In the Netherlands, it is sometimes difficult to disassemble all ministers who deal with corona, let alone in Belgium. Where we have two ministers in the Netherlands, Belgium has four times as many, namely eight. Why?
Belgian virologist Marc van Ranst said today in an interview in the Volkskrant: « We have eight ministers in Belgium who are in one way or another competent for Public Health. » And he says, « They probably don’t even know each other by name. » Can such a fragmented body act unambiguously in times of crisis?
To understand where all those ministers come from, you must first understand how the political system of our southern neighbors works. Belgium is a federation, which means that there is an umbrella government, which includes various federal states. Like in the United States or Germany. In every federation it is just a little bit different. In Belgium, the federal states are formed by regions and communities.
The communities are divided into Flemish, French and German parts. They concern, for example, culture, welfare and health. The regions consist of Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels. These are responsible for the environment, spatial planning and the economy. The different communities and regions overlap with each other. For example, someone in Wallonia can come under the French or German community.
Lots of ministers
Thanks to the different authorities, there are also many ministers, but: « The complexity is mainly due to the situation in Wallonia and Brussels, » says Bart Maddens, professor of political science at the University of Leuven. « A kind of miraculous multiplication of ministers has arisen there. Because they make a difference between region and community. »
Dutch-speaking Belgium has a lot easier, says Tex van Berlaer, political journalist at Knack.be. « From a Fleming’s perspective it is not too bad, » explains Tex. « We have one minister from our Flemish / Dutch-speaking community. And on top of that, another federal minister. » But the little ones also participate. « The German-speaking community also has one minister. Because health is partly a community policy, the few German villages on the border also have their own minister. And that is quite striking. »
All in all, a quite complex system and that also results in unclear policy in the corona crisis. Margot Cloet, main director of Zorgnet Icora is therefore concerned. “The communities are in charge of aged care, but the federal level is again in charge of purchasing the corona tests,” Margot explains. « As a result, it is not always clear where testing is going to be done and who is eligible for it. »
It is also a headache when paying out a care bonus. Margot Cloet: « In principle, the federal government has already promised the bonuses for the nurses, » Margot says, « But because it is different for each institution, the staff in elderly care is left in the cold. This leads to discrimination. »
Nevertheless, there is also consultation. An institution that we have seen more active recently is the Interministerial Conference on Public Health, the IMC. « Here the eight ministers and the State Secretary meet and make agreements to clarify the policy. These are meetings where they try to get their noses in the same direction. » says Tex van Barlaer,
« A synergy between federal and regional will be needed, but that synergy must above all be more clearly defined. » Bart Maddens sees a positive development emerging. « You see that Flanders looks more to the North, while Wallonia looks more to France, » he explains.
« When Macron decided to close the schools, the French-speakers wanted to take over. While the Flemish were more wait-and-see, » says Maddens. This balance has never been better, according to the professor of political science.
According to Margot Cloet, chief administrator of Zorgnet Icora, the solution lies elsewhere: « I would like to see an integrated care system instead of a fragmented care system. State reform does not have to be an end, but a means in this case. think of a Belgian house with many garden sheds and back rooms. But we all have to build a beautiful villa together. «