Christmas as a stake in a broader political question: how long will a ‘hard corona approach’ be a winner?

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) gave a shot ahead of this week: Christmas will have to be celebrated in a limited circle. But that message meets with resistance, for the first time so manifestly. A study by the University of Antwerp shows that one in three Belgians is not prepared to comply with the current strict measures of one contact per family, before Christmas. This clashes with everything and everyone in terms of experts in the media, who all insist on maintaining the strict rule of one external contact. The gap between preachers and reality threatens to become so wide, a challenge that policymakers must now address.

In the news: Christmas is front page news in mid-November.

The details: The discussion about the holidays, within more than one month, is already raging. And that is not without political consequences.

  • “The corona virus will still be there by Christmas. A Christmas that people are not vaccinated. And so Christmas will be another time when we are dangerous to each other. We have to be honest about that. So no, it will not be like we used to be. ” On Wednesday, Prime Minister De Croo already gave a shot in front of him Today to broach the topic of the holidays yourself.
  • “If you think logically, you have the current rules no government needed saying: that is allowed and that is not allowed, ”said the prime minister, who wants to set a” good example “by only celebrating with his wife and two children.
  • That message is already coming, is no coincidence: the Prime Minister and his Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) realize the dilemma they will soon face. After all, the discussion about the holidays is inevitable. And unlike predecessor Sophie Wilmès (MR), there is the lucidity to see that there is an army of experts and opinion makers in this country, who will push the debate towards a “strict” approach. Better to be ahead than to have to follow with a bucket and mop afterwards.
  • In addition, Vandenbroucke, the professor’s nickname, pops up again, is also very convinced of that strict line. After all, it was very close in hospitals at a certain time, in terms of reception capacity. That is why it is absolutely necessary to avoid that intensive contacts between too many people during that Christmas period would lead to a so-called “third wave”, a “Christmas wave” as it is already nicely worded. An interesting semantic trick, by the way: connecting Christmas to something negative like a corona wave, as a warning.
  • The pressure from the experts is there anyway.
    • Marc Van Ranst, for example, could not resist underlining “that too other religions should have left their parties“.
    • But Herman Goossens is already coming up with doom scenarios: the Christmas period would be a “can give a huge boost to the number of infections“.
    • And Pierre Van Damme also talked about “the numbers that are not good enough to ease up by the end of the year“.
    • It is striking that Steven Van Gucht emphasized that “creative solutions” are needed. Three kisses is certainly not possible, but “together in the garden around a fire pitIs an option.

To keep in mind: The context for the population is broader than just what the chorus of virologists preaches in the media.

  • First of all, there is it news about the vaccines, that no one who follows a little radio, internet or television will have escaped notice. With Pfizer and Moderna, two world players are on the threshold of a breakthrough. The European Commission also announced yesterday, through chief Ursula von der Leyen, that in mid-December in Europe, “the first corona vaccines will receive a first market license”. That creates expectations.
  • The experts and politicians are trying hard to make it clear that this vaccine will only be rolled out en masse in the spring, and that they are “not there yet”, but anyway this news is not simply dismissed: a solution to the pandemic is certainly in sight in this way, so the daily routine of strict messages will ever stop.
  • Plus, there are the numbers themselves. You don’t have to be a math genius to realize that by now the curve is seriously going down at this point. And that this trend, due to the strict measures, has started and will continue.
    • First is the number infections, which has fallen back to 4,000 a day, from a peak of 16,000 at the end of October.
    • The number of hospital admissions is again below 400 per day, and the total number of patients in hospital has also fallen to 5,600.
    • And even the number of people in intensive care and the number kill drops again.
  • The question is therefore mainly how far the measures are to be maintained, to get those numbers further down. The Christmas discussion revolves around this in part: pushing through now would mean that there was no third peak, and therefore no third lockdown, will follow before the vaccine is available.
  • On the other hand, there are the sobering figures from the corona survey of the University of Antwerp. One third of the population is not willing to follow the imposed rules before Christmas. And with younger generations, that percentage is much higher, it goes up to 40 percent, who no longer show willingness. The study is representative, it involved 26,000 respondents.
  • This is slightly different in an internal survey among Unizo members, whose methodology should primarily serve the message, but it remains a particularly worrying signal that one in five entrepreneurs is considering quitting, because of the corona crisis. Certainly not a pleasant message for liberal policymakers: this is in the first place partly their own supporters.
  • That combination, of a dark economic perspective and a lack of social life, is becoming difficult for a considerable part of the population. And just because the message of the advocates of strict rules is repeated through the media every day, doesn’t mean it resentment about the long period of government regulations social contact does not gain the upper hand for some.
  • Moreover, it would be naive to think that this is not in part is a political-ideological discussion: just look at the American elections. Within the federal government, the line runs between a strict socialist Minister of Health, versus an MR, who, certainly with chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez, tends towards a looser regime before Christmas. When the French-speaking liberal made statements about this, he was tackled harshly. But Bouchez wouldn’t be the man to change his opinion: “Wait and see“, It sounds there.
  • De Croo tries to keep the church in the middle, realizing that this is a very sensitive file. And then there is of course the Flemish government, with the N-VA in it, which preaches a completely different line in private. The top views the strict measures, and especially the economic damage as a result, with sorrow. At the same time, it is observed that the Dutch border cities are widening their shopping hours en masse, in order to receive shopping Belgians.
  • But whether that is why the Flemish government and Prime Minister Jan Jambon (N-VA) will soon take a position of ‘relaxation’ in the Consultation Committee? Jambon is rather a consensus man, and again the prime minister himself has all preparatory work done towards a very limited social end-of-year period.
  • In any case, when by December 15 it turns out that the figures have dropped even more sharply (which everyone expects), a very difficult message threatens to ask Belgians to comply with the rules. “The fact that no government should really be needed to explain this”, as the prime minister himself stated, does not sound like the strongest argument. It is up to the Consultation Committee to take the plunge later.

Remarkable: For the first time, very carefully, from their own ranks, a critical voice can be heard at Open Vld towards the government.

  • It were actually the Open Vld youth, nevertheless a loyal branch of the mother party in recent months, who have made themselves heard in the discussion about the nuclear exit. With a tweet they let it be known, just like the liberal student union LVSV, that they are not served with the idea that the lights will soon also be turned off in the last nuclear power stations.
  • When the coalition agreement was approved in October, the chairman of the young liberals on Twitter still exulted about the fact that there would be no new taxes. A new securities tax is now a fact.
  • This week there was the policy statement of the competent Minister of Energy Tinne Van der Straeten (Groen), and especially the announcement of producer Engie that they are no longer going to invest to prepare the power stations for one more lifetime extension. The latter was mainly a threat from the French energy giant to force the decision as quickly as possible, it was eagerly accepted by Van der Straeten, who welcomed the decision.
  • Pressure from the MR, where chairman Bouchez neatly pointed out the coalition agreement, the Greens also repeated that message: a decision will not be definitively made until 2021. But every path to it is already clearly in the direction of closure, or so is the impression. At Groen, they made little effort to debunk this: everyone knows that they want to close the power stations permanently.
  • Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) is now silent in all languages. The liberal chairman campaigned fiercely to be able to take control of 34 Melsensstraat internally, with those power plants remaining open as one of its election themes. But today he realizes that there is little gain in the debate: the coalition agreement was already the compromise to postpone the decision. The only response that came was a message to N-VA “that it’s in their DNA to humiliate others”, after the Flemish nationalists started pushing where it hurt.
  • That a day later the news came that Van der Straeten had a study on the nuclear exit at the independent watchdog CREG did not make matters any easier for the liberals.
  • So the Prime Minister himself intervened, in the Chamber, for it fait accompli of the Greens, after threats from Engie, to shut down permanently, to roll back, and to appease their own supporters. De Croo reiterated that the deadline is only in November 2021 for the two power stations: “We do this on the basis of facts and figures, not on the basis of ideology or dogmas”. But he then added that he wants a “pragmatic approach”: “These are power plants that have been running for more than 40 years. Are we doing ourselves a favor by continuously postponing a calendar?
  • And Van der Straeten also had, op Villa Politica, meanwhile quenched the matter by stating: “We will ensure that a change is made in this country. For that it is necessary that the nuclear energy is removed. If there is a problem, we will look at all the possibilities again. These may include nuclear power plants. ” But the chance that this will return to the Vivaldi board is very high anyway.

Predictable: A day later, the State Secretary’s words were “taken out of context”.

  • He remains a figure to keep an eye on: Mathieu Michel (MR), brother of, son of, and the man who will take care of the digitization at Vivaldi. Only, in the Chamber, in an explanation about interaction with the citizen, he had suddenly stated “that social networks are not suitable for politics“.
  • And look. A day later it now sounds in La Libre “that this statement has been taken out of its context”. Strange though, because the whole quote, and not just that sentence, circulated on Twitter and was eagerly shared. The fact that the State Secretary did not exactly use fluent Dutch seemed a bit beside the point: it was mainly his discourse around those social networks, and how he wanted to develop an alternative, that drew attention.
  • This polemic perfectly underlines my proposalMichel now states. It wants to “develop a virtual tool to bring about better participation with citizens in democratic processes”.
  • Michel refers to a “platform for dialogue” that the Ministers of Institutional Reforms, David Clarinval (MR) and Annelies Verlinden (CD&V), have already announced. “A broad survey is foreseen. It is important to involve the citizen in this reflection. And a virtual tool to participate, seems appropriate to me. Because social networks are not designed to make such an institutional démarche. ” In all likelihood, it will be a website. Where “the citizen can express his or her ideas”.
  • Incidentally, in response to Michel’s statements, the RTBF has made a particularly fascinating visualization of the Belgian party chairmen their behavior on Twitter. For the gourmets: definitely worth a visit. Most active chairman of all? Indeed, the MRhyperprésident from State Secretary Mathieu Michel, mister cap.
  • They did not really answer one key question before conducting the investigation: It is the chairman himself who manages the Twitter account, or a team of employees that has a specific assignment for this? Bart De Wever (N-VA) and Conner Rousseau (Vooruit), among others, are not on Twitter themselves, which results in much less active behavior, but with much more interaction, and above all, more likes per post.

A first reopening: As of today, Brussels will allow prostitution again.

  • The non-essential shops remain closed. The catering industry: no reopening. Education for pupils from the age of 14: halfway from home.
  • But look, the Brussels Region is opening its doors to prostitution again from today. Window and street prostitution are possible again. That message Radio 2. How that This is exactly compatible with the rules on cuddly contact, is an open question.
  • Brussels meanwhile maintains the curfew, the mouth mask duty everywhere, it closing time for shops from 8 pm and a strict prohibition on drinking alcohol in public places.


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