Flemish PM expresses concerns about Brexit during policy statement

The Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois (nationalist) has made what will be his last September policy statement as Head of the Flemish Government before next year’s regional, federal and European elections. Looking back at the just over four years since the current Flemish Government took office, Mr Bourgeois said that “Flanders is in a better state than it was four years ago”. He also expressed optimism about the future as well as some concern about the consequences of no Brexit deal between UK government and the European Union.      

It was Mr Bourgeois’ fifth September Declaration. Although the regional elections are now just around 8 months away, Mr Bourgeois said that “the Flemish Government is determined to carry on governing and to continue carrying out the measures contained in the coalition agreement”.   

More jobs, more new businesses

Mr Bourgeois told the Flemish Parliament that 145,000 new jobs had been created in Flanders since the current Flemish Government took office. Unemployment is down by 17% and there are 18% more new businesses starting up now than 5 years ago. The Flemish PM went on to say that those living in Flanders live in a region where the risk of being in poverty is the smallest in the whole of Europe and that our roads are now much safer.

"Yes we have had to make savings. We were criticised a lot for having done so, but now we can see that these choices were choices for the future. There is now room for us to be able to invest and that is what we have done and will continue to do”, Mr Bourgeois said.

Mr Bourgeois then summed up a number of measures that the Flemish Government has taken over the past year. These include the reform of regional taxation, child benefit, secondary education and the Flemish public transport company De Lijn.

The Flemish budget

Mr Bourgeois said that the 2019 Flemish budget is balanced. “It is an ambitious budget with new investment to help continue to build a prosperous, innovative and social Flanders”.  

280 million euro extra will be invested in research and development projects.  

200 million euro in additional funding will go to care for people with a disability, crèche places for children, welfare services for young people and residential and non-residential care facilities. Those working in care homes are also to be given a pay rise.

100 million euro will be invested in measures to help Flanders reach its climate change objectives. This includes the purchase of 1,200 green buses for the Flemish public transport company De Lijn.

Money will be invested to improve the Brussels and Antwerp Orbital Motorways and in our region’s inland waterways, cycle paths and public transport. There will also be a threefold increase in the number of shared bicycles available in Flanders.

The housing budget is increasing by 20 million euro/year. The maximum amount Flemings can earn to and still be entitled to a subsidy to help pay their rent is being raised and social letting agencies will get extra funding.

70 million euro will be invested in projects to make it cheaper for employers to give jobs to youngsters with few (or no) qualifications, those over the age of 55 and people returning to the labour market after a serious illness.

Mr Bourgeois told the Flemish Parliament that the Flemish Government aims to provide “excellent education. Which is why every school, every teacher, every parent and every pupil must be ambitious”.  

There is also 9.6 million euro extra for culture.

Those knocking down a house and replacing it with an energy efficient property will now be able to get a grant from the Flemish Government. The measure was already applicable in urban areas and has now been extended to the whole of the region.

As regards the so-called “concrete stop”, Mr Bourgeois that there is still work to be done. The Flemish Government needs to consult with the city and municipal authorities on the issue.  

Mr Bourgeois also announced that a structural plan to deal with flooding and drought will be drawn up during the coming year.

Flanders and the Brexit

In his speech, Mr Bourgeois also discussed the Brexit. The Flemish Prime Minister told the Flemish Parliament that "It was a sovereign decision on the part of the British. However, I fear above all that it is a sovereign mistake”.   

"It will be completely disastrous if the British Government and the UK fail to reach an agreement”.  

A so-called “Hard Brexit” with no agreement between the two parties wouldn’t only be a bad thing for the UK, but also for Flanders

“Annually we export goods worth almost 28 billion euro to the UK.  No deal could cost us 28,000 jobs. I will soon put a Brexit action before the Flemish Government”, Mr Bourgeois added.