Today a long-awaited Consultation Committee, which has to make decisions about more restrictions and limitations of freedom. A travel ban on non-essential travel is on the agenda. In exchange, the French-speaking liberals do want clarity about the contact professions: wait and see whether that will happen. What is striking: in the House yesterday, both Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) and especially Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) went on the offensive. They had to, after the opposition had expressed massive dissatisfaction with the approach.
In the news: All COVID what the clock strikes.
The details: More restrictions will inevitably come after the EU gave its approval to Belgium yesterday to close its borders.
- It remains a diplomatic position that is exceptional for Belgium, as a small country at the center of Europe, with a prosperity largely dependent on international trade and an open economy: ask the EU whether further restrictions can be imposed on border traffic.
- Moreover, the question may be raised whether it is meanwhile is not too late either, for the more contagious variants of COVID: they are already present in Belgium. Incidentally, variant B.1.1.7, the so-called ‘British’, is about 30 percent more contagious, not 70 percent as initially advertised.
- But look: Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) yesterday put free movement on the agenda, a concern that was also raised by neighboring countries the Netherlands, France and Germany, all of which are considering a restriction. And Italy also supported this position. Member States are now given the option to ban non-essential travel. Mandatory testing and quarantine during travel will then also become a fact.
- There is not much political discussion about this further restriction of freedom: the Walloon and Flemish governments, with N-VA and PS as the leading formations there, have no objections, and also argue for such a ban.
- The only ones who speak up to offer some counterweightas is often the case in the crisis, are the French-speaking liberals. They hold one Prime Minister who will join the Consultation Committee, Pierre-Yves Jeholet (MR), who heads the French Community.
- This morning on LN24 it was clear: “We can’t always ban, ban, ban.” “I insisted that people offer perspective to the young people. Among other things, it is about young people who are older than 12 and can exercise again, just like the reopening of the auditoriums for students. ”
- And also for the contact professions, hairdressers, the MR wants there to be a prospect of a reopening: the hobbyhorse of MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR). The government seems to be responding to this: Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) announced yesterday Villa Politica that they are aiming for a reopening in mid-February, and the PS also communicated voluntaristically about this this morning.
- On the Flemish side, it remains deaf and mute among the liberals: deputy prime minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) is clearly not in the government to make it difficult for his Prime Minister De Croo, by defending the party line more sharply. What’s more: it was CD&V, with Deputy Prime Minister Vincent Van Peteghem, who was the only one who last week insisted on an “exit scenario”, and “perspective” for a number of sectors.
- In all silence the target of 800 infections per day has therefore been shifted somewhat, that will soon increase. Now we are dealing with approximately 2,000 infections. But the medical equipment, with the occupancy rate of the beds in the hospitals and more specifically in intensive care, has not really been endangered in recent months: never went up to or beyond the limit of available places. So the legitimate question is whether the restrictions on the freedom of the population should then continue to apply, and what target figure is being aimed at to lift them.
Remarkable: In the meantime, the federal government is tightening up its communication somewhat.
- In the Chamber, during question time on Thursday, the leading duo received De Croo-Vandenbroucke a whole battery of critical questions. That is not entirely illogical, after a few painful stories surfaced.
- For example, there was the finding that Pfizer, the producer of vaccines, was suddenly going to reduce its deliveries because more doses can be drawn from one bottle. This resulted in indignation from Groen, Vooruit, but especially PVDA who fulminated against “on the one hand the hunger for profit of big pharma, versus the fumbling of this government on the other side, ”said Sofie Merckx (PVDA).
- And there was the matter of the injection needles, of which there may be too few, and 2.5 million doses that Belgium missed out on because a top executive forgot to place a signature. Mainly the N-VA, but also cdH and DéFI pushed on that.
- And the speed, or rather slowness, of the vaccination campaign was also compromised. “By the time we start, when it is now mid-February, there will be 15 million vaccines in the UK,” said Jean-Marie Dedecker (Independent). The fact that in Belgium thousands of doses are now in the freezer, it is noteworthy. “When will you close the last page of this blunder book?“
- But Vandenbroucke showed himself to be very offensive, and fiercely refuted the image that the vaccination campaign would be chaotic. “There are no more doses in the freezer that have not been programmed to be delivered. Of course there is an enormous schedule, because next week we will start with the second injection ”, he stated. “There is almost no dead stock left.”
- And the Minister of Health, in his well-known style who leans a little towards the know-it-all, also fiercely invalidated the image that Belgium would lag behind, with the numbers in hand: “We are in the European peloton, you can check it.” In doing so, he clearly calmed down the majority that supported the government.
- De Croo, who had spoken for Vandenbroucke, had also had a good rest. He does not see a legal battle with Pfizer, as announced by Italy. “Right now, knowing what collaboration we are going to need, the last thing to do is to face each other with drawn knives. We will only get out of this together if we work together. Starting a legal battle now is not the solution to make things run much more smoothly. ”
Still busy: In Brussels, Ecolo minister Alain Maron, responsible for health in the regional government, continues to have a problem with the mayors. Including that of his own party.
- Alain Maron rapidly becoming unpopular with fellow politicians in the capital. The 19 Brussels mayors are now jointly sending a letter to the Brussels government to complain.
- The mayors are angry because they are do not have sufficient access to information about people who have returned from vacation. In Flanders and Wallonia, the local authorities have full access to it, in Brussels Maron refuses to give it.
- The 19 questions now together for a limited list of only those travelers who circumvent the measures. With the new holiday coming up, this does not seem an unnecessary luxury to them. They also ask Maron for clear instructions: what exactly does the Brussels government expect from the municipalities?
- The fact that after Vincent De Wolf of the MR, the mayor of Etterbeek, now also lashes out Charles Picqué (PS) of Saint-Gilles, indicates that it is no longer a party political game. And worse for Maron, also three Ecolo mayors, from his own party, do sign the letter: Christos Doulkeridis in Ixelles, Olivier Deleuze of Watermael-Boitsfort and Stéphane Roberti in Forest. Painful.
Legal battle (1): In the Walloon affair around Nethys, big names are damaged.
- The great Walloon intermunicipal company Nethys, who at one point seemed supreme in Liège and its environs, burst in 2019: the exuberant fees at the top, and more specifically at Stéphane Moureau (ex-PS), the mayor of Ans near Liège , but also shady transactions that were especially convenient for the directors, the place smelled in the wind for hours.
- This morning is Moureau arrested and questioned by the Liège prosecutor’s office. And also ex-CFO Pol Heyse and Bénédicte Bayer, another member of the board, were questioned this morning, the RTBF reports.
- Yesterday was already François Fornieri was also arrested and put in jail. That is pretty much the Marc Coucke of Wallonia, who was very successful with his biotech company Mithra.
- But Fornieri was also a director at Nethys, and was chairman of the remuneration committee. Moreover Fornieri wanted to buy the entire Nethys wind farm for 0 euros, after the IT subsidiary Win van Nethys had also had been diverted to him.
Legal battle (2): Dries Van Langenhove (Vlaams Belang) his immunity is lifted, in an investigation by the East Flemish public prosecutor’s office.
- The room will soon lift the inviolability of Van Langenhove, which, by the way, also asks to do so. The reason for this is an investigation into Schild & Friends, the organization that Van Langenhove led before he got on a Vlaams Belang list in the Chamber in 2019.
- Die Schild & Vrienden was heavily discredited after a report by Panorama on September 5, 2018, which also showed the conversations of internal chat groups. This led to a number of searches by the public prosecutor’s office, and now a referral of the file against Van Langenhove to the criminal court.
- There, Van Langenhove will have to answer for several violations of the racism law on the one hand, and the weapons law on the other.
- The whole thing is very symbolic. Vlaams Belang closed the ranks around Van Langenhove yesterday and this morning, who ended up on the party’s list after the entire investigation had started. “This has been going on for two years, we knew that the judiciary would lay its egg, we wait patiently and full of confidence,” said party leader Barbara Pas on Radio 1. “Justice clearly knows its priorities,” tweeted chairman Tom Van Greeks (Vlaams Belang) earlier, calling it a “political process”.
- Still, the case is inevitably pushing the strategic choice of the party, to include Van Langenhove in their ranks in 2019, and to bring the list in Flemish Brabant back to the foreground. After all, the crucial question is always the same with the Importance: will they ever manage one to develop a different strategy than that of the isolated whip party.
- Certainly from Greeks, a different generation than Gerolf Annemans (Vlaams Belang) and the politically-strategically very limited Filip Dewinter (Vlaams Belang), had the chance to take a different course with his party in recent years. The examples in Europe are countless, including the Lega in Italy or the FPÖ in Austria, both of which managed to formulate government policy in a coalition.
- But Van Langenhove was a problem in 2019: his popularity in extreme right-wing circles was such that as an external figure he could pose a serious threat to the Importance. Offer him a generous place, as an independent initial, made that danger neutralized. Only that way they pushed the party again towards the extreme side.
- With the legal troubles now as an offshoot of the case in 2018, Van Langenhove threatens more than ever a millstone to become, on the necks of all within the Importance who see a course of power participation.