The Council of State has handed down a negative advice on a special law on the climate proposed by the federal parliament, declaring the measure “unconstitutional”. The special law was proposed by Ecolo and Groen, and backed by Défi, MR, CDH and SP.A, the only Flemish party in favour. The law proposes, among other things, a reduction of 55% in greenhouse gases based on 1990 levels, and in general the end to the current state of fragmentation of policy between federal and regional. The latter question was unacceptable to the Flemish parties.
The Council of State is tasked with the job of scrutiny of the acts of government at all levels, from municipal to federal. It is also routinely consulted as part of the passage of other legislation, and its views on the legality of new laws is taken seriously.
In this case, the Council ruled that the means employed by the special climate law to create one single cohesive policy was in fact a usurpation of the powers granted to the regions by the constitution and its amendments. The federal government could not take for itself by legislative act powers that are granted to another forum, in this case the regions. That would require an amendment to the constitution, the Council said.
So far, the Flemish parties have held to their objection, and MR has made it clear they are not willing to open the can of worms a constitutional amendment procedure would bring. The two green parties have expressed a willingness; it is unlikely the other supporters of the special law would be quite as willing, if at all.
“This advice is very detailed and heavy with consequences,” said David Clarival, head of the MR group in parliament, speaking to Belga news agency. An amendment to the constitution would he said, “risk re-opening the Pandora’s box of community relations.”
CDH expressed a willingness to adapt the climate law to avoid the constitutional problem. “Nothing is impossible if everyone drops their political posturing to thing of the essential question,” said Catherine Fonck, head of the CDH group. “Politicians have a duty to be effective. That is what is expected of us by the young and the not so young.”
“Unconstitutional means unconstitutional,” said Vincent Van Quickenborne, member of parliament and mayor of Kortrijk.
“If we want to change anything on the climate, we’d be better to conclude a climate pact,” suggested Leen Dierick of CD&V.