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Belgium faces an abyssal abyss

The coronavirus crisis has worsened public finances in the kingdom. Some political games don’t help

Max HELLEFF

The coronavirus crisis has worsened public finances in the kingdom. Some political games don’t help

From our correspondent, Max HELLEFF (Brussels) – Former Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene must turn around in his grave. The man who in the 90s forced to register Belgium in the Maastricht criteria and allow it to participate in the single currency would have taken the degradation of the country’s finances rather badly. Two months after the start of confinement, the public deficit reaches 7.5%, not to mention the cost of government measures to deal with the health crisis caused by the coronavirus. The European Commission estimates it all at 8.9% of GDP.

It’s huge. The deficit caused by the crisis is currently estimated at 14.1 billion euros, which must be added to the 12 billion slate left by Charles Michel. It should increase further with the likely extension of special aid measures for the temporarily unemployed and the self-employed. Added to this is the loss of revenue from dividends in companies in which the state has a stake and from VAT. Public debt is announced at 110% of GDP.

At the end of April, the Federal Planning Bureau already announced the plunge in the average well-being of Belgians following the health crisis and confinement. The impact should be greater than that of the financial and economic crisis of 2008, he estimated, pointing to the evils to come: the deterioration of health, falling wages, an increase in poverty, a weakening of women, etc.

The coming weeks will be carefully scrutinized. With the exception of restaurants and cafes, the vast majority of businesses reopened on May 11. After a week, observers estimate, however, that Belgian consumption levels out at 40 or 50% of the usual level. Car dealers, to name just a few, are cutting prices to try to sell some 100,000 new cars from stock. Less income for traders means less VAT for the state, pending social laws, bankruptcies and rising unemployment.

Although marginal compared to the deepening hole that is widening at the moment, the game of some parties does not help the case. Political Belgium, remember, is currently experiencing a kind of “peace of the brave”. There is still no government as of right, but Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès’s team has been given special powers to manage the health crisis. With the exception of Bart De Wever’s N-VA, the Communists and the far right, it also won the confidence of the parties.

All of this comes at a cost. Dozens of bills, often linked to the pandemic and which inevitably have a budgetary impact, are in fact tabled in the House by the various groups who thus take advantage of the situation. Most of the time, it is a question of “helping categories of citizens particularly affected by the crisis, but not only: certain parties take advantage of it to pass laws that they have not managed to pass so far. “Writes The evening.

What to do without a majority?

This is how the Socialists, the Greens and the Communists would like to revalue the pension for underground miners (200 million euros) while this file is the subject of legal proceedings. And this is just one example among many. There is Belgian evil. Failing to have a majority, the government in current affairs of Sophie Wilmès is struggling to manage state spending. Excluding the crisis agreements, it can only count on 38 deputies out of 150 in the House.


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