Politics

De Croo and De Wever smoke a pipe of peace about tackling the corona crisis: “This transcends party politics”

The federal government faces an inevitable further tightening of the corona rules, now that the numbers are clearly heading in the wrong direction. A blitz visit to the Antwerp UZ by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) and the Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) mainly yielded ten discrete minutes, during which the federal duo could talk to Bart De Wever (N-VA), mayor of Antwerp, but also leader of the largest opposition party. The conclusion: the crisis transcends party politics, no political games will be played on this.

In the news: Everyone is bracing for the Consultation Committee tomorrow.

The details: An inevitable further tightening of measures appears to be imminent.

  • Corona, corona, corona. There is no escape: the theme also completely dominates the agenda in the Wetstraat. The federal government is fully aware that this must be addressed: a second peak in the pandemic must be halted.
  • The figures are not at all encouraging. With an average of 5,421 infections, it has doubled compared to a week ago. The medical equipment is not yet overloaded: an average of 170 people are now added to hospitals every day. “We are moving out of the comfort zone, towards a more uncomfortable position. But There is currently no reason to panic about flooding“, It sounds in the highest political circles.
  • After all: the number of patients in intensive care is still at 313, 160 of whom require artificial respiration. The number of deaths remains relatively low, with an average of 20 per day now. Question is whether those crucial figures, of people in IC and eventual deaths, will soon also peak.
  • Anyway: that is not encouraging in the meantime 12 percent positive test, on a total number of 44,000 tests per day.

The European context: Our neighboring countries are pushing the accelerator.

  • The pressure on the federal and Flemish governments to intervene further is thus increasing more and more. There is also the European context: just yesterday, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, gave a hearty speech, where he immediately a curfew announced in Paris, and ten other major French cities. It already takes four weeks.
  • This has a major effect, especially in French-speaking Belgium: what Paris does must also be done in Brussels, was always the response under the previous government of Sophie Wilmès (MR). In addition, the figures across the language border are really even more serious than in Flanders, with the exception of the Antwerp region, where it is also precarious.
  • But France is not alone: ​​Mark Rutte, the prime minister in the Netherlands, has already performed strongly, and closed the entire hospitality sector in his country. There, too, that closure applies for four weeks.
  • In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel imposes the same measures across the country: in regions where more than fifty new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a week, cafes and restaurants close at 11pm. At the same time, a maximum of 10 people are allowed in one public space.

The essence: A corona truce in Wetstraat.

  • A improvised visit to hospitals in Brussels and Antwerp produced images of Prime Minister De Croo and his Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke “going on the field”. At the UZ in Antwerp they were welcomed by the local mayor, Bart De Wever.
  • So came, ten minutes between that visit, in the premises of the university hospital, a discreet contact is established between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. For the first time, since De Croo forged a coalition with the Vivaldi parties, and the N-VA of De Wever federally sidelined, which both spoke again privately.
  • The analysis made there jointly was one of national urgency: the pandemic is heading for a second, dangerous upsurge across the country. Just like the federal government summit, De Wever sees the reality in the field, in his city and the province of Antwerp.
  • In addition, the N-VA chairman, completely different from the previous government, now actively kept informed from that federal team, about the general state of the crisis.
  • It meant that the conversation between De Croo, Vandenbroucke and De Wever came to an important conclusion fairly quickly: no political games will be played on this file. “This transcends any party political interest,” it was agreed.
  • For Prime Minister De Croo, a clear message, which was accepted with both hands: the Prime Minister already underlined at the start of his coalition “that he wants to work together”. Certainly with the Flemish government, with the N-VA as the dominant partner, he does not want any fussing. That De Wever himself now confirmed this, and smokes the peace pipe, may count as a relief. “What did they expect? That we would be difficult about this? ”, So can be heard at N-VA.
  • Yet it is a not insignificant signal politically. Just at the moment when Vlaams Belang chairman Tom Van Greeks publicly declares that he does not want to download and use the corona app “because he does not trust the federal government”, the N-VA nevertheless clearly chooses the course of a policy party, which subscribes to a joint corona approach.

What’s to come? So tomorrow a Consultation Committee.

  • So no more National Security Councils, as a high mass of the corona approach. One tomorrow Consultation committee, the new, most important body in dealing with the crisis.
  • In the run-up to this, a few clear outlines have been drawn: everyone agrees two things must be able to keep running for as long as possible, education and businesses.
  • But in return there are other sacrifices. As good as it sure gets telework is mandatory again, to reduce the pressure on public transport and travel.
  • A much more difficult scenario is looming for the catering industry. Plans are circulating about a general closure at 11 pm and maximum tables for four people. The question is whether it will stop there, and one does not simply proceed to a general closure now, in order to be able to open again by the autumn holidays. Another possible nuance: no equal treatment between cafes and restaurants, for a few weeks.
  • The bazooka of a country-wide curfew doesn’t seem like a plan: that is precisely what the urban or provincial levels are. Such a curfew already applies in Walloon Brabant and Luxembourg. Wait and see, there is what Brussels does.
  • Incidentally, this question is related to the launch of the so-called barometer. It will also come tomorrow. In doing so replace the colors with “levels”: from one to four. Level three would immediately apply to the whole country, which is a serious problem. For Brussels there would be level four, according to the cautious hypothesis in the federal government.

Remarkable: The rector of Ghent University needs his moment in the spotlight.

  • While the other universities and colleges in the country moved to code orange this week, Ghent University apparently has to go one step further: code red is announced with a lot of fanfare.
  • This means that from October 26, students will no longer be allowed on the campuses and will have to take online lessons. Rector Rik Van de Walle states on Radio 1 “that he has spoken with numerous experts and they are all on the same page, recommending code red ”.
  • Immediately they also know at Ghent University that it is necessary to within five and a half weeks so, make that code red. “If possible, we will relax again, but it does not look like we will be able to do so soon. Then we have to renew that code in red, ”says Van de Walle.
  • With this, Ghent University is once again taking a firmer position than the rest. At the start of the academic year, UGent, UAntwerpen and UHasselt had already started in code orange. The Leuven and Brussels universities chose to code yellow for the first weeks to get started, but changed it to orange this week. It all contrasts somewhat with Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA), who adheres to code yellow for secondary education.
  • We should dare to think that at Ghent University this has to do with the figure of Rector Rik Van de Walle, who has taken a particularly vocal attitude during this crisis, whereby nuance is not always predominant.
  • “The rector wants to be re-elected, and has been working on his campaign for some time: he uses corona to profile himself as a great leader. But he drags the entire UGent along in his personal opinion about the corona approach ”, according to the top of the university. There has been grumbling about Van de Walle’s attitude for some time.

Particularly worth following: The city toll in Brussels gives a “code red” at Open Vld.

  • It is a very symbolic and explosive file: a city toll for cars entering Brussels, a bit like they had everywhere in Europe in the Middle Ages. The Brussels government seems, under the impetus of green politician Elke Van den Brandt, determined to implement that.
  • But the file makes the Flemish liberals of Open Vld nervous. On the Melsensstraat, the party headquarters, it is “code red” about those plans: it is clear that, even with the new Vivaldi coalition where blue and green have formed a government together, this Brussels dossier could radiate strongly on the Open Vld. And they are just like the death of introducing too many new taxes in these times of crisis.
  • There is also a liberal minister in the Brussels government with Sven Gatz (Open Vld). Insiders whisper that Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) is planning it after all file again by talking to his minister: the image of imposing considerable extra burdens on Flemish commuters can become dangerous for the party.
  • Because in L’Echo and De Tijd, even more details about what that new city toll will look like are now leaking: the Brussels administration has drawn up a proposal.
    • The system is called SmartMove and has to be done every year get half a billion euros from commuters to and from Brussels.
    • There comes a fixed rate of 1 euro during peak hours and half a euro during off-peak hours, to enter Brussels.
    • This is increased by the fiscal horsepower of the car: times 6 for the heaviest engines from 20 fiscal horsepower, times 3 for an average car.
    • In addition, there is still a second tax, per kilometer. This amounts to 18 cents per kilometer during rush hour and 9 cents during off-peak hours. It remains free on weekends and between 7 pm and 7 am.
  • From 2022, about a quarter of a million commuters from Flanders would have to cough up that tax. Because the In exchange for that tax, residents of Brussels see their registration tax and annual road tax deleted. But of course that does not apply to those who live in Flanders.
  • File promises fireworks: a conflict of interest with Flanders is more than likely to come. But the essence lies in the fact that road pricing throughout the country, which would also be introduced in Flanders at some point, could have been the alternative to the Brussels city toll.
  • Only, the Flemish parties N-VA, Open Vld and CD&V decided to postpone road pricing. The Brussels government, with PS, Ecolo, DéFI and also Groen and Open Vld, decided to introduce a toll itself.

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