‘Experts’ are opposed by politics about plea to close borders: “We are not New Zealand”

Politics is under severe pressure. Another day, new big statements from the same ‘experts’ who have been pressing for days via the media on policymakers to tighten the corona rules. Today, too, this produces front pages of willing newspapers. From the Sixteen another message is heard: “We must remain calm. The fact that we have stable rules and measures has been our success in recent weeks. ” At the same time, another signal can be noted from the Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V): she tightened up the rules for travelers again this morning.

In the news: Again big statements about “closing borders”.

The details: The same duo of Marc Van Ranst and Geert Molenberghs dictates a stricter policy.

  • To what extent can Belgium remain a Gaul village and to what extent are we willing to pay a price to nurture that illusion? This core question is what concerns policymakers around corona these days. After all, the ‘travelers’ and the new variants of the virus keep coming back in the discussions.
  • Thereby is a leading role for the ‘experts’. After the Celeval and GEES, the latest advisory body guiding the government in a corona strategy has been the GEMS for some time now. That body is strictly dominated by the same virologists and ‘experts’ who have been speaking throughout the crisis with the exception of a brief period in the summer.
  • But the same phenomenon always occurs: advisers to policymakers are active behind the scenes, but at the same time show themselves as public faces, who are always given free rein on the platforms of the public broadcaster and in certain newspapers, to publicly direct and fine-tune the same policy that they ‘advise’.
  • That added one a one-sided focus is on the medical, without expertise from the economic or psychosocial world being available (apart from one ‘motivational psychologist’), is another observation that has been valid for months.
  • This has a major impact on the measures that are taken, including with a permanent focus on the oldest generation, which even in the vaccination strategy was given precedence over employees from the care and hospitals. In the meantime, hardly any attention is paid to the (mental) well-being of the young generation, people between 12 and 25 years old.
  • Moreover, the iron grip of these ‘advisers’ on politics continues: today once again in De Standaard, the advice that the GEMS experts gave to the government is deliberately leaking: Close non-essential stores again if the situation worsens. In crescendo, the atmosphere is about two variants of the virus, a “South African” and “British” variant.
  • These are the newest strains (which apparently are now given the label of a country without hesitation, the original virus shudders for that), which incite great vigilance, and apparently the urge of the ‘experts’ to call for tough government action. Cries such as “closing borders” and a “travel ban” resound.
  • In addition, Van Ranst argued this morning on Radio 1 again for stricter rules on travel. Now travelers are only obliged to quarantine after 48 hours, preferably everyone, including business travelers who go on and off, would be put in isolation for seven days. “Because often such travelers display risky behavior“, Van Ranst stated this morning.
  • And Molenberghs, in De Standaard, also wants action from the government, which he advises: “In any case: if there is any doubt, I think you switch better. I have noticed that the RIVM in the Netherlands is also sounding the alarm heavily. ”

The big picture: This is not a gouvernement des virologues. But it is not evident to keep it that way.

  • Under the previous federal squad, led by Sophie Wilmès (MR), there was similar pressure from the advisers surrounding them, which was repeatedly denounced by the prime minister in private. Scornfully the policy eventually became one gouvernement des virologues called: it was the experts who dictated how it should be.
  • At the start of De Croo I, there was a clear intention to take control of this again, both in directing and in communication. A specially appointed corona commissioner had to help with this: one man / woman, who had to bundle the entire choir of advisers behind them into one mouthpiece.
  • But with the disappearance of Pedro Facon, the corona commissioner who is said to be suffering from a burnout, there is clearly more room for advisers who are at the forefront. Alone, thereby they run into a strong communicative Minister of Health, Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit), who mainly wants to keep the peace and quiet, and is careful not to communicate too negatively.
  • In addition, he has great support from the Sixteen. There you can hear in the corridors that “the stable rules of the past weeks have just been our strength”. “Stay calmIs the motto of the prime minister at the moment.
  • However, people do look specifically at the spring break where people want to be “sharper” than in the Christmas holidays. “But the measures are already stricter anyway, and all those potential travelers know that too”, you can hear.
  • People do not participate in the panicky atmosphere about the new strains of the virus: “Those ‘variants’ have been present in our country for a long time. “We have to keep that out” is an illusion. It has always been here. Trying to keep it out in a country like Belgium is nonsense. We are not New Zealand. ”
  • But the power struggle over control in this crisis, in which the same group of advisers is repeatedly run to the media, continues in this way: a climate that has the potential to erode the trust of citizens in their policymakers. The ‘motivation barometer’, which gauges the extent to which the population wants to keep following the measures to the letter, drops to depths that have not been measured since August.
  • What doesn’t help: there was also some dissonance in their own ranks in communication. Where the prime minister and his deputy prime minister are on that line of “calm”, there is still another signal from the Minister of the Interior. Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) announced this morning that it is tightening rules for bus and train travelers.
  • They must from now on complete the PLF document, regardless of the duration of their stay abroad and in Belgium. And, which also applies from now on: travelers coming from a red zone and who do not have their main residence in our country, must submit a negative test before entry.
  • So on the one hand they preach “rest”, on the other hand the Minister of the Interior takes steps. The same picture yesterday: after commotion about a ministerial decision that suddenly extended the measures until March, a lot of explanation came from Verlinden, including that such measures always apply for six weeks, which is not really correct. Anyway: Verlinden apologized in the hallways of the Chamber yesterday about that approach, in front of the cameras of Villa Politica. But at the same time, the Sixteen just minimized the whole thing, and it was found much ado about nothing.
  • The same phenomenon about the famous ‘pandemic law’. Verlinden announced this with a lot of attention in the press, it would ‘finally’ come, to strengthen the legal and democratic basis of the measures. But in the Chamber yesterday, the prime minister pointed out that this poses some danger. “At a time like this, we must ensure that measures, which have a legal basis, that have been tested, that we will not make any efforts to undermine the stability of the current measures. (…) We must not let the legal basis break at a delicate moment like this. ”

Well noted: Meanwhile, the case of solar panels and decreasing meters is exploding in the face of the Flemish government.

  • A particularly dangerous file for the credibility of the squad by Jan Jambon (N-VA): yesterday, the Constitutional Court made an extremely difficult knot on the Flemish government’s plate with one blow. After all, that Court annulled the arrangement that the previous Flemish team, with the same coalition but led by Geert Bourgeois (N-VA), had made for the Flemish owners of solar panels.
  • At the end of the previous legislature the team pushed through that arrangement, despite all kinds of negative advice and legal red flags, in order to provide financial security to the owners of solar panels. The energy they generate ‘extra’, and which can be measured via smart meters (the meter turns back), it had to and would be ‘guaranteed’.
  • Only, the Court is now overturning the scheme. Even when the decree in question was drawn up, the VREG, the Flemish regulator, warned at the time: the regulation is not fair with regard to non-owners, and to Flemish people who do have solar panels, but no smart meter. So back to square one, but very bad news for the no fewer than half a million Flemish families that have such panels.
  • That mass is now in legal uncertainty, which could potentially cost them thousands of euros each. A kind of Arco debacle is looming for the Flemish government, especially because expensive promises were made at the time by the competent ministers, Bart Tommelein (Open Vld) and Lydia Peeters (Open Vld). The Flemish liberals stuck their necks out on the file: “Flemings with solar panels will always be able to count on me! Solar panels must and will maintain efficiency with a digital meter, ”said Tommelein in August 2018.
  • The opposition is already pushing for a new regulation, but this file will undoubtedly come back. Leaving it blue-blue is not an option: the pool of potential voters, now all angry, is just way too big.

To follow: The Dutch government falls today.

  • The end of Mark Rutte? Well no, not exactly. The Dutch government is in danger of falling, because of a protracted affair in which 20,000 families were accused of social fraud, which was none.
  • But within two months there will be elections at the northern neighbors anyway. And Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his VVD are extremely popular because of the approach to the corona crisis. The Dutch liberal is heading for doubling its seats.
  • A fall of the cabinet, in which the socialists of the PVDA have already taken plenty of damage, is therefore not bad for him. It looks like Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) will continue to meet his liberal buddy, along with the Luxembourger Xavier Bettel, at European summits for a while.


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