Curfew will inevitably hit the government agenda

Relaxing and reversing measures is often more complex than imposing strict rules: policymakers have learned that hard lesson for some time in this pandemic. In that sense, the curfew will soon be an interesting file to follow. While N-VA and especially their liberal MR relatives have been protesting for some time against the ban on going out at night, Open Vld is now also taking over. In recent days, Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) just sat down on the “hard line”, but in the meantime chairman Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) gives another signal: “We must have a debate about the curfew,” says he. In the meantime, the socialists have heard criticism from constitutional specialist Johan Vande Lanotte (Vooruit) of the government’s approach.

In the news: Open Vld wants to discuss curfew.

The details: The fundamental position of the party in the “freedom debate” is twisted between ideology and policy practice.

  • There has been a curfew in Flanders for months; between midnight and 5 in the morning you are not allowed to go on the public road. In Brussels and Wallonia this is even stricter: you have to stay there between 10 pm and 6 am. An unseen measure in “normal times”, reminiscent of a state of war.
  • In the Netherlands, the procedure leads to a heated debate, with street protest, but also a whole battery of legal actions to end the ban. A judge also seemed to follow the opponents in their objections: this week a court in The Hague pronounced against the northern neighbors negative about the curfew. The appeal will follow today. The policymakers there now have to adapt a sleeve, with an emergency law to save their curfew.
  • At the time there was hardly any debate at the time of the introduction, with one big exception: in Brussels, where curfews are even tougher than in Flanders, the French-speaking liberals made it a point of contention.
  • Not really surprising, politically: the MR has been in opposition there for some time. Leader Alexia Bertrand (MR) thus used the file to fiercely oppose the “repressive” and above all disproportionate measure.
  • It is indicative of the dilemma in which the liberals find themselves with regard to the measures. In essence, there is an aversion to a government that gets involved and that has too great an impact on people’s trade and behavior. But that striving for freedom is severely limited once the liberals as policymakers have to contain a pandemic.
  • On a federal level, Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) as prime minister is now the face of policy. In the corona approach, the Prime Minister forms a duo with the Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), whereby he looks out that there is no tension on the line, by working very closely together. As a result, De Croo, as Liberal Deputy Prime Minister in the Wilmès II government, was much more on the “freedom line”, while now as Prime Minister he must have an eye for the whole.
  • But that sometimes brings his own party, Open Vld, into some difficulties. Because she can, with her leader in the Sixteen, do not immediately set your own course. Among other things, about the lack of a legal framework for all measures, a so-called “corona law” instead of the ministerial decisions, has been troubling internally for some time: a number of leaders, headed by former chairman Gwendolyn Rutten, are pushing for that sore spot. As legalists have it difficult with the current approach.
  • This week, the fuss about the approach taken by the Antwerp public prosecutor towards seven fourteen-year-olds was added to this. They were held in jail all night and interrogatedbecause they violated the corona rules. A very strong approach, which the own Deputy Prime Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) as Minister of Justice actually fully supported, to the horror of a number of party members.
  • The most influential political commentator on Wetstraat, cartoonist Eric Meynen, who has his political stripe every day in Het Laatste Nieuws, has depicted Van Quickenborne for days as the man obsessed with one thing: giving fines. It is with a wink, but it is still a certain uncomfortable image for a liberal leader to be portrayed like that.
  • In recent days, people at other headquarters have looked with wide eyes at that attitude of Van Quickenborne: “Where are the real liberals going?”, A coalition partner wondered about the approach to the children in Kapellen. “Precisely the home base of the liberal Dirk Van Mechelen”, he added. Both the chairmen of Groen, Vooruit and CD&V condemned the “too harsh” approach of the Antwerp public prosecutor’s office.

The essence: The “freedom debate” is inevitably coming, with spring and vaccines in sight.

  • Just about everyone in the Wetstraat feels what is inevitably coming: dThe whole battery of freedom-restricting measures will sooner or later be discharged when the impact of better weather and the intensive vaccination campaign really makes itself felt. It is therefore immediately possible to say goodbye to experts, who are presented in the media inappropriately and inappropriately.
  • In that respect, a proposal from those advisers, which came out through La Libre, was very significant. The GEMS, the group of experts, advised in January to restrict travel. If a pure travel ban was not possible, the advice formulated: “An alternative way, such as measures, could be sought who strongly advise against travel, for example by introducing a travel permit that is very expensive or demanding ”.
  • The advice was ultimately not followed, because it is anti-social (it does not bother the richest) and simply a “bullying measure”. These kinds of proposals can be heard in the corridors of the government is significant for the difference between politicians and scientistss: the latter are not always with both feet in society.
  • However, phasing out this phase of measures threatens to become particularly complex. Experts continue to announce the “third wave” inappropriately or warn about it. But at the same time everyone in the Wetstraat wants to be remembered as those who just gave back the “freedom”.
  • In that respect, the role of MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez is also striking: for weeks he pushed the hairdressers’ file showy, sometimes absurdly. The MR was criticized for that: they would not be too loyal to defend federal policy. But in the end, Bouchez was able to give it his all once the hairdressing salons reopened. The next offensive, the catering industry, seems to have been fully started by Bouchez, which received Antwerp catering entrepreneurs yesterday.
  • The N-VA, federally in opposition, draws plenty of that same card. For weeks, party leader Peter De Roover (N-VA) has been knocking on the nail of the lack of a legal framework and the strict measures that are no longer proportionate. That “liberal” line stands out and pushes Open Vld where it hurts.
  • At the Flemish level, Jan Jambon (N-VA) as Prime Minister has opened the same front as Bouchez: reopening the hotel and catering industry becomes a file on which they want to profile themselves firmly.
  • Yesterday came then a striking reaction from Open Vld chairman Egbert Lachaert about that curfew, after fellow spirit Alexia Bertrand again complained about that restriction on Twitter.
  • “Any freedom-restricting measure must be efficient, necessary, proportional and temporaryHe argued, as a lawyer quoting the fundamental principles of fundamental rights and their limitations. “Politicians and experts must ask whether that is still the case today before curfew. That deserves a debate in the coming weeks. ”
  • So it looks like it that Open Vld is also sticking its nose to the window to jump into the freedom debate. De Roover (N-VA) was immediately there to respond: “And finally let parliament decide, as well as for every freedom-restricting measure? If we agree on that, let’s get to work on it as soon as possible. ”
  • Normally next week the debate on the pandemic law will open in the House, when the government comes up with its own proposal.
  • It remains to be seen whether the curfew would be broken in the meantime. Because the socialists clearly have much less problems with this restriction, certainly in Flanders, where the clock only starts at midnight. “Who leaves their dog outside after that hour, is that so many people? All the measures are dominoes and this whole approach is working for the time being. That going to change, even with a little relaxation, means that the whole can falter ”, you can hear at the top.
  • That “consistent” line, In order not to change too much to a “winning formula”, Vandenbroucke and De Croo have long maintained. So curfew is part of that.

Remarkable: Johan Vande Lanotte (Vooruit) is not lenient with the legal approach of the government.

  • As a professor of Constitutional Law he has any authority, as a statesman: Vande Lanotte sheds light on the way in which the government is now tackling the corona crisis, legally speaking. He will give an interview about this in De Morgen.
  • He is not particularly mild. “Yes, the The legal basis for the corona measures is also problematic in our country. The law that the government is currently relying on, regarding civil security, actually does not serve this purpose. That law was made to take punctual measures in case of disasters. Suppose there is an explosion in a company, the government can tell people in the neighborhood to stay indoors. It is not the intention to use that law for measures that apply throughout Belgium for a long time. ”
  • He points to the danger that judges will soon start looking at that “temporality”. “That is also a danger for other measures. I’ve already said it: judges will start canceling fines. Maybe that doesn’t happen that often now, but wait a few more months. When the crisis is over, we will be surprised. Those who have paid their fine will find it sad that others escape it. ”
  • His fundamental vision of a pandemic approach is also clear: “When it comes to fundamental rights, elected representatives of the people must participate in decisions. I think that’s essential in a democracy. The judiciary and legislature must also be involved in their specific areas. You really need legal and parliamentary scrutiny. It cannot be one power that decides everything. ”

Also followed: Heisa at the Data Protection Authority, the successor of the so-called “Privacy Commission”.

  • The freedom debate in the corona approach is not limited to the restrictions that are imposed, it’s also about privacy. In this area, there has been criticism for some time about the way in which the government deals with the data of its citizens in combating the pandemic. Top civil servant Frank Robben, who manages the exchange of data, has been under fire there for some time.
  • But the government watchdog, the “Data Protection Authority” is according to critics not independent enough. Two administrators there, Alexandra Jaspar and Charlotte Dereppe, have already written several letters to Parliament about this, to indicate that the watchdog was simply not functioning, because there were far too many Conflicts of interest are between the members and the government itself.
  • They pointed it out that Belgium is therefore unable to comply with the GDPR rules of Europe, which impose the framework of privacy throughout Europe. Le Soir researched the entire file.
  • A painful thing for Belgium, because the European Commission recently sent a letter to this country asking for clarification on the matter. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the Commission, and Didier Reynders (MR), who is also responsible as Commissioner for Justice, want to know more.
  • Meanwhile Mathieu Michel (MR), the State Secretary for Digitization, is also involved in the case. He now invites the chairman of the watchdog and also the chairman of the Chamber, Eliane Tillieux (PS), to whom the watchdog reports, “for a meeting to clarify things”.


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