Check against delivery.

Economic recovery plan – Proposals from employers’ organisations

Thank you, Mr. President,
The economic impact of the crisis is considerable. As I said last week, at the beginning of April, the Planning Bureau and the National Bank of Belgium predicted a possible recession of -8% this year. It is likely that the actual recession in 2020 will be even worse. For 2021, the recovery will also be slow.
However, a distinction must be made between, on the one hand, the urgent strengthening of support measures to help companies survive this crisis and, on the other hand, the economic recovery. As I have already said, the recovery requires long-term structural decisions for our economy. Ideally, this should be the basis to form the next government as soon as possible, because the recovery cannot take too long.
As part of the support measures, in just two months, we have already planned to plough a total of EUR 13 billion into our economy. We have also provided EUR 53 billion in state guarantees. We are working on a second branch of support measures.
Some of the measures already taken will have to be extended, others can be extended in substance and, finally, we will also have to take new measures, especially for the industries that are hit the hardest by the crisis.
  • We are working on it. The aim is to gather broad political support. Measures relating to work organisation will clearly also have to be discussed with the social partners. And these measures will not include a postponement of holidays.
I am aware that the hospitality industry, just like other industries such as culture, events, etc., which are taking a long time to recover, is expecting specific answers. A National Security Council is scheduled for 3 June to discuss phase 3 of the phase-out.
There is a thorough consultation ongoing between the industry and experts to define the conditions for reopening as soon as possible.
  • The federal government, the regions, the industry federations, the GEES and the ERMG are fully mobilized on this subject.
  • The hospitality industry is very diverse. It is important to cover all aspects. This takes time, but a good organisation is indispensable and in everyone’s interest.
However, discussions are progressing. Yesterday, we developed the protocol laying down the rules and practices for protecting the health of staff and customers that can be applied in hospitality establishments. The Consultative Committee is now working to stabilise all these elements, which will form the basis for the discussions in the NSC on 3 June.
In addition to measures taken at national level, measures are also being discussed at European level.
On Wednesday afternoon, the European Commission presented its proposals for the 2021-2027 multi-annual budget and for a temporary recovery fund.
  • The aim is to raise EUR 750 billion from the financial markets over a four-year period.
  • And these funds will be divided into a maximum of EUR 500 billion for subsidies and EUR 250 billion in the form of loans.
  • These amounts will be fully allocated to the funds and programmes of the multi-annual budget of the European Union.
  • Based on a first reading, it seems that the subsidies will be linked to the European Semester and the corresponding National Reform Plans.
It seems to me that the European Commission’s proposals do indeed strike the right balance between subsidies and loans. And the introduction of some form of conditionality also seems appropriate to me. Solidarity and responsibility go hand in hand, as I have said several times.
The first reading of the proposals now shows a list of 1/3rd loans and 2/3rds subsidies. These subsidies would be subject to conditions for reforms through the mechanism of the European Semester and integrated national recovery plans. At first sight, therefore, this seems to me to correspond to our vision: namely a balance between solidarity and responsibility.
Of course, in the coming days we will have to come up with a good analysis of the complex proposals and carefully assess how and whether this meets the European project and Belgian interests.
  • I can already tell you now that the “Belgian interests” include more than just a figure of net proceeds.
  • Our high degree of integration in the internal market and the fact that the EU is by far our largest export market means that the proper functioning of the entire European economy also benefits us indirectly – but in a tangible way.
  • Moreover, it is still important for Belgium that the Green Deal, the digital transition, but also research and innovation remain key points in the development of the European economy. Of course, strengthening our healthcare capacities must also be considered.
  • Nevertheless, we must in any case look at the direct impact, including on the federal budget.
  • In this context, I would also like to remind you that Belgium is in favour of extending the flexibility granted under the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, at least for 2021. Incidentally, I have explicitly made this point at various meetings of the European Council. Also, when I was the Minister in charge of the Budget.
The figures circulating in the press on the amounts to which Belgium might be entitled are based on a leaked document and we do not know its status, so it is difficult to give an opinion on this topic. At this stage, Member States have not yet received precise information on the distribution keys for the allocation of funds.
Lastly, I note that the Commission has submitted several proposals for new, internal funds. And as I said in the committee, we are in favour of the principle of these new, internal funds. And of course, as always, we will have to make a full and detailed analysis of the proposals on the table.
As with any EU matter, this position will of course be discussed at the meeting of the DGE, which – I would remind you – brings together representatives from the federal and federated entities for a summit scheduled for mid-June.
So, there is a concrete proposal on the table. We applaud this. As far as I am concerned, there is clearly a good balance between subsidies and loans. The aim, of course, is to reach an agreement between the 27 Member States. Like you, however, I feel that Europe has decided to turn a corner, to create an important turning point, a turning point that is consistent with its values of solidarity but also of responsibility. One certainly goes hand in hand with the other. And as far as Belgium is concerned, I have told you that we will consult to determine Belgium’s position. But as far as I am concerned, it is clear that we will always side with Europe, with determination.

Thank you.

Financial situation of the hospitals

Thank you, Mr. President,
Dear Madam,
I could not handle the life of a healthcare worker. I just couldn’t.
On the other hand, I think the best way to get a deeper understanding of how they feel on a daily basis is to go to the hospitals, which I did during two weekends in the three regions of the country.
To talk to those who have lived through the fight against Covid-19 on a daily basis. I must tell you that this sparked great emotions and conversations, but I also learned a lot about the reality on the ground.
This reality is something that doesn’t hit you until you go there, and that’s what I did. Even if it means being greeted in an unusual way, as you know. We can in no way feel offended by the expression of the distress from nursing staff.
I would also like to remind you, since we discussed this last week, that the Minister of Health, the Minister of Economy and the Minister of Budget met with the social partners on Wednesday morning. They had the opportunity to discuss various matters, including the notorious decrees on powers of attorney that aroused so much anger, the so-called “straws that broke the camel’s back”, as they were called.
And you will also remember that we immediately decided to suspend these powers and that we even decided to abolish them during the Inner Cabinet +10 on Saturday.
Underlying the plight of nursing staff, their difficulties, the lack of staff, the organisation of their work is also the whole matter of better valuing their work. As I said, their work is not only valued in terms of salary. And maybe not primarily in terms of salary. It is mainly expressed in the working pressure, in the ability to leave, to leave work and to say to oneself: “I did a good job.”
And that was very striking in these individual conversations, out of sight of the cameras, in all sincerity. What always came back was: “I find it hard to go home and say to myself that I did not do a good job, because I did not have the time to do it properly.” This obviously requires a significant increase in the number of staff in hospitals.
And then, of course, there is the matter of hospital funding. And we know a fundamental, structural discussion about the long-term funding of hospitals is required. But before we can address this issue, there are acute obligations, emergencies. The first emergency was freeing up 1 billion EUR. It’s true, it is an advance. 1 billion EUR to distribute. An advance that, as we hear from hospitals, is welcome, that we need, but that may not be enough. We will need a second one, and this second advance will also be given when it’s necessary and when it turns out to be necessary.
In addition to these advances, today there is also the urgent issue of hospital funding because, as you said, they have had to deal with the Covid crisis in a unique way, which has created, on the one hand, additional expenses and, on the other hand, much lower income. A task force has been set up for this purpose. A survey has been sent to hospitals so that they can respond. Starting Monday, we should be getting the answers. And, based on this survey, the competent services will analyse the real needs. So, on the one hand, advance payments and, on the other hand, the management of hospital funding.
In addition, you know that an initial provision of EUR 1 billion is earmarked, of which EUR 834 million has already been spent on purchasing protective equipment for healthcare staff. We know that this week, if I am not mistaken, there will also be another provision of 1 billion, a new provision of 1 billion that has been decided upon, of which 200 million EUR have already been earmarked for healthcare spending, 150 million EUR for primary care to hospitals, 28 million EUR for psychiatric care and 20 million EUR for care units. As you can see, the approach is therefore multi-faceted, covering advances, the structural situation and the situation of nursing staff.
Thank you.