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Belgium talks about the universal allowance again

The interest of the Belgian liberals for a generalized basic income in turn outlines the return of the social in politics.

The interest of the Belgian liberals for a generalized basic income in turn outlines the return of the social in politics.

From our correspondent, Max Helleff (Brussels) – The covid crisis and the economic and social concerns it arouses have stirred up an old debate in Belgium. Georges-Louis Bouchez’s Reform Movement (MR, French-speaking liberal) wants to bring universal allowance up to date, an old idea that is readily controversial. Some see it as a miracle cure for all the ills of our time, while others fear the end of solidarity and the risk of frenzied individualism.

Richard Miller, who was French-speaking Minister of Culture, was given the task of exploring this tricky terrain. He evokes “pockets of poverty in society” which affect artists, students, the self-employed and certain workers… “Add digitization and robotization, the proliferation of precarious jobs, uberization… We must develop a global response” , he said to Evening.

The liberal version of the universal allowance would provide everyone with a fixed amount from birth. It would be financed by different taxes. It would amount to several hundred, even a thousand euros to acquire “a critical size”. Having this sum would make it possible to better harmonize professional and private life, to take certain initiatives without looking back, starting with the creation of a business. At least, it’s the MR who says so.

Some see in this interest the return of the pendulum of history. After the rediscovery of social liberalism in the 90s by Louis Michel, the Reform Movement quickly found the tracks of the market economy. Now Prime Minister, Charles Michel, Louis’s son, made budgetary orthodoxy a major axis of his policy. Following the example of his predecessors, he has continued to disinvest in health care, with the consequence of leaving the country facing a deficit of resources when covid patients flocked to hospitals last spring.

When he was at the head of the liberal party, the same Charles Michel had declared that his party was “open to the principles of a universal allowance provided that this is accompanied by a comprehensive reform of the tax system in Belgium” . But this theme was stuck. Its successor Georges-Louis Bouchez has since put it back afloat. In 2015, then practically unknown, the young man declared in the newspaper of an association of aid to the destitute to be “convinced that the model based solely on work (…) no longer makes much sense given the evolution that is going through. our society. I fundamentally believe in the idea of ​​basic income… ”

Certain intellectuals also support this great social plan. In “Unconditional Basic Income”, academics Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght defend an idea “fundamentally emancipatory”, a guarantee of real freedom for all. To hear them, “the basic income does not replace insurance or assistance. It aims to modernize our social protection by overcoming its shortcomings ”. Just this weekend, the payment of a bonus of 50 euros led to tensions between social benefit recipients.

Will the health crisis make the welfare state look great? Several Belgian parties seem to think so. Bart De Wever’s Flemish nationalist N-VA – which until now had ultraliberal and identity accents – now dreams of protecting the little people. But she didn’t invent anything: the Flemish extreme right had thought about it before her.


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