Thousands of people gathered in Brussels on Sunday afternoon to take part in a march organised by the far-left PVDA party against the high energy prices and the government's response to the situation.
According to PVDA, more than 10,000 people took part in the "Basta!" march, during which the party called for a human policy with regards to the rising energy prices. Belgium was slower than neighbouring countries to impose measures to cushion the blow for consumers.
"People tell me that they have cancelled their holidays this year and that they have to draw on their savings to pay their energy bill. Energy prices are exploding. And it's getting worse all the time. People can't take this anymore," Raoul Hedebouw, chair of the PVDA, said.
He called on the government to "finally take serious measures," and stressed that VAT on both electricity and gas must be structurally reduced to 6% (under the current measures imposed, the VAT rate for gas remains at 21%).
"We will keep pounding on that nail. From companies and neighbourhoods all over the country. Until the government folds," Hedebouw said.
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Attendees held up signs with various slogans and questions, including "Why isn't the government doing anything against this social carnage?" Hedebouw argued that while people are paying through the nose to afford their bills, electricity provider Electrabel is making billions in profits.
He said to solve this issue, the government should use the profits of Engie-Electrabel to pay for the VAT reduction, and that it should take the energy sector into public hands. "Only then can we really solve the problem of exploding prices."
Vandaag komen wij in Brussel op straat met een duidelijk signaal#Basta, aan de regering die ons in de kou laat staan met torenhoge energiefacturen en onbetaalbare prijzen aan de pomp.#Basta, aan de regering die het taboe van de overwinsten van Electrabel overeind houdt. pic.twitter.com/MrFybGtVaI— Peter Mertens (@peter_mertens) February 27, 2022
Tweet from Peter Mertens, PVDA's General Secretary. Translation: "Today we are on the streets of Brussels with a clear signal. We say 'enough', to the government that leaves us out in the cold with sky-high energy bills and unaffordable prices at the pump. Enough, to the government that keeps the taboo of Electrabel's surplus profits alive."
Impact of conflict on prices
Hedebouw stressed that Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which the party openly condemned during the rally, will only make the situation worse.
"The bills will remain unaffordable. With the PVDA we will continue our petition and our actions until the government listens to the people. We already collected 310,000 petitions. On to the 400,000 signatures," Hedebouw said.
“Ik kan vandaag uiteraard alleen maar beginnen met een boodschap van solidariteit met het volk van Oekraïne dat de agressie van Rusland ondergaat. Vandaag zeggen wij, met alle volkeren ter wereld: “Stop de oorlog” @RaoulHedebouw #Basta— PVDA België (@pvdabelgie) February 27, 2022
Tweet translation: "Today, of course, I can only begin with a message of solidarity with the people of Ukraine who are suffering Russia's aggression. Today, with all the peoples of the world, we say: 'Stop the war'".