11 Oct 2017

Fact-checking the Belgian Prime Minister 

'Jobs, jobs, jobs' is the current credo of Belgium's government. After three years, we see an increasing amount of them, but the numbers don't show the budgetary deficit, several adverse social effects and other broken promises.

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
Fact-checking the Belgian Prime Minister  - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

As the Belgian federal government held its annual back-to-work ritual this week, liberal Prime Minister Charles Michel promised "jobs, jobs, jobs". He's been tirelessly reiterating the same government credo ever since he was appointed to his own job exactly 3 years ago. And De Standaard has gone over the past 3 years with a fine-tooth comb to see if he's kept his promise of "jobs, jobs, jobs", or if his ill-researched opinions and snappy catchphrases on social media are actually true.

What do the numbers say? After 3 years, Michel can boast about more jobs, mostly in the private sector. His government has also increased the most basic social security benefits but had to abandon its budget plans.

However, these numbers are only part of the picture. The sustainability of Michel's new jobs is questionable, while people just above the poorest class are finding it harder to maintain their standard of life. Low-skilled and/or the long-term unemployed, as well as non-European migrants, aren’t always benefitting from Michel’s measures. And just a few days ago, an official announced that promises to lift people out of the category of 'people at risk of poverty or social exclusion' can't be kept.

Federal opposition parties accuse Michel’s liberal government of ruthless cost-cutting, and unions are holding strikes this week in protest of what they perceive to be 'cruel policies of saving’. This time, the numbers don't confirm that perception. There's dearth of social policy in Belgium. But they don't tell the whole story. That's why various commentators say the government isn't doing enough, or is too wishy-washy, or has no vision whatsoever.

While few political leaders can claim to be inspiring, according to most observers former Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, who governed the country between 1991 and 1999, was one such charismatic leader. Charles Michel likes to compare himself with Dehaene. But with a budgetary deficit, several adverse social effects, and other broken promises, Michel might be way out of Dehaene’s league.

Details from the story:

  • The left-wing opposition likes to portray the Belgian government as ruthlessly cost-cutting. This week has another in a series of union strikes and many were angered to see their pensions decreased
  • According to data, the government creates 13,000 new jobs every 4 months, mostly in the private sector, more than any Belgian government before
  • The government is mainly criticised for a budgetary gap and a complete lack of 'vision'
  • Prime Minister Charles Michel compares himself sometimes to his legendary predecessor Jean-Luc Dehaene, but this may be a stretch
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