Landmark deal on new powers for the regions

Representatives of the six government parties and the greens have struck a deal on which new powers will be handed over to the regions and the communities and how they will be funded. The deal is one of the central planks of Belgium's sixth state reform package that requires a two-thirds majority in parliament.

In all powers worth twenty billion euros are being transferred from federal government to the devolved administrations.

Child allowance will in future be paid out by the regions. The regions also become responsible for setting the rules and regulations for youngsters held in youth detention centres.

In addition to providing training the regional employment agency - in Flanders the VDAB - will also check whether job seekers are doing enough to look for a job and punish those who are not. Deciding what ‘enough’ is, will still be a matter decided by the federal employment agency, the RVA.

The regions will also be able to give businesses discounts on their social security payments e.g. if businesses agree to take on more unskilled workers.

The regional authorities will in future decide which amount of payments on your mortgage will be tax-deductible. The regions also set the level of renovation premiums aimed at making your home less energy consuming and the cost of service checks that you can use to pay for your ironing or an odd jobs' man.

Driving tests and automobile inspections also become a matter for the regions that will be able to set maximum speeds except on the motorways. Driving licence legislation too stays Belgian.

Legislation governing the letting of premises too switches to the regions.

The regional authorities will decide what standards of care you will receive in hospital, though it's the federal authorities that set the price. The regional authorities will set fees for a stay in a nursing home.

The changes should allow the regional authorities to adopt policies that meet their individual needs - a demand that Flemish politicians have been making for many years.

The deal also puts extra demands on the regions.

In future years Belgium's three regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, will have to make an extra effort to tackle extra costs resulting from the aging of the population. Earlier it was agreed that in 2013 the regions would provide extra funding for cash-strapped municipalities. In 2014 the regions will now set aside 250 million euros to put toward the pensions of their own civil servants. At present the bill for such pensions is largely footed by central government. A similar amount will have to be coughed up in 2015 and 2016.

The negotiators also reached agreement on measures to address the shortage of Dutch-speaking judges in Flemish Brabant.

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