The De Croo government, headed by its Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld), wants to tackle “fake news” and also curb “hate speech”. In addition, the minister is convinced that he can amend the Constitution this year, which is necessary in order to be able to prosecute “press crimes” effectively before the criminal court, rather than assize now. But a simple calculation shows that he will inevitably end up with necessary support from the communists. So that will be an interesting exercise.
In the news: Vivaldi launches an offensive against “fake news” and “hate speech”.
The details: Voluntarism splashes off. But laws and practical objections stand in the way.
- “What we want to do is combat impunity. We see in the facts that “hate speech” is not prosecuted. So say: amend article 150 and make sure that the criminal court can judge those kinds of facts. ”
- It was an enthusiastic Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) who entered The appointment to follow up his opinion piece in De Morgen, after what had happened in the US with Donald Trump and the storming of the Capitol, now also to act harder in Belgium.
- Last week Thursday the Vivaldi majority in the Chamber was already very eager to enter the battle against “incitement to hatred and violence, the incitement of society through social media”. But Van Quickenborne now wants to make that concrete, using the legal term “press crimes” to prosecute those who commit “hate speech”.
- Since 1999 there has been a law that racism and xenophobia, if it appears online or on paper, immediately prosecuted in criminal court.
- But other statements online or on paper, which are also prohibited, incite hatred, discrimination on the grounds of religion, gender or sexual orientation, they must be treated for assize according to the constitution. After all, they are “press crimes”, and at the time, when the rather liberal Belgian Constitution was drawn up in 1830, they were deliberately left to a public jury.
- In this way, Belgium guaranteed in that Constitution quite a lot of freedom for anyone who wanted to put “dangerous” thoughts on paper, which was not immediately to the liking of other European countries, which were much stricter. It dropped among other things Karl Marx to settle in Brussels, where he lived between 1845 and 1848 The Communist Manifesto wrote (this will be relevant below).
- Everything that appears online, at least in text, not images, also falls under the Constitution today. In practice, Van Quickenborne does not want to change anything about the criminal law itself. However, prosecution by assizes almost never happens today in practice. A small) adaptation of Article 150 of the Constitution would suffice to have such crimes prosecuted by the criminal court from now on, thus removing that impunity.
- And look: Article 150 has been declared subject to revision by the previous legislature. In principle, it is therefore possible to change that in this legislature, Van Quickenborne estimates that he will get it through this year.
- The reason why article 150 is open is the large trial against the perpetrators of the attacks in Brussels and Zaventem. The whole magistracy begged not to have to do that trial for assize, but still by getting professional judges before a criminal court. That would have greatly eased the procedure and, above all, significantly reduced the chance of errors. Quod non.
- All Flemish parties except Groen and PVDA were in favor, the French-speaking parties were all against: they stick to assize for terrorism processes. But in the discussions, CD&V had already submitted an amendment to, in addition to terrorism trials, also bringing those deliberate press crimes to criminal court. That is therefore still on the table, albeit soon in the form of an initiative of the Minister of Justice.
The essence: To fight “hate speech”, Vivaldi will soon need the communists.
- Changing the Constitution, that is calculating, until you have a two-thirds majority, 100 seats out of 150. Vivaldi himself will get 87 seats, with some good will and Emir Kir (ex-PS) will get you 88. Even if the two mini parties cdH (5 seats) and DéFI (2 seats) connect, which is not illogical given their arrangement in the file, you will not get there.
- Vivaldi therefore needs one of the following three parties to get such a change through: the N-VA or extreme right with Vlaams Belang, or extreme left with the PTB / PVDA.
- In the discussions on terrorism processes, in the Constitution committee in the Chamber, it had been clear for some time that both Vlaams Belang and N-VA are not in favor of relaxing the Press Offenses Act.
- “Incitement to ‘violence’ is indeed a red line. However, “hate” is a much more confused concept. Lowering the bar for punishing this as a press crime can indeed threaten free speech. Bad idea. Never thought I’d be more liberal than Van Quickenborne“, Said party leader Peter De Roover (N-VA).
- Incidentally, it was already clear from the hearings in the House on this theme that the VVJ, the Flemish Association of Journalists, with chairman Pol Deltour, is also against the relaxation of prosecutions, because it could threaten journalistic work.
- And also with regard to Vlaams Belang, there is little doubt: they will in no way deliver votes his plans for Van Quickenborne.
- That leaves the 13 Chamber seats of PTB / PVDA as the only option for Vivaldi to reach a two-thirds majority. On the one hand they have, of course a natural aversion to “right-wing hate speech” and they are not disaffected by the proposal. But on the other hand, in the discussion of terrorist trials they were very clear: they absolutely adhere to it principle of a people’s jury. Especially if that principle ever protected their great predecessor Marx.
- Moreover, it is not inconceivable that what can be used against the extreme right, will one day also turn against the extreme left: PVDA are now also not exactly faint-hearted about everything that appears of them on social media.
- At the PVDA they did not respond this morning for the time being to questions about their attitude in the file. But it will soon be the communists who determine in which direction the scale sags.
In the news: Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), Jan Jambon (N-VA), Elio Di Rupo (PS), Rudi Vervoort (PS) and Pierre-Yves Jeholet (MR) reach an agreement on the European cents.
- Nothing as easy as dividing extra money, in the politics. And yet, it took some doing, how exactly the billions of the EU would be divided. But yesterday evening the government leaders found an agreement on this.
- Everyone had their wish list ready, with a few billions in surplus for each. One asked a little more than the other (see list below). The final division is one balancing act, who managed Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
- What about the distribution of the 5.925 billion exactly?
- Federal: 1.25 billion, while they had projects for 7.8 billion. That’s how it gets federal 21.1 percent of the cake inside.
- Flemish: 2.255 billion, when they first demanded 3 billion. Flanders therefore achieves 38.1 percent of the EU sums for themselves.
- Walloon Region: receives 1.48 billion, while they had 4 billion projects. That is 25 percent.
- French Community: receives 495 million, or 8.4 percent. However, they hoped for 1.275 billion.
- Brussels Region: receives 395 million or 6.7 percent, while they had 1 billion projects.
- German-speaking Community: will receive 50 million.
- So within the federal states there is going 48.8 percent to Flanders, and 50.2 to Wallonia, Brussels and the French Community.
- The reason why Flanders is bringing in “less” than the size of its inhabitants and its economy is simple: this time, too, the EU used major principles of redistribution of wealth for the billions of corona support. The poorest regions in Europe received proportionally much more. Without Wallonia and Brussels, Belgium would never have received 6 billionWalloon Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo (PS) regularly remarked in the negotiations.
- For Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), the deal must do good: a potentially difficult file is being demined. Interestingly, Jan Jambon (N-VA), the Flemish Prime Minister, also played a cheerleader: “Satisfied with the agreement we reached last night on the distribution of investment resources from the European recovery fund. We can now fully roll out our recovery plans in Flanders in the field of digitization, sustainable transition, … ”
- Vlaams Belang leader Tom Van Greeks immediately reacted sharply: “Well anyway, Jan. Satisfied? You got ripped off! Even on the basis of the most negative hypothesis for Flanders (distribution by population), Flanders is entitled to 57.5 percent or almost 3.4 billion ”, he tweeted, calling him” Slappe Jan “.
- Politically much more relevant was the criticism from Ecolo, the leading political formation in the Brussels Region. Because De Croo and the Brussels Prime Minister Vervoort did reach an agreement, but federal minister and Ecolo figurehead Zakia Khattabi still had questions: “Still curious to know the analyzes and criteria that have produced such a distribution, which is so detrimental to BrusselsShe tweeted.
- After all, Brussels received “only” 395 million euros. Although it is delicately pointed out from the Flemish government that community money will also go to Brussels, from the Flemish government and the French Community.
Certainly to follow: Tomorrow Vivaldi will come to Parliament with her securities tax.
- So all eyes on the Finance Committee tomorrow, where Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V) will be presenting the new securities tax as Minister of Finance. That’s the socialists’ trophy, a so-called “rich tax”, because everyone who owns a securities account with more than 1 million euros in shares on it, will from now on have to pay 0.15 percent tax on it.
- The tax is a compromise between the liberals’ expensive promise “not to raise taxes” and the long-promised “fiscal justice” of the left. The latter have finally received their “tax on assets” with this measure. But of course that’s why the file leads until the necessary tension, as long as it is not completely round. They set their foot through Le Soir, the newspaper close to the PS.
- Because, as with the previous securities tax, which was scuttled by the Constitutional Court, it is not certain whether this tax will survive the test of that Court. After all, the substantiation is complete “1 million euros” as a criterion is not exactly firm, and the Court does not like cases they see as “arbitrary,” which clashes with the principle of equality.
- So the PS has had a “plan B” ready for some time now to be sure that almost 500 million euros will come in through such a tax on assets. They go back to their original proposal at the negotiating table: a tax on all securities accounts, which then works progressively. The more the trading account is worth, the higher the percentage of taxes. Then everyone is taxed and there is no more discussion about the principle of equality.
- Because, the socialists see the tax on wealth as the method for the guarantee social security funding. That principle is very important, in such a way that it is an essential part of the tax reform for red. They can’t let that go.
- While the MR reacted quite fierce this weekend, and Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) reminded everyone “that there is a coalition agreement that must be followed“, Ecolo soothed remarkably. Georges Gilkinet, the deputy prime minister, stated in De Zondag “that there will be no new taxes, except that securities tax”.
- That is what the liberals are now doing, even if it is very questionable whether that is such great news: because it is also clear to the Greens that the securities tax must come in robust form. So not a good night’s sleep for the liberals.
The big picture: The budget already seems to be a major disaster for 2021.
- Anyone who thought that 2021 will be the year of revival will have to wait a while. The second and soon third wave of corona infections are still rolling across the country, and the vaccinations are slowly getting under way.
- Last year, the Belgian economy shrank by 7 percent. What will this year bring, according to the banks? De Tijd listed it:
- Belfius aims 3.9 percent growth in 2021.
- BNP Paribas is holding it up 3.8 percent growth.
- KBC sees it 2.2 percent growth.
- ING puts on the growth figure 2.9 percent.
- More importantly, almost every bank charges another year and a half before the Belgian economy will return to the level of 2019. So somewhere at the end of 2022 or even in 2023. The National Bank is also counting on the end of 2022. So we have lost two years of prosperity, “thanks” to the pandemic that started in Wuhan.
- The consequences for state finances are even greater. Because the budget is completely off track, up to a 25 billion euro deficit. With an 11.2 percent shortage, Belgium is the second worst student in the EU class after Spain.
- In the coalition agreement was included an effort of 0.2 percent per year that would be “made up” anyway, a minimal effort in terms of savings, of a few hundred million euros. But symbolically very important, especially for the liberals. Open Vld supplies the State Secretary for Budget with Eva De Bleeker.
- But the PS also made it clear to him this weekend through chairman Paul Magnette (PS) that fiscal effort is not even necessary. Because in October, when the first budget frameworks were drawn up, there was not yet a second wave. Savings now? The PS does not want to know about it. Only when the economy is back to the pre-crisis point, at the end of 2022 or early 2023, can this be discussed.