Open Letter to the Belgians: Achieving Success with the Vivaldi and the Challenges Ahead

2023-10-24 15:02:16

Do you think that all your partners have read your open letter to the Belgians in mid-July? Do you still have hope of achieving success with the Vivaldi?

Certainly, that’s why I wrote this letter. If they fail to achieve something, politicians are too likely to self-justify or blame others. This is not my method. There are plenty of files that we managed well, but I am also dissatisfied with certain other results. I’m the captain of the team, that’s why I say certain things. What makes me optimistic is that the day after the publication, I had several positive reactions from members of the government who told me they understood the message. What this government still has on its agenda: continue the budgetary effort. For 2024, we have already made an effort, but an additional effort of 1.2 billion is needed, which will make a total of 5 billion euros. This is the priority. There is the management of the migration crisis which will require a lot of effort, almost on a daily basis…

…And which will be a nice stress test to find out if the bickering will not resume between the seven partners. There, it has already started…

In the four governments in which I have participated, discussing asylum and migration has always been very delicate subjects. What I see there is a debate, not bickering… We must also continue the work around Brussels-South. Rather than passing the hot potato between the levels of power, I decided to bring everyone around the table. We took two actions, but this is not the solution. The solution is an integrated program where we work with the police on the ground to fight against drug trafficking, where the SNCB makes efforts regarding the cleanliness of the installations. There is also a link with town planning around Brussels-Midi… I am looking at three issues. The fourth is the agreement with Engie. Many think it’s done, but there is still a lot of work to do. The final 700-page agreement will be in March 2024. It is still quite unprecedented: other countries which had chosen to abandon nuclear power have not been able to change course, Germany, for example . We did it.

You don’t mention tax reform? Ecolo and the PS do not want to throw in the towel. You don’t believe it anymore?

We worked hard on the subject in July and my conclusion was that what was on the table was going to create too big a hole in our budget. The problem observed in July has not changed. We must understand that this would reduce the budgetary effort that we must make now by 500 million to a billion euros. Belgium is not in a situation where we can afford it. During Covid and the energy crisis, we made the choice to support our citizens and our businesses. We see the result: economic growth is higher than in other countries, we have not had a tsunami of bankruptcies, job creation is unprecedented: the Planning Office will say that between the start of this government and by the end of 2024, we will have created 300,000 jobs, more than the previous government which did it during a period of economic growth, while we are in a period of crisis. All this cost us 20 billion. After that, we said that we were straightening out our finances and that means that in 2024, 2025 and 2026, we must continue the effort, we cannot afford to carry out a tax reform as it was on the table in July. You know, at some point, you can’t do everything…

Except that a budgetary effort perhaps also means paying more taxes: should the Belgians expect that?

We will do something balanced and which, in any case, does not undermine job creation or the economic recovery that is taking place.

This is because it remains complicated for household budgets…

Okay, but with the automatic indexation of salaries, we are, in Europe, the country which has best protected purchasing power. But here, we are in the process of rectifying the budgetary situation, we must continue. Do you know when we lost the most budgetary margin? When the previous government could not continue (with the resignation of the N-VA, Editor’s note). We lost a budget year and another with the formation of this government (…) Perhaps we can continue efforts to put more people to work. I heard Elio Di Rupo say that there were too many unemployed. Let’s work on it: the priority is not to give work permits to asylum seekers, but there are 230,000 unemployed people in Wallonia. We can try to accompany them…

So, the president of the MR was not wrong to link tax reform to labor market reform?

If we take the time to carry out tax reform, it is a policy of carrots and sticks. The carrot is making work more remunerative, but there is also the stick… What bothers me is that the discussion around work is very reductive. It is positioned as a punishment. Work is much more than a salary, it is a way of emancipating oneself. It’s an act of solidarity, it’s still normal to ask everyone to contribute. It’s a bit the same discussion with Delhaize: it’s strange, I sometimes have the impression that the PTB has become a partner of multinationals. Come on, what are we talking about? Stores that belong to multinationals and that Ahold wants to transform into local entrepreneurship. Instead of working for a multinational, people go to work for the local entrepreneur under the same conditions. Where is the problem ? The PTB is against the local entrepreneur?

They fear that conditions will deteriorate over time…

But there are guarantees, embedded in collective agreements. I have a franchise store in my town. I talk to the people who work there, for a local entrepreneur, not for someone hundreds of miles away; they are happy.

You mention employment in Wallonia. We have the impression that the divergence in performance compared to Flanders worries you?

I find it difficult to explain. In my town, the unemployment rate is 3.5%. In the Walloon commune next door, let’s stop calling it the linguistic border, unemployment is at more than 14%. I have difficulty explaining it. This is certainly not inevitable. On the contrary, it is an opportunity for everyone, it is the value of solidarity (…) It is not a problem of mentality, it is intellectual laziness to explain it like that. These are political choices, but we can change these.

This means that at some point you have to be a little tougher with some people, consider limiting, for example, unemployment benefits over time?

We are not going to make such fundamental choices in the ten months that remain, but it deserves a real discussion, with a view to the next government, for example. Not to punish people, to give them the opportunity to emancipate themselves and give our society the brains and hands we need on a daily basis.

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