The federal parliament has voted down an amendment to the country’s constitution which would have been necessary to allow the passage of the controversial new climate law. The amendment failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required. The amendment to Article 7b of the constitution would have been required to allow a more over-arching approach to legislation affecting the climate. Currently, because of the federal nature of the state, the country has four climate ministers – three for the regions and one for the federal government.
The proposed climate law recognises that environmental matters know no borders, but multiple reforms to the constitution have granted more and more powers to the regions, which guard them jealously.
The proposed amendment passed by a majority of 76 votes to 66, but could not achieve the two-thirds majority an amendment to the constitution requires. N-VA, Open VLD and CD&V voted against, arguing the climate law itself is “an empty vessel” which represents “political theatre” rather than a concrete plan. The amendment’s supporters, led by Ecolo/Groen and the French-speaking socialists, called the failed vote “a missed opportunity”.
“This result motivates us,” said Kristof Calvo, fraction leader for Groen. “Our energy is renewable”.
One of the moving forces behind the student demonstrators for climate action, Adélaïde Charlier, said the students were not surprised. “Sadly, we expected this,” she told the RTBF. “Of course, we never lost hope right up to the last minute, but we’re very disappointed that these parties can’t see the gulf between what we’re expressing out on the street and the choice they made yesterday”.
A recent poll, she said, showed that a majority of the electorate who voted for Open VLD and CD&V were themselves in favour of the climate law. “They don’t seem to realise that we’re in an emergency situation on the climate, and yet we’re losing more time because we now have to wait for the coming legislature to advance concrete plans.” The students will continue with their weekly protest right up to the week of the elections on 26 May, she promised.
Meanwhile, the Flemish government has announced it will spend 75 million euros on new climate-oriented measures, including energy saving in social housing and in educational establishments, together good for 35 million euros. Another 10 million goes to wave power infrastructure, mobility and charging stations for electric vehicles. Three million will be spent on cleaning up the emissions of buses of the public transport authority De Lijn, and two million for subsidies to extend forest areas.