Three days later than expected, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon delivered his traditional 'September declaration' in the Flemish Parliament on Thursday, outlining his government's policy for the year ahead.
The much-awaited speech was supposed to take place on Monday but the coalition partners could not find an agreement on the budget, as the Christian-Democrat CD&V party insisted that the Growth Package (the former child benefit) should be kept in line with inflation, which caused it to be increased several times.
"Before you stands a humble man," Jambon started his speech, addressing his government's crisis in recent days. "Humble because I realise that the process we went through as a government was not pretty. We all have to learn lessons from that together. What I had to endure on Monday was painful. My ego took dents, but I fought like a lion."
In the end, CD&V approved the budget plan on Wednesday afternoon and gave the green light to an agreement very similar to the one already proposed on Monday. Still, Jambon is proud of the agreement, pointing to the balance between "investing heavily while keeping the budget on track."
In terms of the Growth Package, the basic amount of child benefits will be re-indexed at 2% instead of 1%. However, there will be no link to the index, as CD&V initially fought for. The Flemish Government will also invest an additional €115 million a year in childcare.
The target group of social allowances on top of child benefits will be expanded to an additional 50,000 children. Further to that, €100 per child on top of the social allowance will be issued this year and next year and the social allowance will also be increased from next year.
Low-wage workers get a bonus on top of their pay via the job bonus: those earning €1,950 gross per month can get a full premium. That lower limit has been raised from €1,800, making more people eligible for the full premium of €600 extra per year.
The lowest wage earners will receive an extra one-off €100 cheque this year. The job bonus decreases the more you earn. Next year, the upper earnings limit will be raised from €2,500 to €2,900 gross per month, meaning the eligible group will be expanded.
There will also be specific energy measures, although these will not immediately push down bills. "Flanders doesn't have the resources to bear the increase in the energy bill," Jambon said.
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Rent indexation will also be restricted, a measure that mainly concerns poorly-insulated rental properties. Anyone renting out a property with energy label E or F (the worst energy scores) will not be allowed to index the rent for a year. Starting from a rental house with energy label D, indexation is limited to 50%. From energy label C onwards, the landlord is allowed to fully index the rent.
For companies suffering losses due to high energy prices, a €250 million support package will be made available. A sum of €1 billion has also been released for loans and guarantees.
Together, the measures will cost €4 billion, with a further €1 billion in loans and guarantees to support businesses. "At the same time, we manage to draw up a multiannual budget that will be balanced again possibly as early as 2026, but certainly by 2027," Jambon said.
The fact that measures need to be taken to help maintain purchasing power has a lot to do with the war in Ukraine, and consequently with high energy bills. "Though blood is not being spilt in Flanders, the Flemish people are facing high bills. We must not bow to tyranny, but we will also pay a price for it."
On Saturday, the Flemish Parliament will hold a debate on the September Declaration.