Pandemic law passes first reading in parliament following lengthy debates
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Pandemic law passes first reading in parliament following lengthy debates

Credit: Belga

The Chamber’s interior committee approved the government’s pandemic bill at first reading on Monday evening after lengthy debates.

The bill should provide a stronger legal basis for restrictive coronavirus fighting measures taken in the context of the health crisis after a growing number of critics argued the law currently followed by the government deals with emergency situations such as flooding or a major fire, and not a one-year situation.

“Another interesting debate in the Home Affairs Committee on the pandemic law. All articles of the bill were discussed and approved during the first reading. On to the continuation of the parliamentary process,” Federal Home Affairs Minister Annelies Verlinden said on Twitter following the reading.

 

Although all articles were voted through, several amendments were tabled and approved by the majority, and a second reading of the report was requested, which means another meeting will take place next week before the text will be adopted and sent to the plenary session.

The opposition maintained its open hostility towards the text, as several MPs felt that it was in fact a question of giving the government special powers by sidelining parliament.

The importance of the pandemic law has increased following an order by the Brussels court of first instance, which told the state to give a legal basis to these measures or to lift “all coronavirus measures” within 30 days.

The court of appeal in Brussels last week granted an extension to the deadline for the government to introduce a new pandemic law, allowing it to escape penalties imposed by the previous decision from the court of first instance.

The final bill provides that health measures are “in principle taken by royal decree” unless urgency requires them to be taken by ministerial decree.

The federal government should also consult with the governments of the federated entities beforehand if the measures are likely to have an impact on policy areas that fall within their competence unless there is extreme urgency.

The deadline for parliament to confirm the royal decree declaring or maintaining the epidemic emergency was also extended to 15 days, thus allowing for a parliamentary debate.

Before the first hearing in the Chamber, the Parliament conducted a series of hearings and submitted some 600 pages of opinions on the text, and the Council of State gave its opinion on the text, leading the government to make some adjustments.

The Brussels Times