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27th Jan 2023

Flemish nationalists torpedo Belgium Green Deal pledge

  • 'If the European Commission does not adjust its proposals, the Green Deal for Flanders will become a Mean Deal,' the Flemish minister for climate, Zuhal Demir, warned in February (Photo: Voka Kamer van Koophandel Limburg Seguir)

Belgium has been unable to sign a letter, intended to reaffirm Europe's commitment to the Green Deal, after the biggest party in the Flemish government blocked the action.

Given that Belgium is a federation of three entities, all parts must agree. Brussels and Wallonia agreed to sign the letter, but Flanders refused.

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"Flanders cannot give its agreement to the signature," said on Wednesday (8 April) Zuhal Demir, the regional climate minister from the nationalist N-VA party - which has the biggest representation in the Flemish parliament.

The letter, organised by Denmark, was also signed by Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Latvia and Austria.

"The Green Deal provides us with a roadmap to make the right choices and respond to the economic crisis while making sure that we transform Europe into a sustainable and climate-neutral economy," reads the letter, seen by EUobserver.

"We should withstand the temptations of short-term solutions in response to the present crisis that risk locking the EU in a fossil fuel economy for decades to come," it adds.

The text proposes to send a message to the world and EU's citizens that "Europe will lead by example even in difficult times like the present" - upholding its commitment to 2050 climate-neutrality target and the Paris Agreement.

A similar statement by EU leaders was agreed upon during the last European summit on 26 March.

'Incomprehensible' for Belgium

The Greens Flemish leader, MP Kristof Calvo, believes that Belgium should be able to fully support the Green Deal.

"It would be incomprehensible that Belgium does not sign the letter. We need to accelerate and strengthen the Green Deal instead of weakening our ambitions," said Calvo, who complained that the Flemish government often makes Belgian positions impossible.

"Our country was once a pioneer of Europe but is increasingly an inhibitory factor. Or a country without an opinion, as in the discussion around the Eurobonds ['coronabonds']," he added.

The Flemish Green party, in a statement, called on the Flemish parliament to take the lead in the Green Deal and not risk missing an economic opportunity

Additionally, the Walloon and Brussels environmental ministers believed "the management of the health crisis is the urgency of the moment but this crisis confirms the need to initiate a turning point".

'The Mean Deal'

The critical position of the Flemish nationalist party about the ecological transition proposed by the European Commission is not entirely new.

"If the European Commission does not adjust its proposals, the Green Deal for Flanders will become a Mean Deal," Demir explained on the N-VA website last February.

Earlier this year, the commission proposed to establish a €7.5bn Just Transition Fund (JTF) to support fossil fuel-dependent regions to green their economies.

However, according to the distribution proposed by the commission, Belgium would only receive 0.9 percent of the fund - which would mainly be directed to the Walloon province of Hainaut.

"Flanders loses twice. Flanders needs a better deal," Demir said back then.

"Flanders will not agree with the distribution of resources as currently proposed. To allocate so few resources to Belgium and to designate one Walloon province as a priority: that does not seem fair to us," Demir concluded.

Belgium already agreed on the Green Deal's 2050 climate-neutrality target, while other initiatives such as the recently proposed climate law, increasing the 2030 benchmark or the Just Transition Fund are still being discussed within the country - and the EU.

Speaking about the possibility of rising the 2030 emissions reduction target, Demir warned the commission about rising the target unilaterally.

"If Frans Timmermans [EU's commissioner for the Green Deal] wants to change the Flemish climate goals of 2030, he must stand for election in Flanders. Now he is not the one who has to explain it to the population," she said earlier this month.

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