Fifth column: United front


Flemish lawmakers recently showed a united front during the government's annual "away-day"

Anja Otte's take on the week in politics

During the government of Flanders’ annual “away-day” last week, the ministers visited the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (Mima) in Brussels. One photo of the visit stood out: All the ministers on the same side of table football.

Anyone who is familiar with the game knows that competitors stand on opposite sides of the table. Maybe that was the government’s idea: to show a united front.

The away-day, held just after the summer recess, is meant as a chance to leave your troubles behind at the office for a day, ahead of getting down to business. And there is plenty of business to come, with decisions made preferably before next summer, when local election campaigning is expected to commence. That process makes decision-making impossible.

One of the issues is an alternative to the Turteltax – the outrageously unpopular temporary tax on electricity meant to make up for the debt caused by oversubsidising solar panels. The issue is politically sensitive: the €100 annual tax led to the resignation of energy minister Annemie Turtelboom (Open VLD).

Her successor, Bart Tommelein (Open VLD), has come up with an alternative of a mere €10 annually, but there are still doubts as to whether this takes care of the debt.

Tommelein is also the Flemish government’s minister of finance. He wants to leave his mark here, as any liberal would, by lowering inheritance and property registration taxes. He has yet to convince his coalition partners to do either, however.

Environment minister Joke Schauvliege (CD&V), meanwhile, saw her boskaart, or Forest Map – designed to protect vulnerable woodlands – overruled by minister-president Geert Bourgeois earlier this year. Schauvliege now has to come up with an improved version that will not take land away from owners who planned to their build dream homes on it.

And education minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V) has her work cut out for her. She is expected to come up with a plan to better fund primary education, which now receives proportionately less than secondary schools.

She also wants to make universities the only institutions allowed to provide teaching degrees, which are now also given by university colleges and schools for adult education. Both universities and university colleges have contested the idea.

Government of Flanders

Belgium is a federal state with several regional governments. The northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders is governed by the Flemish government, which was created when the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community joined forces in 1980. A minister-president presides over the government of Flanders, and Brussels is the capital city.
Competences - The government of Flanders is responsible for the economy, foreign trade, health care, energy, housing, agriculture, environmental concerns, public works and transport, employment policy, culture, education and science and innovation. Flanders also has the power to sign international treaties in these competencies.
Sole legislator - The powers of the Flemish government and of the federal government do not overlap. Therefore, only one government serves as legislator for each policy area. Flemish laws are called decrees. Decrees apply in co-ordination with federal laws.
Official holiday - 11 July is the official holiday of the Flemish Community, in commemoration of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in Kortrijk on 11 July 1302, when Flemings defeated the army of the French king. Flanders’ official anthem is “De Vlaamse Leeuw” (The Flemish Lion).

million people live in the Flemish Region.


provinces constitute the Flemish Region: West Flanders, East Flanders, Flemish Brabant, Antwerp and Limburg.


number of years for which the Flemish Parliament is elected. Its elections coincide with those of the European Parliament.