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Home straight for the Belgian pandemic law

A second reading is requested by the opposition before the plenary vote of this bill which must legally establish the health action of the government.

Max HELLEFF

Max HELLEFF

A second reading is requested by the opposition before the plenary vote of this bill which must legally establish the health action of the government.

From our correspondent Max HELLEFF (Brussels) – On March 30, a Brussels court ordered the Belgian state to put an end to the exceptional measures taken in the context of the pandemic, within thirty days. He felt that the executive could not work by ministerial decree and lead the fight against covid without a real legal basis. The action was launched by the League for Human Rights (LDH) and its Flemish equivalent, the Liga voor Mensenrechten. The state appealed.

A week ago, the text of the “Pandemic law” of the Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden was approved by the Council of Ministers after taking into account the various opinions required. Monday evening, it was up to Parliament to take up this bill which gives a real legal basis to the restrictive measures taken in the context of the health crisis since March 2020.

In the meantime, the text has been the subject of criticism from the Council of State, criticism which has led the government to make some adaptations. The provision on the processing of private data was particularly problematic. It was withdrawn by Minister Verlinden, even if it means providing “an adequate legal framework as far as necessary” later.

Not enough room for the opinion of the deputies

Henceforth, according to this bill, health measures will be “in principle taken by royal decree” and prior consultation between the federal government and the federated entities (Regions and Communities) will be required if they are likely to have an impact on policy areas that fall within their remit. A parliamentary debate will also be possible when health measures are taken. The absence of Parliament in these decisions was indeed deplored by human rights defenders and by the opposition to the De Croo government.

Monday evening, the Committee of the Interior of the House approved at first reading, and after long debates, the bill. But the plenary vote was postponed. The Communists of the PTB, joined by the Flemish Nationalists (N-VA) of Bart De Wever, demanded a second reading.

For Peter De Roover, the leader of the Flemish nationalists in the Chamber, the Pandemic bill still offers no guarantees “in terms of parliamentary control and against possible abuses (…) None. The jurists do not all agree on this, but some of them warn, and this is sufficient in my opinion not to miss the text. What if, by chance, after some political sequence, we were to have a more authoritarian, “illiberal” government? We would be trapped, with this Pandemic law, ”he believes in the columns of the Evening.

In a white card, two jurists specifically regret that the bill “does not renew the current model of governance, one that has convinced neither the population nor the officials responsible for applying it, because it remains too rigid to deal with emerging issues ”. Another of its faults would be not to take into account “the increase in socioeconomic inequalities, security trends and multi-discrimination processes, the adoption of new behaviors in terms of consumption, communication or work”.

However, this reluctance should not hinder the vote in plenary. The majority are united around this text which must legitimize its past and future health action.


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