At the start of his speech Mr Jambon said that recent events have shown the vulnerability of a society and economy like ours that is open to the world. Mr Jambon touched on Brexit that he said threatens 28,000 Flemish jobs. He added that he plans talks with the EU negotiator Michel Barnier in the coming days. The Flemish Brexit Taskforce will also meet again within the next two weeks.
Inevitably the coronavirus crisis dominated a large portion of the speech. Mr Jambon said that it showed the need to prepare for unexpected circumstances and that a strategic committee will be set up to prepare Flanders for future crisis. He took the opportunity to thank those working in sectors that provided health care and other essential services (police, fire, food retail and distribution, rubbish collection etc….) for the work they did and continue to do to keep the country running and also thanked volunteers and scientists for their respective contributions in recent months.
Proud of the measures already
Although Mr Jambon conceded that there have been issues with contact tracing and given what we know now the death toll in care homes wouldn’t have been as severe as it was during the first wave, he added that he is proud of the measures his government has taken during the crisis thus far.
The Flemish Prime Minister pointed to the range of economic support measures taken to help companies through the crisis. He describes these as a first aid package the aim of which was to help healthy companies survive.
Furthermore, measures such as the energy grant helped those that had lost their jobs or had been laid off to pay their energy bills.
Mr Jambon praised the efficiency with which the Flemish civil service had processed the applications for grants, subsidies and other aid to businesses and families. He also said that he is proud of how the Flemish education system has used digital means to provide distance learning to prevent pupils from falling too far behind with their studies.
The way in which schools have been able to reopen in relatively corona-safe circumstances was also praised during the speech.
7 point plan worth 4.3 billion euro
The Relaunch Plan addresses 7 policy areas and is designed to face up to the challenges faced by the Flemish economy and society. The first of these is social care. 525 million euro per annum extra will be invested in social care. A large portion of this will go towards increasing the salaries of those that work in care facilities for the elderly and for people that live with a handicap. It is hoped that improved pay will make a career in caring for vulnerable people more attractive. The money will also go towards reducing the pressure of work endured by those working in social care. Mr Jambon said that the coronavirus crisis had exposed weaknesses in our social care system and that these need to be addressed.
A second challenge to be addressed is the creation of an “more effective, more efficient and vigorous” state apparatus.
Thirdly we need to undergo a “digital transformation”. The Flemish Government intends to play a pioneering role in realising this. "We must allow all possible data to flow in a fluid, safe and privacy secure way”, Mr Jambon said. He added that this is one of the most important levers in the relaunch plan.
As the fourth point in the plan the Flemish PM said that Flanders should invest in sustainable economic activity and is launching a number of initiatives including the Blue Deal that will address the issues caused by drought and damage caused by flooding. Together with local authorities the Flemish Government also plans major investment in cycle infrastructure.
"Investment, investment, investment"
The firth ambition laid out in the plan is “investment, investment, investment”. The Flemish Government intends to invest in a number of areas such as reasearch facilities, school buildings, the rolling out of a 5G network and large-scale infrastructure work.
The sixth point in the plan is helping people and businesses through the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Finally Mr Jambon stressed the importance of investing in people. The Flemish government intends to invest strongly in education and training. The ambition remains to get the employment rate up to 80% of the population that is of working age.
Cooperation with the Federal Government
Mr Jambon concluded his speech with a call for good cooperation with the Federal Government. “Flemish democracy may in no way become the victim of turbulence at other levels of political power”
He added that he hopes to be able to realise the seven ambitions laid out in the relaunch plan in an atmosphere of cooperation. However, he will “stand his ground” if necessary.