October 27, 2021

Taylor Daily Press

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Vivaldi is ready to land: Cheaper energy, a tougher approach to long-term patients

Vivaldi is ready to land: Cheaper energy, a tougher approach to long-term patients

Vivaldi deployed his landing gear. After a few tough months, the alliance looks set to restart on Tuesday, with a big deal in hand.

slowly but surely. Vivaldi on Monday continued without much fanfare over a massive budget deal, measures to cut high energy bills, labor market reform and additional investment. Late at night, when this newspaper was published, a final deal seemed imminent. Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo (Open Vld) is expected to arrive in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday afternoon to deliver his State of the Union address. One by one, parts of the agreement that had already been finalized leaked out.

For example, in the afternoon, the seven alliance partners had already agreed to the procedures for Reduce energy bills. Vivaldi will reduce the social rate for vulnerable families (1 million households or 2 million Belgians) until April, saving them 720 euros on an annual basis. Evaluation will follow in April. If prices remain high, the procedure is usually extended.

In addition, there is a reform on the way for the fees charged on the electricity bill. These will be transferred to production charges and reduced from next year. This should yield between 30 and 50 euros for the average family in 2022.

A €100 energy check will not come to the entire middle class, which is a requirement of the Socialist Party. It turned out to be very expensive. The Liberals and the Greens believed that in this way you would receive many families who did not need extra help.

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Vivaldi opts for a temporary solution: the most vulnerable families, already below the social rate, get an additional discount on their energy bill. It comes to 80 euros for one time.

PS embraces this compromise. The intention was basically for people to receive a clear short-term boost, it seems now. For liberals, but also for greens, it was important that costs stay within limits. The additional energy deduction means additional expenditures of more than 112 million euros. In all, the entire energy agreement will amount to approximately 650 million euros.

Penalties

On the eve of the order, the government gave the green light to Long-term disease treatment. Currently, nearly half a million Belgians live at home for a long time due to health problems. The orientation process is being re-engineered to help them fully return to work.

Most noticeable about this is that there will be (light) penalties for those who stubbornly refuse to cooperate. Persons who are sick for a long time should fill out a questionnaire after ten weeks. Then he should visit the return coordinator to see what is still possible for him in the workplace. If that person continues to resist filling out the document or going to the appointment, they will lose 2.5 percent of their favour.

On the other hand, companies with more than 50 employees also face a fine if a relatively large number of employees withdraw or if many reintegrations fail. The employer will also not be able to proceed with the dismissal due to medical force majeure after nine months of absence.

Sanctions, especially the liberal demand, are rather limited and appear mainly symbolic. However, they do indicate a change in policy regarding long-term illness. Until now it was an absolute taboo to act punitively.

Finally, the doctor’s note for one day’s absence, for three days per year, will also be cancelled. With this intervention, the government is spending less than what was initially announced, but this would give medical practitioners more time to get more involved in the healing process of their patients.

After those first two hurdles, there were still some heavy pieces on the government table, starting with labor market reforms. Among other things, the introduction of a flexible working week, in which the employee can complete an entire week in four days, will be referred to the social partners. Only: Not all of the employers and employees were very supportive of the system.

Restart the economy

There was still much discussion about how to lead the long-term unemployed into a shortage profession. Night work rules in e-commerce also remained a stumbling block. The socialists were particularly afraid of the lack of participation of the trade unions.

The reforms are part of a broader plan to get the economy back on track after the Corona crisis, through the so-called “restart and transition plan”. More than one billion euros will be invested, a large part of which will go to railways. The budget is divided into three items: access to stations, freight transport, and international train connections. For example, more and faster trains have to run between Brussels and Luxembourg.

Finally, the budget figures must also be in order. The government is not only working to phase out the private social contribution, a tax introduced by then Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. The appropriate tax system for foreign footballers will also be reformed.

To encourage green travel, the Vivaldi government is considering a tax on trips of less than 500 kilometres, which should generate around 30 million euros. A price of 2 euros is being considered, but this is not entirely certain yet. The tax exemption on “professional diesel” for trucks will also be reduced. Negotiations began at night to reach a final agreement by Tuesday morning at the latest.