Show me the money

11 09 2008

Last February, the Belgian federal government asked the regions and communities for help. We had an interim government then, formed because after 6 months of negotiations, politicians still didn’t succeed in creating a real government. The purpose of this interim government was to create a budget and to run the country while the negotiations about a real government and about the reform of the state continued. This interim government was in desperate need of cash and hoped the regions and communities would be willing to help.

The Belgian regions and communities depend financially on an allowance they receive from the federal government. The idea was for the regional governments to spend only a part of this allowance. The money they would put aside, could then be booked by the federal government as “not yet spent”, which would make it’s budget seem more balanced.

The Brussels region agreed for 30 million Euro. The French community would set aside 60 million and the Walloon region 30 million. The Flemish government (that combines the government of the Flemish region and that of the Flemish community) hesitated. They feared that if they helped to save the federal budget, they would take away all pressure from the negotiations about the reform of the state. But eventually, they agreed to set aside 400 million Euro, on condition that an agreement on the reform of the state would be reached by July the 15th.

So it seemed at the time the federal budget might have been saved. And with an agreement about the timing for the negotiations on the reform of the state, a “real” government could be sworn in on March the 20th. Some optimists might have thought the worst was over.

But it wasn’t. Brussels backed out because they desperately needed the money themselves. And because the government failed again to reach an agreement about the reform of the state by July the 15th, brand new prime minister Yves Leterme offered his resignation to the king. His resignation was declined and the government is still in place, but it’s budget is 400 million Euro short, because the Flemish government will now no longer set aside that money.

Melchior Wathelet in La Libre Belgique

Melchior Wathelet in La Libre Belgique

The Secretary of the Budget: Melchior Wathelet, is clearly not Happy with that. In an interview that appeared in La Libre Belgique today, he said he was “surprised” to hear the Flemish government might spend the money. “If an entity doesn’t honour it’s agreements, we don’t have to compensate for that. They are responsible for this deficit.” he says. That the agreement was conditional to begin with, seems to have completely slipped his mind.

Michel Daerden in Le Soir

Michel Daerden in Le Soir

The newspaper Le Soir publishes an interview with Michel Daerden: Vice-President of both the French community and the Walloon region. About the federal budget he says he’ll keep his word: “We agreed to contribute 90 million Euro to the federal budget. We’ll do that.” But he also says a new federal state Walloon-Brussels, without Flanders, might be the future. “It’s clear: the day we no longer have a federal income tax is the day we no longer have a country”. Discussing fiscal autonomy for the regions is unacceptable to him: “If we start discussing situations in which there is a minimum tax at the federal level and the regions get to decide the rest, we are no longer in the Belgian model. If that’s where we are heading, we might as well abolish the whole model.” This seems like he admits what many Flemings already suspected: he is only interested in Belgium as long as his region can profit from it financially. But it also makes clear what it is that keeps Belgium together: Brussels. The city is claimed by both Flemings and Francophones. If Belgium ceases to exist, at least one of these two language groups will have to let Brussels go.