Politics

Short-circuit at Vivaldi on nuclear power: MR conducts rearguard closure, “decision only in 2021”

After barely a month and a half, a hot topic, of great symbolic value, returns to the government’s plate: the nuclear power stations. The Greens want to close it, Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Green) welcomes the message that Engie, the owner, is no longer investing in keeping the latest power stations open. But that is bad for the MR, where chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez delicately reminds everyone of the agreement in the coalition agreement. The tension in the file can be cut.

In the news: With her policy letter, Green Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten (Green) presses the nuclear producers, but also the blue coalition partners, face to face with the facts.

The details: Yesterday, green excellence came to the Chamber to deliver its policy statement. And for those who still doubt it, the Greens clearly want to cash in on their big trophy of the summer, the definitive exit from nuclear energy.

Reminder: Nuclear energy was very sensitive during the negotiations this summer.

  • It was a crucial moment in the conversations around Vivaldi: a meeting of the seven chairmen, at which Joachim Coens (CD&V) asked guarantees about abortion, a particularly important social theme for him, and where suddenly, like a devil out of a box, Jean-Marc Nollet (Ecolo) asked for the ironclad his fellow chairmen, that now finally the nuclear exit would come. The confrontation that night led to a deep malaise, and negotiations that were deadlocked.
  • That nuclear exit is a bit of a stretch political trauma of the Greens, which dates from the first purple-green period under Guy Verhofstadt in 1999. At that time it was already decided that energy production would stop, which does not generate CO2, but nuclear waste.
  • However, the decision was always postponed afterwards, to ultimately never be carried out. This summer, Ecolo and Groen wanted to that rectify “historical anomaly”, and finally finally give the final shot to the power stations in this country, those of Doel and Tihange. The fact that in the meantime the discussion about the importance and especially the cost of CO2 emissions has changed enormously in 20 years, apparently counts less for the Greens: nuclear energy remains taboo.
  • This summer, this met with fierce resistance. Especially at the MR of Georges-Louis Bouchez, that couldn’t live with such a great gift for the greens. And so a compromise was reached that at least had to save the liberals’ face. The coalition agreement made no decision, but stated that the decision should not be taken until the end of 2021. And that certainty about the supply of electricity and the price also had to play a role in this.

The reality today: The decision comes earlier than expected, because of the politicians of fait accompli.

  • What a pack of experts already pointed out in the summer has now become concrete: even though the Vivaldi coalition spoke of “an evaluation by the end of 2021”, nevertheless, in practice the choice had already been made to close anyway. Too many other parameters, including the construction of new gas-fired power stations, to meet the demand for electricity are in full swing.
  • And most crucially: the posts of Energy and Climate went to the greens, with Van der Straeten and Zakia Khattabi (Ecolo). This duo holds the keys, and the liberals cannot object to that.
  • Van der Straeten was quite clear in the explanation of her policy statement: “The days of half-hearted policy are over,” she stated. She made that certainty clearly also to Engie, the French owner of the Belgian nuclear park. She said she had “constructive conversations” with this.
  • Engie announced to her staff via an internal video yesterday no more investment to make to keep the nuclear power stations up-to-date, Knack reported. In other words, Engie herself assumes it’s over and out, and doesn’t put a cent more into it. This makes the nuclear exit de facto a fact.
  • The green energy minister also defended the construction of CO2-spewing gas-fired power stations: “Going to climate neutrality is like renovating your house. It gets worse before it gets better. You are in the dust to be happy with the effort afterwards. The gas-fired power stations would have been necessary anyway, because at least five power stations were closed ”, said Van der Straeten.
  • She was also clear about the nuclear exit as a whole: “Then we had a discussion about the latter two. That discussion is now off the table. ”

Why this happens: Either way, any policy statement opens the door to internal tensions.

  • This morning MR Chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez was heard in the discussion: “The coalition agreement stipulates that an evaluation will be made in November 2021 on the feasibility of the nuclear exit. There must be a guarantee of security of supply and a reasonable price for private individuals and consumers ”, he quoted literally the compromise of this late summer. So the MR goes back to that original deal.
  • The question is whether they are not figs after Easter. Because the greens seem don’t intend to ever go back on their steps and hand over their hotly contested trophy.
  • What’s more, yesterday Ecolo minister Zakia Khattabi put her predecessor Marie-Christine Marghem (MR) in her place once again, via Twitter. “The public debate today: the Member of Parliament Marghem attacks me about a tax that does not exist, because I refer in my policy statement to a report that Minister Marghem herself has ordered, and in which she welcomes the same proposal with enthusiasm… Tiring. ”
  • Khattabi herself also came into sensitive political territory when she made her own policy statement last week announced a carbon tax. Eventually she had to swallow it again, for the time being there is no longer any question of the tax.
  • The federal policy documents are, unlike for example for the Flemish government, not a matter that is collectively knocked down. However, the other cabinets are allowed to read the matter, but a complete “consensus note” is not. In the event of too great deviations from the coalition agreement, the minister concerned will in any case get into trouble with members of parliament from the majority in the parliamentary committee.
  • But of course that is not the intention, and in the case of Khattabi and the carbon tax, other cabinets had also made their comments known in advance. “That was a beginner’s mistake and has been interpreted that way from the cabinet of Khattabi. They have agreed not to pursue it ”, according to high government circles.

The political effect: Where the carbon tax seems buried, the nuclear exit is now a fact. This leads to fierce reactions… towards N-VA.

  • It further stirs up the animosity between green and blue. Open Vld is of course also not entirely comfortable in the discussion. Chairman Egbert Lachaert made keeping the nuclear power stations open a point of contention in his internal campaign to claim the leadership of the Flemish liberals. A headline of the spring, in which Lachaert explicitly promised to stop the nuclear exit, haunts him today.
  • In the meantime, the N-VA is strongly opposed to the exit, including their energy expert Bert Wollants is screaming murder and fire. But it was Theo Francken (N-VA), who made the headline again, who received a very fierce response from the Open Vld chairman. “That’s called forming a coalition, Theo. With give and take. With respect and in confidence. Is a coalition system no dictatorship of one party over the other. ”
  • Lachaert went one step further in his counterattack: “At N-VA they think differently. Humiliating others is part of the DNA. That’s why you also failed in formation ”, he stated with great certainty. That statement that humiliating others is part of the DNA of the N-VA, contrasts very brightly with the “outstretched hand” which Lachaert showed on Sunday to N-VA chairman Bart De Wever.
  • Then it sounded that Lachaert wanted to “have a coffee”, or “even go for a walk in the park”, to talk things out. At N-VA they did not attach much faith to the sincerity of those statements at that time. And sources within Open Vld confirmed that there are little is a genuine effort to reconcile.
  • The fierce reaction of the Open Vld chairman proves that the file is not pleasant politically: in this way the liberals, after having swallowed the new securities tax rather quickly, now in the energy dossier again undergo the law of government consensus.
  • It can be noted that it is better that very unpleasant to swallow in the first months, in the middle of a corona wave, moreover, then let things fester for months, years. In the tax file, this was deliberately the choice of the government top, but this seems less the case for the nuclear exit. But the net result is the same: short pain.

To note: The second wave seems to be hitting somewhat less economically.

  • A bit of “good” news, or less bad news, for the Belgian economy, and therefore the entire budget by extension. According to a survey by the National Bank, the second wave and associated lockdown causes less damage than the first wave. In government circles, this “optimism” is confirmed: there, too, there are indicators that the economic situation is not as bad as in the spring.
  • The National Bank speaks of a loss of turnover 17 percent on average, about half the loss during the previous lockdown.
  • But of course certain sectors have been hit particularly hard: in the catering industry in particular, an unlikely bloodbath is looming. There the turnover folds with 66 percent all together, compared to 90 percent in the first lockdown: the effect of takeaway orders softens the numbers.
  • At the same time, the events and arts sector has been hit hardest at the moment, with a loss of 77 percent.
  • All of this underscores how severe the damage will be in Belgium. Figures from the European Commission earlier these months predicted for Belgium that by the end of 2021, when growth is expected, we would still be facing 4.5 percent economic loss for the entire economy, compared to precorona figures.
  • A significant total loss of prosperity, that only in Italy (minus 6 percent) and Spain (minus 7.8 percent) is worse than Belgium, in the EU. The European average is just under 4 percent loss compared to corona, countries such as the Netherlands (3.5 percent), Germany (2.2 percent) and certainly Sweden, which will hardly lose any more at the end of 2021, do much better.
  • Meanwhile, sounds now criticism of the Belgian virologists on the relaxation of the measures in the Netherlands, where museums and swimming pools are reopening. This morning on Radio 1 Pierre Van Damme did not hide the fact that he found that irresponsible. If you compare the economic figures and projections of the European Commission, you may see it differently.
  • In the meantime, State Secretary for Budget Eva De Bleeker (Open Vld) has come up with gruesome figures for Belgium: the cost of the corona crisis is over 20 billion. 5 billion is for the federal states, which mainly worked out support measures for the economy, 12.7 billion is for the federal government, including temporary unemployment, VAT reductions in the catering industry and bridging payments for the self-employed.

Also to follow: The proposals for political renewal contain little in the way of concrete.

  • Who thought that the Vivaldi government would overcome the tensions surrounding a possible state reform and its outlines, which were manifest during the formation of the government? extend to the reign itself, it is for the effort.
  • Because where CD&V still insisted on a “necessary next step”, something where the old guard of Koen Geens (CD&V) and Servais Verherstraeten (CD&V) still insisted on, this does not seem to be a priority in the policy memorandum of the competent ministers David Clarinval (MR) and Annelies Verlinden (CD&V). On the contrary, the timing is extremely vague, the frame even more vague if possible. Something concrete must be expected at the earliest sometime in 2021.
  • There is juggling with one old, but always renewable trick in politics: “Ask the citizen”. Earlier this week, Elio Di Rupo (PS) also applied it for his Walloon recovery plans. But Verlinden and Clarinval now come up with a “dialogue platform on the future of Belgian federalism”. The idea is to “make powers more homogeneous”. And more, there will be a “broad survey among citizens, especially young people, experts and local authorities”.
  • In the House there will therefore be “mixed panels of citizens and members of parliament”. That would be possible a system of drawing lots, to select citizens as randomly as possible.
  • The question remains whether the Clarinval-Verlinden duo will succeed in organizing a more efficient and effective government, in a country where the tax burden among the highest in the world is.

Painful: The Brussels Region comes to strange conclusions about how the High Civil Servant handled the crisis. She appointed her own driver as logistics director during the crisis.

  • It is La Capital that is showing off today, after an intervention by Ecolo in the Brussels Parliament, in particular in the special corona committee. The case turns around Viviane Scholliers Ndaya, the High Civil Servant in the Brussels Region, someone of cdH signature.
  • Scholliers Ndaya found nothing better then appoint her own personal driver as “director of logistics operations” in March, Among other things to distribute face masks throughout the region and to provide additional supplies of personnel and medical equipment in the healthcare institutions. The man did the job until June.
  • “This is problematic. There are many responsibilities behind such a position. You can do not leave it to a driver who does not have the right skillsEcolo MP Ahmed Mouhssin said. Ecolo now wants Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) to investigate the matter.
  • The top woman of the Brussels Region bit away in the Brussels Parliament: she would make the same choice again tomorrow. She screened with the “logistics experience” of her driver at DHL and Sabena, among others. “I was looking for a warehouse worker and a crisis manager I trust. Every decision he made was made after consultation with myself. ”

Sheriff Behavior: It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last.

  • In Willebroek, the local N-VA mayor Eddy Bevers is introducing a curfew. No one is allowed on the street from 10 pm. Shops close at 6 pm. The measure is there, the mayor admits, not because of the corona virus but to contain security concerns. De Standaard has been following the case closely for some time.
  • The chance that this will last is almost nil: there is still such a thing as the Constitution, of course, with certain freedoms. These have been systematically eroded in recent months by the corona crisis, with a number very bad precedents from provincial governors and mayors as an example.
  • But there was also the federal government, which was without any medical justification forbade people to go to their private property, in the first lockdown. Something eagerly urged by a number of coastal mayors.

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