On immigration, the MR has decided not to be silent. “It is in everyone’s interest to fight against discrimination against people of foreign origin”, Georges-Louis Bouchez tells us. His party “makes it a priority”.
“Belgium is among the worst performers in the European Union in terms of the integration of immigrants into the labor market.” So said the National Bank of Belgium in a recently published study. Georges-Louis Bouchez has been convinced of this for a while and turns the machine of the Reform Movement (MR) on this ground where the liberal party shines for a long time by its absence. We did not necessarily expect it there, a bit like on the culture and the status of the artist. Now is the time, he believes, to stop hiding. “It is time to face the bankruptcy of the integration of immigrants in Belgium.“
“For part of society today, equal opportunity is not a reality.”
“The Mohammed cartoons case reminds us of this, part of the population considers that they are treated less well than the rest, sometimes wrongly, but sometimes also rightly. Faced with the rise of radicalism, we tell ourselves to the MR: we cannot give up our values, but we must defend all our values. There is freedom, responsibility, but there is also equality of opportunity. However, for a part of society today, equal opportunity is not a reality. “
“We will not be able to achieve an employment rate of 80%, as the federal government wants, if we do not better integrate people of foreign origin into the labor market.”
“The National Bank tells us that Belgium is not doing what it takes to make the most of immigration. Worse: we do less well than other countries. And even when you are the second generation, you are less likely to find a job than a native. We will not be able to achieve an employment rate of 80%, as the federal government wants, if we do not better integrate people of foreign origin into the labor market. Everything must therefore be done to eliminate discrimination.“
Is the stake economic?
The stake is in particular economic. If we continue to discriminate in hiring, we continue to deprive ourselves of the contribution of a whole part of the population. We talk a lot about recovery, here a lever all found.
“It is in everyone’s interest to fight against discrimination against people of foreign origin.”
But the stake is also social. In Brussels, but also in the large Walloon cities, discrimination has not diminished, we observe a ghettoization of certain neighborhoods, we wonder what the use of certain neighborhood centers and other urban programs. It is the failure of the policy pursued by the left for 20 years. People live next to each other, instead of living with each other. The current crisis gives us the opportunity to involve all Belgians in the same collective effort. This is true for the fight against the virus, but also for economic recovery and social cohesion. It is in everyone’s interest to fight against discrimination against people of foreign origin. The MR makes it a priority.
What are you planning to do?
First, there is the question of education. If we want to reduce inequalities, we have to start with school. For newcomers, there is the integration path including learning one of the national languages. It is shameful that in Brussels we still have to wait for its implementation, when that is where it would be most useful. It has been postponed to January 2021, we’ll see if it ends up happening. But above all, this integration process must be effective, with the appropriate means.
“The registration decree has totally failed in terms of social diversity.”
For the second and third generations, the registration decree has totally failed in terms of social diversity. Why? Because the geographic criterion matters too much. With ghettoized neighborhoods, this necessarily concentrates social difficulties in certain schools. We must review this. Other element: let’s give more latitude to the organizing authorities and teachers so that they can better support the students, depending on the reality on the ground. The frame is so rigid, so technocratized …
In the government agreement of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, of which the MR is a member, it is stated that the registration decree will be repealed. We haven’t seen anything yet …
The subject is complicated and takes time but, what is certain is that the government agreement will have to be respected. This point is fundamental, we will go to the end.
And the companies in all this?
This is the second issue. We are going to come up with a series of measures to fight against discrimination in hiring. The anonymous CV will be part of it, to see if it should be partially or totally anonymous. There will also be a need for stricter control and sanctions against companies that discriminate in hiring. Otherwise, the penalties are not severe enough against an employer who uses people in an irregular situation. It should not be just a softly penalized social fraud case, but a heavily sanctioned crime. It’s a question of consistency: we cannot criticize people who lock themselves in illegality and remain inactive vis-à-vis the companies that employ them. Everyone must assume their share of responsibilities. Companies have to do their part of the job, they have a societal role to play.
“The penalties are not severe enough against an employer who uses people in an irregular situation.”
I add a third issue: housing. Discrimination in this area must stop, through checks when there is suspicion.
Many business leaders will tell you: I’m fine, but I can’t find the right profiles in diversity
It’s just. I have the problem myself at the MR. I would like more diverse teams, but it’s not easy. Why? Because’there are real barriers, objective discrimination, but also a glass ceiling: people from diverse backgrounds exclude themselves and say to themselves “such studies, such profession, it is not for me.”
“I have the problem myself at MR. I would like more diverse teams, but it is not easy.”
So far, we haven’t heard from the MR on this subject, have we?
It’s possible. But we are all concerned by the integration of people of foreign origin. It is a national cause. The stake is our economy, our social cohesion. It’s not a gadget question, it must be everyone’s fight.
Did the Liberals ignore it?
We were not present enough on the ground. Some were undoubtedly, I am thinking for example of Gaëtan Van Goidsenhoven in Anderlecht, Françoise Schepmans in Molenbeek, David Leisterh, the president of the Brussels region. But overall, the MR was on the balcony. Today, there is a whole series of new elected representatives, in particular from Brussels, who have a different sensibility and want to go there.
“I don’t want a list with the immigrant on duty for each community. It’s infantilizing.”
At the same time, the MR lists are not very mixed …
The party must gradually integrate new issues but also profiles from broader horizons. Having said that, I don’t want a list with the immigrant on duty for each community. It’s infantilizing, I don’t want that at the MR. A list must meet three criteria: it must reflect society and therefore diversity, Yes, but it must first be based on skills and adherence to liberal values.
We could say: all that are just words …
I have nevertheless just mentioned a series of specific orientations. But we do a lot of things with words! We will soon come up with ten concrete measures. My message today is to say that we must restore equal opportunities.
Are these the ideas of the MR or those of GLB?
I would not allow myself to speak as I am doing here if we had not had internal discussions. The diagnosis and the approach are shared within the party.
Discrimination on the origin, was it a taboo in the MR?
The problem is that the public and media debate turns caricature against caricature. There is no longer any room for nuance, which is why it has become a taboo. When we talk about these files, we are immediately labeled: either Islamo-leftist, or fascist. There would be the good guys and the bad guys. There would be on one side a so-called virtuous left and on the other side, a so-called rigid right, without empathy, racist limit. We must get out of these caricatures, we will never achieve anything if we continue like this.
“When we talk about these files, we are immediately labeled: either Islamo-leftist or fascist.”
How to get out?
The left and the right make the same mistake, that of thinking that only one of the two parties has to make the way. The left thinks that society must adapt to immigrants, even if it means giving up its values. The right thinks that it is immigrants who must adapt in every way to society, as if we should not be open or support their efforts to integrate.
“The left and the right make the same mistake, that of thinking that only one of the two parties has to go the way.”
However, if we want successful integration, the two must make progress, society and the immigrant. We will not renounce the values of democracy but we must do everything to fight against discrimination and support integration efforts. Responsibility is shared. You can’t ask someone to fit in if they are discriminated against every time they try. Again, it’s a matter of equal opportunity.