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Belgian report
by Euro Reporter
2013-12-08 12:05:23
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Anger as Belgium's King Philippe ‘frees’ 11 people convicted of traffic offences

The new King of Belgium has provoked the ire of road safety campaigners – and Flemish separatists – by signing off on 11 pardons for people convicted of traffic offences. Nearly five months into the job and King Philippe had so far largely escaped censure by the Flemish nationalist party, the N-VA, which advocates the transition to an independent republic for the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium.

But when it emerged this week Philippe had invoked the royal pardon nearly a dozen times for driving offences since his July coronation, the reaction was swift and outraged. Theo Francken, an N-VA mayor of a village near Leuven, called it “a custom dating from the middle ages or Roman Empire when the emperor could decide a person’s fate by raising or lowering his thumb,” the Flanders Today website reported. Road safety campaigners were also disappointed, saying such a move undermined their work. “It gives the wrong signal,” Karin Genoe, of the Belgian Institute for Road Safety, told Belgian broadcaster VRT. “We make a lot of effort to raise awareness and enforce appropriate punishments in traffic accidents.”

The exact details of the traffic violations were not revealed, although Belgian media reported they did not involve incidents where victims were injured or killed. But in a nation marked by mistrust and tension between the French-speaking south and Dutch-speaking north, the actions of the monarchy – one of the few institutions which bridge the language divide – are scrutinised by separatist parties. A Palace spokeswoman told The Independent the pardons were put forward by the Justice Department, and the King was simply fulfilling his constitutional obligations by signing them. The King also faced other concerns after it emerged Belgian newspaper, Le Dernière Heure, received a letter from a neo-Nazi sympathiser threatening to kidnap Princess Elisabeth, 12, who is next in line to the throne. The anonymous author had railed against immigration, VRT reported. Police were taking the threat seriously.


Belgium will revise environmental taxation in upcoming reform

All too aware that Belgium is trailing a long way behind its European Union (EU) partners in terms of environmental taxation; Belgian Finance Minister Koen Geens has reiterated the Government's intention to address the issue, within the framework of the upcoming reform of taxation. Conceding that Eurostat's 2011 environmental tax figures have once again placed Belgium at the bottom of the EU-27 table, Finance Minister Geens made clear that the Government is currently drawing up plans to overhaul taxation, to shift the tax burden away from labour and on to other sources of income, notably wealth, consumption, and the environment.

According to the latest statistics, environmental tax revenues accounted for just 4.7 percent of income from total taxes and social contributions (TSC) in Belgium in 2011. In fact, environmental tax levels have remained stagnant in Belgium since 2007. Belgium currently applies very low rates of taxation on energy. Only France fared worse in Eurostat's analysis, placed at the bottom of the table as environmental tax revenues represented a mere 4.1 percent of TSC in 2011. In contrast, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Malta ranked top of the EU-27 leader board, with environmental tax revenues amounting to 10.6 percent, 10.1 percent, and 9.6 percent respectively. The vast majority of European countries showed levels of environmental tax revenue in a band ranging from 6 percent to 10 percent of TSC in 2011.

In its recently published study, Eurostat revealed that environmental taxes accounted for 6.17 percent of all revenues from taxes and social contributions in the EU-27 in 2011, amounting to a total of EUR303bn (USD412bn). Furthermore, Eurostat announced that in 2011 almost 75 percent of all environmental taxes in the EU were made up of energy taxes, while 21 percent comprised transport taxes, and only 4 percent of the EU-27 environmental tax total flowed from pollution and resource taxes, such as taxes on the extraction of raw materials, on measured or estimated emissions to air, and on water, noise, and waste management. Compared with 1995, environmental tax revenue has increased by more than EUR100bn, or 59 percent. However, as a percentage of GDP and TSC, environmental tax revenue has actually declined.


Armed protection for Belgium's Crown Princess Elisabeth after neo-Nazi threat

Armed police are protecting the 12-year-old heir to the Belgian throne after an anonymous neo-Nazi threat. A letter sent to La Derniere Heure newspaper threatened that its sender would abduct Crown Princess Elisabeth, in anger at high levels of immigration. According to the Daily Telegraph, the letter was written in German, and read: "I'm going to abduct Princess Elisabeth. This is no joke."

Three armed police teams were dispatched to patrol the Princess's school. DNA tests yielded no clues to the sender's identity. The newspaper didn't publish the full threat, which it described as a "sickening, racist and neo-Nazi" rant. The newspaper said: "He expresses his disgust in terms that we prefer not to reproduce. Maghrebis, Turks and Muslims are covered by the letter."

Alain Lefevre, the director of Belgium's anti-terrorist unit, said: "The investigation has taken different directions but I obviously cannot reveal those. We will naturally take precautions as required. The case is now in the hands of a criminal prosecutor and forensic investigators are hard at work."


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