The National Security Council is due to meet today, and is expected to prolong the measures already in force to combat the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19), perhaps even tightening up some provisions, Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon told the VRT.
“Traditionally, we look to see if the measures in force are being put into practice properly,” said Jambon, who sits on the council along with other ministers-president Elio Di Rupo (Wallonia) and Rudi Vervoort (Brussels).
“We look to see if clarifications are required. Every rule has a limit, and sometimes people push things to the limit. The specialists will tell us if the measures are sufficient. It’s not the politicians who decide what measures should be taken.”
One issue that is sure to come up is the classification of some professions as “essential”.
Yesterday in parliament, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès faced questions from MPs, and promised that today’s council would review the list of professions considered essential and therefore still allowed to exercise fully.
The promise came after an angry question from Raoul Hedebouw, spokesperson for the far-left PVDA, when he called into question the fact that some workers – examples include lorry drivers transporting non-essential goods, construction workers and chemical industry workers at a factor making plastic chairs – are carrying on working at risk to themselves and others.
Another example given was workers in the armaments industry.
Also in parliament yesterday, the Wilmès government was officially granted a set of emergency powers to allow it to continue governing in the current crisis.
The government has no majority in parliament and is constricted by the constitution to working only on current affairs. In other words, it is unable to take new initiatives.
However, Wilmès has been given the authority to govern with the backing of the major parties in and out of the government, including the two main parties – socialist PS in Wallonia and Flemish nationalist N-VA in Flanders.
The powers allow the government to take new measures by Royal Decree, with the consent of parliament, but according to a fast-track procedure.
Yesterday those emergency powers were officially passed by parliament, after having been slightly amended by the Council of State. The confirmation by the Senate, which had been announced for yesterday evening following parliament’s approval, will instead be given this morning.
PVDA voted against handing over powers to the government, and far-right Vlaams Belang abstained. All other parties voted in favour.
Deputy prime minister David Clarinval (MR) tried to calm fears the conservative government might overstep its powers.
“We are not going to use these special powers to force through ideological reforms,” he said. The ban on gatherings and the closure of shops was not done for the fun of it, he said.
“For a liberal like me, the use of measures that restrict individual liberties causes pain in the heart. This is not political opportunism. These measures are necessary.”
The special powers come up for review in three months time, when they can be prolonged, amended or discontinued.