The past week was about the night clock in Antwerp because there is not enough testing and the tracing system is still not up to date. But also about the formation of a new federal government, which will have to deal with a deficit of 70 billion. Knackeditor Ewald Pironet looks back.
1. Sick man
“During the exit strategy, we squandered the room, making us the sick man in Europe. To everyone who sat at the table when the line about the bubble of 15 was knocked out: well-hearted apologies to the population would be appropriate. “
On 26 March, the country’s largest newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws, headlined: “Nothing but praise for the Belgian approach.” Commentator Jan Segers wrote: ‘Correct me if I blindly focus on what I see and if I wrongly generalize what I feel, but every day in Belgium the confidence is growing that it will not be a tragedy like in Italy or Spain. ‘ To finish with: ‘Today – contradict me if you like – the country is in good hands.’ We had to contradict this almost weekly in Knack, because you could only conclude that Belgium and Flanders were still experiencing the corona crisis very amateurish approach. The vaudeville of the masks at the federal level and the debacle in the residential care centers at the regional level were painful illustrations of this, with deadly consequences. This week, Het Laatste Nieuws also came to a different conclusion than in March: “Today our country is – literally – the sick man in Europe,” writes editor-in-chief Brecht Decaestecker. ‘And to be correct: that is actually Flanders, because the map south of the language border turns a lot less dark than the one above it. (…) And that is because far too many Flemings have interpreted the rule “from now on you can see 15 people a week, and every week that others may be”, the virus is gone, everything is over. Polonaise! “Decaestecker continues,” To everyone who sat at the table when that rule was knocked out: heartfelt apologies to the population would be appropriate. Afterwards it is always easy to talk, but it is now clear that that rule should never have been introduced when we were not in order what should have been in order: mass testing, instant mapping of the results of those tests, up to district level, and immediately notify and quarantine anyone who has come into contact with the infected person via contact tracing. We still fail to tackle the virus on essential points: mass testing, quickly announcing results and then quarantining the infected persons and their identified contacts. Then one might not have had to introduce the curfew in the province of Antwerp, also affecting villages that have barely recorded any corona infection in the past week. Then, for most people, normal life could have continued more or less. Our economy suffered a blow of more than 12 percent between April and July. This brought it back to the level of 2009. The economic crisis therefore catapults us back 10 years in economic terms. And no sector is spared, according to the National Bank’s calculations. For the year, economists now expect a contraction of about 9 percent. The Leuven economist André Decoster already calculated on his blog (andredecoster.be) that such a decline is unseen. Since 1846, we only experienced a greater decline in the war years 1917, 1918, 1940 and 1942, as we wrote here before, and the German economy, the engine of Europe, was also hit. It shrank by 10 percent between April and June. It has been described as ‘the worst quarter ever’. That is not good news for us. 2020 is therefore a year of misery and the key question is what will be 2021. Will the economy rebound, as the European Commission, the National Bank and the Planning Bureau predict? Nobody knows. But what will become clear: as long as there is no vaccine, we will continue to suffer in all areas and we should not think of a real revival of ordinary life and revival of our economy. Only if there is an effective vaccine on the market can there is an economic recovery. Economists do believe that it can be powerful, that household consumption can kick-start that recovery. But then, in the meantime, not too many companies should go bankrupt and people become unemployed, because then we can also forget that fierce recovery. Then it is rather kicking on the spot. Maybe for years, would it still happen? Would a government be formed by September? And which parties will be part of that? The note that colleague Walter Pauli announced yesterday via Knack.be can play a crucial role in this. In that memorandum, constitutional specialists Paul Van Orshoven (Leuven, of CD&V signature) and Johan Vande Lanotte (Ghent, former SP.A minister) explain that Belgian health care can be defederalized and transferred to communities quite easily. The constitution does not need to be amended, only the special law of 1980, according to Van Orshoven and Vande Lanotte. That is something that both the PS, the N-VA and the CD&V can come out with. Informers Bart De Wever (N-VA) and Paul Magnette (PS) would like to include the SP.A, CD&V, the CDH and the Open VLD in addition to the N-VA and the PS. So six parties, without the MR and especially without its chairman George-Louis Bouchez. Bouchez is an unguided missile, as previously written here. Magnette would rather lose him than rich, and CD&V chairman Joachim Coens has only had bad experience with it since he had to team up with him in January to find a government. Bouchez then profiled himself in the Wetstraat as an unreliable chunk pilot. He has made himself impossible. Lachaert already stated that the Open VLD will not let go of the MR. They wrote a note together and handed it over to De Wever and Magnette. The question is whether that liberal note is digestible for the other parties. But the big knot now seems to lie with Bouchez: does he want a new government? Or does he want to keep party-mate Sophie Wilmès in the saddle as prime minister for as long as possible, possibly to head a government in current affairs after September, and then go to new elections? Business newspaper De Tijd reported, with Eurostat as its source, that the increase in the Belgian budget deficit during the first three months in Belgium was larger than in all other European countries, with the exception of Malta. That increase was even three times greater than the eurozone average. That is worrying, so far it was said that the budget deficit would amount to 53 billion this year, Wetstraat watcher Rik Van Cauwelaert noted on Twitter that insiders even take into account a deficit of 70 billion. That amount does indeed circulate with the Finance Administration. The widening deficit would mainly be the result of disappointing VAT revenues. In any case, with such a huge deficit, the next government, whichever parties may be part of it, is facing a tough job. Yes, that is even an understatement.