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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2010-03-13 10:25:56
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"I am the Prime Minister of the whole country"

Belgium's premier Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrat) has launched a charm offensive during a meeting in Wavre, south-east of Brussels in Wallonia. "I am the premier of all the Belgians," Mr Leterme said, carefully avoiding any hot potatoes linked to the discussions between the different language communities.

"Which future for Belgium?" was the title of a lecture that Mr Leterme gave in Wavre. His discourse attracted quite a crowd. "It is my task to be the premier of the whole Belgian kingdom", Mr Leterme said. He also praised the so-called Belgian model: "A federalism of cooperation and collaboration is needed to overcome the economic crisis together."

Mr Leterme avoided making statements on hot issues concerning the conflicting interests of the different language communities. When asked whether he considered it as normal that citizens of Wavre (in Walloon Brabant) cannot vote for him, Mr Leterme answered that this is indeed impossible, except if Belgium should have a federal constituency. "But that's an institutional issue and I think its better that we let leave that as it is. I am leaving this discussion into the hands of the politicians who are responsible." Mr Leterme added that he hopes that former PM Jean-Luc Dehaene can reach a solution on BHV "which is to the benefit of everyone involved."

The premier received a round of applause on a regular basis. It looks as if his quote that "Walloon people are not intelligent enough to learn Dutch" is forgiven and forgotten in Wallonia. Relations also got off to a wrong start when he started singing the French national hymn, La Marseillaise, when he was asked by a journalist to sing the French version of the Belgian national anthem. Mr Leterme, the former Flemish premier, was considered by many Walloon people as a man defending the Flemish interests in the first place.


1 billion Euros in prisons

During the coming years, the Belgian government is to invest 1 billion Euros in the renovation of existing prisons and the building of seven new gaols across the country. The new prisons will be built with the help of private investors.

The key ministers of the federal government gave their go-ahead for the so-called Master Plan for the Belgian prisons today. Seven new prison buildings will be erected: in Leuze-en-Hainaut (300 places), Marche-en-Famenne (300 places), Dendermonde (444 places), Beveren (300 places), Merksplas (440 places), Antwerp (440 places) and Haren (1,060 places). The penal institution in Haren will replace the gaols in Sint-Gillis, Berkendaal and Vorst in the Brussels area.
Other existing prisons get new sections, like in Ghent and Antwerp.

The Master Plan for the Belgian prisons was launched by the previous Justice Minister, Jo Vandeurzen (Flemish Christian democrat) in 2008. Its initial goal was to have the new prisons ready by 2012. The latest plan by present Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck (Flemish Christian democrat) has set 2013-2014 as the new deadline for the new buildings to be finished.

"We are a bit behind on schedule, but it's nothing dramatic", says Mr De Clerck. "Things are really moving now. This is the biggest investment ever concerning prison capacity." Belgium has had a shortage of prison places for years. The latest plans should reduce the problem of overcrowding.


Record number of self-employed in Belgium

The number of people having their own business in Belgium reached a record high last year. Despite the economic crisis, their number rose to 720,000 in 2009. That's according to figures supplied by the national account systems.

Last year, the number of self-employed was 3,000 up on the figure of 2008, and 14,000 up on the figure of 2007. It's the sixth successive rise on a yearly basis. The rise is mainly due to the arrival of immigrants from the new European member states. Jan Smets, director of the Belgian National Bank, points out that the red tape people have to go through before they can start their proper business, was reduced. Mostly people from new European member states have seized that opportunity.

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