In the run-up to Labour Day on Sunday 1 May, the Francophone liberal MR party launched a striking proposal to give every young person between 18 and 25 in Belgium a "youth grant" of €25,000.
While MR remains "strongly" opposed to introducing a wealth tax as a response to the soaring cost of living in Belgium, party chair Georges-Louis Bouchez explained that he wants to better reward work and combat (youth) unemployment in an interview with De Morgen.
"For young people between 18 and 25 years old, we are putting 'youth grant' on the table: a budget of €25,000 that everyone, regardless of origin or situation, can withdraw," Bouchez said. "This can be done in one go, or in instalments of €300 per month. The condition is that the money is used for a study project, the acquisition of a first property or to start a business activity."
That way, young people are given the opportunity to "take their future into their own hands," according to Bouchez, referring to "the caricatural discussion" about the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek after Flemish socialist leader Conner Rousseau said that it "does not feel like Belgium."
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"Of course Molenbeek is part of Belgium, but it is not paradise," Bouchez said, adding that only 8% of young people in Molenbeek obtain a higher education diploma, which gives them fewer opportunities in life.
"And that is noticeable: the employment rate is 20% below the Belgian average, the annual income is €10,000 lower per person," he said. "We must avoid that young people carry such a disadvantage with them for the rest of their life.”
That is not as easy as just handing out a cheque, however.
Last week, the chair of the Francophone socialist PS party Paul Magnette launched a proposal to introduce a basic income for young people aged 18 to 25 as a way to balance the existing inequalities – but did not propose a budget or any monthly figure.
For the Francophone liberals of MR, the entire system needs to be reviewed. "We are also arguing for a tax reform of €7 billion to strengthen the purchasing power of workers," Bouchez said.
Raising employment rate to 80%
That reform would include an increase in the tax-free amount and a doubling of the maximum reimbursement for childcare (going from €14 to €28 euros per day). Retirees should also receive a higher minimum pension if they have effectively worked for at least a third of their career.
All those plans, however, would cost the government over €10 billion, but Bouchez stressed that choices would have to be made. "The 'youth grant' is not compatible with child benefits, so we will have to choose between one and the other."
Other social expenditures, such as integration benefits and unemployment benefits for 18 to 25-year-olds, would also have to be reduced.
“If we also raise the employment rate to 80%, as we agreed in the government coalition agreement, 670,000 more people will be employed," Bouchez pointed out.
Currently, that rate is 70.6% in Belgium, among the lowest in the EU. "That means an extra €26 billion for the federal state. With that, we will definitely get there."