Just like tax evasion is something of a national sport, fraud control has always been somewhat of a national joke. Whenever a budget needed to be drawn up in the past, any amount lacking would be categorised as “to be expected from fraud control” – upon which nothing was ever heard of it.
Crombez’s predecessor Carl Devlies was one of the first to take fraud control seriously, but it was Crombez who made it a hot topic. With plenty of enthusiasm and a disarming sincerity, he has taken on problematic areas such as the horeca and building industries, both known for undeclared labour and fraud of all kinds.
Whenever he encounters criticism, Crombez retorts that the people in the industry themselves ask for the reforms. He also pleads for lower taxes, in return for a stricter control. Nonetheless, not everyone approves of the new approach.
The man with the guitar has come under fire the most for a measure he did not take himself: fines of over 300% for personal expenses deducted as business expenses. Some believed that this might mean the end of the long-established business lunch. One businessman spoke of a witch hunt and started an online petition called Stop de Fiscale Onzin (Stop the Fiscal Nonsense), which more than 5,000 entrepreneurs have signed so far. A TV debate on the subject became something of a non-event after Crombez himself declared the proposed fines exaggerated.
Even with his guitar around his neck, the 38-year-old Crombez looks and talks like your average Joe. A misleading impression, because he is also an economics professor at Ghent University. Vice-prime minister Johan Vande Lanotte handpicked him, in a way that is traditional in the socialist party. Crombez went on the become the head of Vande Lanotte’s cabinet and moved back to Ostend, where he is seen as Vande Lanotte’s crown prince.
Like his mentor, John Crombez is one of the hardest working men in Belgian politics. That may make him the person to end the comical ring to the term “fraud control”. And if that does not work out, there is still a career as a rock star to pursue.