Belgium told to lift ‘all Covid measures’: what changes?
Share article:
Share article:

Belgium told to lift ‘all Covid measures’: what changes?

Credit: Belga

On Wednesday afternoon, a Brussels court ruled that Belgium’s current coronavirus measures do not have a sufficient legal basis, and gave the State 30 days to provide that basis.

But what does that actually mean?

At the end of February, the Human Rights League took the Belgian State to court as it believed that the coronavirus measures were not taken in a democratic manner. On Wednesday, the court ruled in the League’s favour, stating that the measures are insufficiently justified by law.

Despite the eye-catching result, the ruling does not comment on the content of the measures and whether or not they are effective, it only states that the legal basis is not sufficient.

For now, this means that the pressure on the federal government to quickly adopt its “pandemic law” – which will provide a permanent legal basis, for taking this kind of restrictive measures during a pandemic – has only increased.

Here’s what you need to know.

Will the measures be lifted now?

No, the measures cannot be lifted so easily. The judge gave the federal government 30 days to clear up the matter.

“The judge ruled that it was not enough for the Interior Minister (Annelies Verlinden) to announce the measures by Ministerial Decree,” constitutional specialist Stefan Sottiaux (KU Leuven), who read the ruling, said on Flemish radio. “The judge is actually deciding what my colleagues and I have been complaining about for months: it is unacceptable that Parliament is being sidelined.”

In theory, this leaves the government two options: lift all measures (which is considered the unlikely option due to the current coronavirus situation), or provide a legal basis for the measures before the 30 days are up.

If the “illegal situation” continues after this period, the government has to pay a penalty of €5,000 for each day the measures remain in force.

Related News:


So can the government choose to keep the measures and pay the penalty?

In short, yes.

According to the Human Rights League, the measures will no longer be valid if there is no legal justification after 30 days, but the government could, in theory, decide to keep the measures in place and pay the corresponding penalties, Sottiaux explained, adding that it is unlikely that it will come to that.

On Wednesday evening, Interior Minister Verlinden announced that she would appeal against the verdict to the Brussels Court of Appeal, but that the measures would remain in place for the time being.

“From previous rulings by the Court of Appeal in Brussels, however, I do not think it will rule differently than it did in the first instance,” Sottiaux said.

Is it possible to create this legal framework within 30 days?

This is not entirely clear. While it is possible with the parts at hand, it depends on a lot of variables fitting together.

To Sottiaux, it seems logical that the authorities “will do everything they can” to create a legal framework now, which should be possible in principle, especially because the preliminary draft for the so-called pandemic law already exists.

However, a lot will depend on politics. “Drafts and texts about [the law], both from the majority and the opposition, already exist, and they have already been discussed in parliament,” he said. “The question is whether there will be an agreement.”

The draft has already been criticised several times, but Sottiaux said that there seems to be nothing to stop the parliament from voting the law quickly. “Although it will indeed require some fine-tuning.”

According to Kati Verstrepen of the Human Rights League, 30 days should certainly be sufficient to create the necessary basis. “The government has already been given enough time,” she told VRT.

Why did the legal basis not exist yet?

Belgium’s current coronavirus measures are based on the law of 15 May 2007 on civil security, which the Council of State has repeatedly established as a sufficient legal basis.

“In the beginning, it was understandable that this law was used, with the argument that nobody had experienced such a crisis before,” Sottiaux said. “The judge now clearly states that this argument no longer counts after a year.”

The fact that Belgium was led by a so-called “government of current affairs” (under Sophie Wilmès) for a large part of the crisis is also a factor for the law not existing yet, as it was limited to taking purely administrative decisions and only settling urgent or routine matters, with special powers to deal with the crisis.

Additionally, a possible “lack of constitutional and democratic reflex” in Belgium – which was sharply criticised by the opposition in the Chamber – is to blame as well, according to Sottiaux. “It is apparently only normal that these measures are taken outside of parliament.”

“Belgian constitutional experts have predicted that this was going to go wrong,” he added. “And it is not often that we all agree on something.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Non-urgent care once again postponed in some hospitals
As the worsening coronavirus situation in Belgium is starting to take its toll on hospitals, it has been confirmed non-urgent care will once again be ...
Brussels Airport warns autumn holidaymakers to arrive early
Passengers leaving from Brussels Airport this autumn have been advised to factor in extra time to account for longer than normal check-in times and ...
27,000 Belgian taxpayers to pay more after incorrect tax break
About 27,000 taxpayers who wrongly received a tax reduction in the last three years due to an error by the tax administration will have to pay what ...
Wallonia launches first major survey for cyclist satisfaction
Following in the footsteps of France and Flanders, the Wallonia Region of Belgium is launching its first major satisfaction survey on municipal ...
After 5 rescues in 2 days, hundreds of migrants take shelter in Italy
After five rescues in less than two days, almost 400 migrants aboard the Geo Barents search and rescue ship in the Central Mediterranean, operated by ...
Belgian wind farm closed down to save migrants floating in sea
A wind farm near Zeebrugge had to be shut down on Wednesday morning as more than 25 migrants had been adrift in its vicinity off the Belgian coast ...
Cinemas will require Covid Safe Ticket from Friday
The Covid Safe Ticket (CST) will be required to attend cinemas across Belgium from Friday, which marks the start of the autumn holidays, the ...
Strong warnings issued ahead of climate change summit
New and updated climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, leaving the world on track for a ...
Disastrous year for Belgian beekeepers
Belgian beekeepers have experienced a disastrous year, with honey production 50 to 60 percent lower than last year due to heavy rainfall during ...
New measures for schools considered as situation becomes ‘untenable’
Belgium's various education partners met on Wednesday to discuss additional measures to implement in schools as the coronavirus situation worsens in ...
Belgium in Brief: Back To Masks
I really hope you didn't throw out all your masks. You'll be needing them again. Now I do appreciate that this isn't a huge change for ...
Belgium a climate slowcoach as EU reveals emissions progress
The European Union is on track to pass its first big climate test, according to new figures published this week. But Belgium has been singled out for ...