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Flanders forms new regional government

21:14 30/09/2019

It's official: We have a new government of Flanders. Formation talks concluded early on Monday morning, as nationalists N-VA, liberals Open VLD and christian-democrats CD&V reached a governmental accord after an all-night session.

Jan Jambon (N-VA) is the new minister-president of the region. Jambon will take the place of minister-president Liesbeth Homans, who took over temporarily this summer when former minister-president Geert Bourgeois had to move on to his new post in the European parliament.

Jambon is 59 but has only been an elected politician for 12 years. He became politically active, however, in his 20s as a member of the former Volksunie nationalist party. He later reportedly assisted in setting up a Vlaams Belang (then Vlaams Blok) chapter in Brasschaat, where he lives, before doing the same for N-VA in 2005.

He left a successful career in the private sector to become both a city councillor and a federal MP for N-VA in 2007. He became N-VA’s opposition leader in parliament just a year later.

Jambon was elected mayor of Brasschat in 2013 and appointed federal security and interior minister in 2014, where he remained until N-VA walked out of the federal government last December. He is still mayor of Brasschaat, though that could change now that he is Flanders’ minister-president.

“We have written up a comprehensive governmental accord,” said Jambon emerging from the all-night talks this morning. “We have debated everything very thoroughly. The budget discussions were heated, but in any case, we’re there. I’m a very tired but very contented man.”

Who will hold minister posts has not yet been announced. Flanders is the third and final region to form a government following the regional and federal elections in May. The federal government formation is still ongoing.

Details of the new Flemish government accord were announced later in the day by Jambon and the three party chairs Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD), Bart De Wever (N-VA) and Wouter Beke (CD&V) (pictured above). All other parties are in opposition, most notably the far-right Vlaams Belang, which came in second only to N-VA in the regional elections. N-VA held talks with Vlaams Belang this summer, but said it could not find common ground with the party.

Vlaams Belang has had influence, however, on many of N-VA’s demands for the government accord, in particular tighter immigration policies. “The great deal of unease that was expressed on 26 May has not gone unnoticed,” said Jambon today at a press conference to announce the details of the new accord. “There is a sense that burdens and advantages are not equally distributed in our society. Therefore, we are going to ask that those who want to become a part of our society to make more of an effort. Newcomers who successfully integrate – and we are going to help them with that – will then get every opportunity.”

Concretely, the new measures are:

  • Asylum-seekers can no longer build up children’s allowance during the residency procedure. Previously, when refugees became regularised, they received the allowance retroactively for the period of the procedure.
  • Newcomers will only be eligible for social housing after 10 years of living in Belgium and after five  years of living in the municipality where the social housing is located. The five-year rule is being increased from an existing three-year rule.
  • There will also be a 10-year wait for newcomers to be able to sign up for care subsidies for people with special needs.
  • The required integration course for newcomers from outside the EU will no longer be free but will cost €360 per person. The course includes Dutch language lessons as well as information on the history, structure and basic norms of Flanders. Newcomers who fail the required final exams must pay for the course again in order to retake the exam.

“The ticket to get into to Flanders will become more expensive,” said Jambon, “but once you’re a member of this society, you are a full member, with all of the opportunities and advantages.”

Other measures in the new accord:

  • A new minister post will be established for justice and enforcement. While justice is a federal competence, the new minister will apply federal and regional laws at the regional level.
  • Anyone unemployed for more than three months must register with the jobs and training agency VDAB or follow another course that demonstrates the desire to find employment. Anyone unemployed for more than two years must perform regular community service. The new government’s goal is to have an 80% employment rate by 2024. The current rate is 74%.
  • The M Decree has been revoked. The M decree allowed pupils in special education to more easily move into regular education by requiring schools to equip them with the necessary tools, such as special software or sign-language interpreters.
  • The tax break for a mortgage loan will be abolished. Anyone who takes out a home loan this year will still get the tax break, but after 1 January, it will no longer be an option. The registration fee required to pay to take out a home loan, however, will decrease from 7% to 6% of the amount of the loan. The government coalition hopes that property prices will fall as a result of the changes.
  • Flanders will pull all support for Unia, the federal equal opportunities agency.
  • The government will set a goal to establish twice as much solar and wind energy as it has now by 2030. By 2050, it will reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.
  • Citizens are no longer required to vote in municipal and provincial elections. There will be no sanctions taken against those who choose not to vote. Also, the party in the ruling coalition with the most votes will automatically deliver the mayor of the municipality.

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA. This article first appeared in Flanders Today

Written by Flanders Today