Government will bring pandemic law to parliament sooner than planned
Share article:
Share article:

Government will bring pandemic law to parliament sooner than planned

Prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD). © Belga

The government is to bring its planned pandemic law before parliament sooner than was originally planned, prime minister Alexander De Croo announced.

The government is reacting to ongoing criticism of the method it has chosen to legislate the regulations it introduces to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

Essentially, the rules are based on a civil protection law from 2007 which states simply that the King through the government will take all measures considered necessary to deal with the situation. 

The fine detail of the rules – how long the curfew will last, which businesses may open and which remain closed, whether men’s hairdressers may shave beards as well as cut hair (they may not) – are contained in ministerial briefs, which only have to be published in the official gazette to become law.

At no point do the rules have to come before parliament, and that has caused concern among legal experts worried at the democratic consequences of taking the power to scrutinise government legislation away from the only elected body in the process. The 2007 law was intended to allow emergency measures to be taken in cases such as flooding, not for a long-lasting pandemic, critics say. 

But the Council of State has disagreed on more than one occasion, declaring the method constitutional.

Yesterday, three heads of the country’s bar associations published an open letter making just that point, referring to the move as an ‘erosion of the rule of law’.

The government has now responded with a promise to bring its long-awaited pandemic law – currently being prepared by federal home affairs minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) with the help of health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a) – before parliament at an early date.

According to a letter written by De Croo to the parliament’s chair (or speaker) Eliane Tillieux (PS), the pandemic law will be presented as a bill to the relevant parliamentary committee (or committees) for their remarks. That consultation would take place before the legislation is sent to the Council of State or any other advisory organ.

That should make it possible to take note of the sensitivities and suggestions made by the House as early as the preliminary design phase.”

Whether that ‘possibility’ is likely to appease critics of the current method is uncertain. The promise appears to reduce the role of parliament to an advisory body rather than a fully-fledged legislative one.

In his public statements, De Croo has stressed the desire for parliament to be ‘involved’ as well as to ‘provide its expertise’. But those terms fall short of allowing parliament its constitutional role in determining whether a bill will be approved or not, and in what form.

Pieter De Roover, fraction leader for N-VA and a critic of the government’s approach until now, welcomed the government’s move.

They are apparently aware of the social and political pressures over this issue,” he said. “But at the same time, the letter seems more spectacular than it is. They are hanging a carrot before our noses, but we are sitting on the donkey.”

De Croo now hopes to being the bill before the parliament by the end of the month, he told the VRT.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Flanders introduces ‘invisible’ speed cameras
New digital speed cameras that are essentially invisible to the road user are being introduced on various roads and motorways in Flanders, Flemish ...
Warnings issued for slippery roads across Belgium
Drivers have been asked to watch out for slippery roads from Saturday afternoon until Sunday evening, as snow and cold temperatures are expected ...
Testing rules following high-risk contact eased for vaccinated people
The coronavirus testing policy following a high-risk contact has been eased, meaning a vaccinated person who was in contact with an infected person ...
New measures announced for Belgian schools
Stricter rules are being implemented across a variety of sectors in Belgium to curb the rising number of infections and limit the damage as a result ...
Majority of booster doses should be administered by March 2022
Invitations will be sent out in the following days for the general population in Belgium to receive a coronavirus booster vaccine, and most adults ...
Belgium adopts national plan to combat gender-based violence
Belgium has adopted a National Action plan for the Fight against Gender-Based Violence, which includes more than 200 measures and unites all levels ...
Antwerp cancels Christmas market and New Year’s Eve fireworks
The city of Antwerp has joined other cities including Leuven and Ghent by announcing it is cancelling this year's Christmas market, the end-of-year ...
Pharmaceutical companies looking into vaccines against new variant
Pharmaceutical companies have sprung into action to look into vaccine protection against the new coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa, ...
Belgium imposes entry ban on travellers from southern Africa
Belgium is introducing an entry ban for travellers from several countries in the south of Africa following concerns about a new variant (B.1.1.529) ...
What Ursula did next
BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES • Weekly analysis and untold stories
Nightclub closures, limiting contacts: These rules come into force today
Just over one week after its last meeting, Belgium's Consultative Committee on Friday once again announced a set of new measures to curb the rising ...
Almost 3,500 Covid-19 patients in hospitals as new cases continue to skyrocket
The number of new coronavirus cases in Belgium is continuing to rise, and with it the number of Covid-19 patients who are hospitalised as a result of ...