The more money that can go to the regions, the better, for both the Flemish and Walloon governments.
- Moreover, therein lies the logic that also emerged this summer in the political agreement between PS and N-VA: the regions will become the poles around which a confederal Belgium is being built in the future. “I think that Wallonia can also use that money very useful, because the region still has old industries,” Diependaele commented delicately. After all, it is the regions and local levels that make the bulk of the “productivity-enhancing government investment”.
- But there is a big catch: in that logic it seems little or no room left for the federal level. Although Thomas Dermine (PS) has a State Secretary for Relance who previously drew up the Walloon recovery policy, and is more commonly known as a ‘regionalist’, it seems unthinkable that plans would eventually be accepted that have no place for the federal level.
- Added to this is another difficulty: the French Community is also claiming its place. Unlike in Flanders, the French-speaking side has never fused the community and the region, and so that policy level also wants a share of the cake. Politically it is also sensitive: the Walloon and Brussels Regions are led and dominated by the PS, but the French Community is headed by Pierre-Yves Jeholet (MR), a liberal.
- Moreover, the French Community has been underfunded for years and hopes to use the bag of European money to finally strengthen its education in a decent way: a whole series of new schools must be built, and the teaching staff strengthened.
The essence: In this way, the Consultation Committee has to clear another tricky file.
- It is of course no coincidence that the N-VA is pushing hard on the file: they are only in that Flemish government, and see it as a test case to “their” Flemish level. not to be pushed into a corner again. “If there is always a need for solidarity, via the transfers in social security, then there can now also be solidarity, now that Flanders is once more severely affected”, you can hear.
- But two parties are already struggling there: because the Open Vld, together with Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), does provide the federal prime minister, even if they are also in that Flemish government. And also CD&V dances on two legs, and wants to remain federally “loyal”.
- And on the French-speaking side, it is therefore mainly look forward to the PS itself, where Elio Di Rupo (PS) certainly wants to put his own emphasis with his government, and where he has long felt “not respected” in that Consultation Committee.
- So it may well be that that huge sum, 5.15 billion euros, is actually not enough to make everyone happy, on the contrary. The wish lists are too long, and moreover, the more fundamental question plays a role in the background: which logic does one apply, the (con) federal, with a focus on the federal states, or again that federal level above?
- It is a sensitive matter, in which the federal government can also make the final decision: the federal states can ‘advise’, but the decision-making process does not work through a mandatory consensus. But, of course, the federal government, which preaches “constructive federalism”, cannot push through anything unilaterally.
The political file of the moment: The speed at which the vaccines are administered.
- With mishaps at Zaventem airport, and meanwhile almost a witch hunt for those who ‘dared’ to go on a trip, the atmosphere surrounding the corona fight is not getting any better. That things go wrong, and it is decided at the national airport to suddenly check everyone, while there are hardly any checks on the motorways: it confirms it image of a Kafkaesque approach by the government.
- But at the same time, the arrival of a vaccine had to offer “hope” in 2021: there will be light at the end of the tunnel. It was Prime Minister Alexander De Croo himself who mentioned this several times in his preview to this year.
- Only that file of hope threatens to sour at a rapid pace, and to return to policy makers like a boomerang. Because not only are the figures confrontational (both the UK and the US are seriously ahead of the EU), a number of smaller countries such as Israel outside the EU, but also Denmark within the EU, can serve as examples where things are clearly improving and where many more people have been vaccinated.
- Moreover, in the largest European country, Germany, there has also been very fierce criticism about the entire approach. And that is always twofold. On the one hand, the question of why the EU is acting so slowly and bureaucratic, and at the same time why it has not ordered more and faster. But in addition to the EU, which must provide the vaccines, there is also criticism about the distribution: why are the vaccines not administered much faster, than waiting in the freezer? In Germany, for example, 265,000 people have already been vaccinated, but 1.3 million doses are still ready in freezers.
- Meanwhile, the clear signal sounds from the Sixteen that the approach must be accelerated: people have realized that this would otherwise become explosive. And Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), the Federal Minister of Health, already indicated that he made three phone calls to increase the speed.
- The question is whether that is possible just like that. Because with nine Ministers of Health it is, once again, complex. Already laid on October 16, 2020 the Interministerial Conference of those nine ministers, led by Wouter Beke (CD&V), the strategy for the whole of Belgium. But it is slow.
- Flanders, with the same Beke as responsible, is even slower than Wallonia and Brussels. While this week is aiming for 12,000 Walloon vaccinations, and 4,000 in Brussels, Flanders only touches about 6,700. The total figure is also well below the target of 35,000 that was set. It could well be that Beke, and with him the Flemish government, will soon take the brunt again.
- They try to defend the case by stating that they go for “quality”, and “that it is a marathon and not a sprint“. Dirk Ramaekers, the chairman of the vaccination strategy task force, repeated that argument yesterday To the point. But whether that is sufficient in relation to impatient public opinion, with foreign examples in hand, is very much the question.
- In addition, not only the speed but also the sequence of vaccinations is hotly contested. Now the choice is made to vaccinate residents of residential care centers first: “Where the disease strikes hardest, we have to start first”, is the logic. The exponent of this: the centenarian Jos, who was the first to receive an injection. Whether that communicatively was the most appealing approach, the question is to motivate the younger people to keep their behavior adjusted for months on end.
- But from a medical point of view, the approach is also under fire. Stefaan Vandecasteele, corona coordinator at AZ Sint-Jan in Bruges, was clear this morning on Radio 1: “There are several arguments for vaccinating medical personnel first. Because most infections are transmitted by healthcare personnel. ” A message from Hans Willem-Snoeck, professor of immunology, yesterday To the point even though it added: the health care workers should come first, especially with a new wave of infections coming our way.
Conclusion: The vaccination approach could well become the newest banana peel for policymakers.
- Belgium is not an island: just like in Germany, but also in France and the Netherlands, there is strong criticism of the slow start of vaccinations. In the Netherlands (which had not even started yet) they are now accelerating. The debate is so threatening To proliferate in Europe for a number of days and even weeks.
- Especially in combination with a lot of news that the government will be increasingly restrictive and follows the rules closely. For example, from today there will be 500 “flash” inspectors who carry out home work checks at companies. Stories are popping up here and there about a very excessive way of doing checks, just to prove the usefulness of the newly found task.
- Moreover, as is often the case in the approach to this pandemic, any parliamentary debate about the vaccination strategy, and who gets what priority. The French-speaking politologist Jean Faniel of the CRISP perhaps puts it most clearly today in L’Avenir: “We have been told for weeks that trust and transparency in the vaccination process is necessary to convince people. But at the same time, the representatives of the people were in no way involved in the decision. (…) One observation must be made: the debate about who should be given priority never took place. ”
- On Thursday, one aspect of the vaccines will be discussed again in the House: the leaked price list of the producers. It was Eva De Bleeker (Open Vld), State Secretary for Budget, who tweeted the list of prizes in a discussion with N-VA Member of Parliament Sander Loones. That was against any agreement with the pharmaceutical industry, which made a contractual commitment not to communicate prices. But that discussion no longer seems to be the main focus: the slow response is much more burningly topical today.
Setback: The Corona Commissioner, after all a cornerstone in the “new” approach that Vivaldi would use, is out of the question.
- Pedro Facon, former chief of staff of Open Vld at Maggie De Block, among others, was the perfect man to join forces as Corona Commissioner to tackle the pandemic. In the federal coalition agreement it was hoped with the creation of that new post, which would rise somewhat above the no fewer than nine ministers of Health in this country, to streamline things more.
- The post applied here almost like an “extra ministerial post”, so much political power was attributed to the Corona Commissioner, who eventually went to a Flemish liberal.
- But at the start of the new year, Facon now appears to be out of action for several weeks. His communication himself was extremely careful about why, in Het Laatste Nieuws they are talking about a burnout, which is confirmed in government circles. His French-speaking right-hand man (because in federal Belgium, a top Flemish civil servant always needs such an equal) and his head of cabinet will now take over his duties for the time being.