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Belgian report Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2012-03-09 07:42:50
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Belgian minister vows to resist 'ultra-liberal' Commission

Belgium's enterprise minister Paul Magnette criticised the European Commission for being "too tough" on his country and pleaded for more "margin of manoeuvre" for national governments to enforce EU budget discipline rules. Magnette made these statements at a conference, auspiciously titled "Can one criticize Europe?” organized by the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The minister, who is also a Socialist leader and high profile professor in the same university, was recently in the centre of a controversy, after he made comments critical to the EU executive, for which he was reprimanded both by Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and Council President Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian Prime Minister.

Reportedly, Magnette said that the economic and budgetary policy, imposed on EU countries, condemned them "to a 15-year-long recession". He added that he doubted that the Commission had the democratic legitimacy to impose such policy. "We must stand up to the European Commission, as the big states do, or we will slip into an ultra-liberal Europe," he was quoted as saying. Di Rupo tried to put the record straight by saying that the Commission had acted in accordance with the new powers granted to it by member countries. Van Rompuy said he did not understand Magnette's outburst, as he knew him as "a real specialist of Europe". Some commentators took on Magnette's statement to conclude that the Walloon Socialist Party had turned eurosceptic.  Didier Viviers, the ULB rector, argued Europe was seen more and more by some as a "myth" or "a religion", which compelled others to desecrate it in different ways.

He also noted that as Europe was in a crisis, daring to criticise it amounted to treason, despite the Latin proverb Qui bene amat bene castigat (Who loves well castigates well). Magnette made it clear that he did not regret his statements and said he was surprised by the "virulence" of the criticism against him, saying his remarks were "not so original". He also underlined he had received hundreds of e-mails of support. The EU's budget discipline dogma had become "monomaniac," Magnette said, reiterating the view that the only possible result of such policies was recession. Magnette said the Commission’s role in approving the Belgian budget was close to micro-management. When it rejected the 2.8% deficit forecast of the Belgian government in favour of its own 3.01% projection, the Commission had put the country in the excessive deficit procedure [EDP], which was nothing less than “nitpicking,” he said. As the Commission has more powers vis-à-vis a country under EDP, the feeling was that the Commission "abuses" it’s right of control to leverage its power over member countries.


Belgium enters recession as car sales, weather soften blow

Belgium’s economy contracted less than initially estimated in the fourth quarter as consumers brought forward car purchases before incentives expired and milder-than-usual weather boosted construction. Gross domestic product in Belgium, the sixth-largest economy in the euro area, shrank 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three-month period, the National Bank of Belgium said today in a statement from Brussels. That compares with a Feb. 1 preliminary estimate of a 0.2 percent contraction. The economy expanded 1 percent from the year- earlier period and grew 1.9 percent in the year.

A recovery in consumer spending and construction in the final months of 2011 may have been temporary as Belgium entered a recession for the second time in three years. Registrations of new cars plunged 17 percent in the first two months of this year and the longest cold spell in 70 years in February probably affected construction output, which benefited from milder-than- usual weather in December.

“Interior demand will continue to be weak in the first half because of fiscal tightening,” Steven Vanneste, an economist at Fortis Bank NV who forecasts a 0.3 percent contraction this quarter, said by telephone from Brussels. “We expect to see some export-led growth in the second half again, which should trickle through into interior demand fairly soon.” Vanneste forecasts the Belgian economy will stagnate this year.


Assembly President lauds Belgium’s commitment to multilateralism

The President of the General Assembly today lauded Belgium’s commitment to multilateralism and the work of the United Nations, noting shared concerns, such as mediation and the situation in the Middle East. “Belgium is an important player at the UN,” Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said in his remarks to the Federal Belgium Parliament in Brussels, where he is on an official visit. Belgium is also an important host for regional and sub-regional arrangements, he noted, adding that he is holding a number of important meetings in Brussels, aimed at enhancing cooperation between these arrangements and the General Assembly.

The meetings are particularly focused on sustainable development and maintaining international peace and security. “Belgium’s deep commitment to multilateralism is essential as we work together towards building consensus and a united global partnership,” said the President. “Your engagement with the development activities of the UN helps support the principles and objectives enshrined in the UN Charter.”  Particularly “significant” is Belgium’s emphasis on and support for mediation efforts, which is his main theme for the current session of the Assembly. “Such efforts are particularly important at this critical juncture in world history.”

He also noted some of his main concerns, which are of mutual interest to Belgium and the UN, such as the escalating Arab-Israeli conflict and the “devastating” events in Syria. In addition, he highlighted the four main pillars that he has identified to help guide the work of the Assembly during its current session. They are the peaceful settlement of disputes, UN reform and revitalization, improving disaster prevention and response, and sustainable development and global prosperity.

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