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Aflevering 1, 2000 Alle samenvattingen uitklappen

Access_open Van devaluatie tot euro

Het economische en meer bepaald het monetaire beleid van België 1980-2000

Auteurs Alfons Verplaetse

    This article on the evolution of economic and monetary policy in Belgium, which turned the "sick man of Europe" into one of the stronger European economies and allowed it to enter into EMU, stresses the role of the monetary authorities as a stabilising force in Belgium. It gives a detailed analysis of how these changes have allowed Belgium to regain the confidence of both monetary authorities and international investors after the devaluation of 1982. The policy responses to the oil shock at the beginning of the seventies broke with the policy mix which had until then been practised. Both the wage formation process andf iscal policy clearly spiralled out of control, the chiefresult of which was a drastic loss in international competitiveness. As a consequence, the current account showed a large deficit, the traditional level at which public deficit had stood rose dramatically, unemployment exploded and the financial structure of most corporations became fragile. A drastic realignment of economic policy started with the devaluation of the Belgian franc in 1982. This devaluation was accompanied by a series of measures aimed at preventing the inflationary pressures from triggering further devaluations, and hence at restoring credibility. These measures included restrictive fiscal policies (tax increases and cuts inpublic spending) and real wage cuts. By 1987 this recovery policy had successfully restored Belgian competitiveness, reduced the government deficit and restored the balance ofpayments equilibrium. Although public policies became less restrictive during the period 1988-1993, the central bank continued to gain international credibility. Significant stepsin this process were the abolition of the dual exchange rate system, the decision to peg the Belgian franc to the most stable currency in the ERM (i.e. the German mark) and the reform of the money markets in Belgium. The latter in particular helped to increase the central bank's independence, since this reform implied total control by the central bank over short term interest rates, it reduced significantly the automatic credit lines of the fiscal authorities with the central bank and it stipulated that revaluations of gold reserves should no langer be used to finance government budget deficits. By 1992 international credibility had been restored to such a degree that the Belgian franc became a strong currency during the 1992 crisis, obliging the central bank to come to the rescue of the weaker currencies under attack in September 1992 with a speculative inflow of capital of about 200 billion BEF. However this restored credibility continued to be fragile, as became evident during the 1993 exchange rate crisis when the Belgian franc was vigorously attacked by international speculation. The insufficient alignment of public and monetary policies proved to be at the heart of the financial problems of the 1993 crises. The Belgian government relaunched its policies of budgetary restriction and wage moderation, brought together in what was called the 'Global Plan'. This realignment of public policies to monetary policy swiftly restored the credibility of the Belgian franc, so that as early as January 1994 the Belgian franc converged to its central parity with an interest differential vis-à-vis the German mark of only about 2 %. This differential declined progressively. Indeed the global plan restored the confidence of the investors in Belgian economic policy. Financial markets now fully believed in the entry of Belgium into EMU and from then on no major difficulties were to arise.

Alfons Verplaetse

Access_open De (on)macht van de Eerste Minister

Een a-wetenschappelijke ervaringsbenadering

Auteurs Jean-Luc Dehaene

    The position of the Belgian prime minister (PM) is hardly mentioned in the Belgian Constitution. It was only after almost 140 years, in 1970 he was mentioned for the first time. Its power is rather a matter of common law. Since 1831 through the years, the position and power of the PM changed strongly. This often happened together with changes concerning the power of the King: the weaker the King, the stronger the PM. The existence of coalition governments puts forward bis role as coordinator and even as arbitrator, whereas the federalisation process since the seventies places him as a conciliator between Regions and Communities. The growing importance of the European Council of Head of States have made him the most important decision-maker among the national politicians in the European integration process. The PM's skills concerning timing and agendasetting are very important because it is one of his most important power instruments. Other key skills are bis profound knowledge in certain issues but mostly as a generalist, his insisting on good minister nominations by the party leaders, the way he can motivate his cabinet members, a good team spirit among the government members and the existence of a clear government contract. In order to avoid a strongdependency on or tutelage from the political parties of the majority it is important to have their top politicians in the government.

Jean-Luc Dehaene

Access_open Vice-Premiers en kernkabinetten

Een evaluatie van deze innovaties

Auteurs Willy Claes

    The function of Deputy Prime Minister is not specified in the Belgian Constitution, nevertheless it is imposed by force ofcustom. Since 1961, there have been in each government one or more Deputy Prime Ministers whether or not carrying the formal title. The Deputy Prime Minister was originally the number two in the government, behind the Prime Minister. Usually, he belongs to another party. Thanks to the competences attributed to him in the government, his position in his party and his natural authority and leadership, he tries, together with the prime minister, to manage the government in the right direction and to maintain the cohesion in the coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister is at the same time also in charge of a given ministry. The function of Deputy Prime Minister has become more important due to the increased influence of political parties within and upon the government. The Deputy Prime Minister acts now explicitly as spokesperson of his party within the government and defends the decisions of the government within his party. After the split of the national parties in a Flemish and a Walloon party and as consequence, the increase of parties in government, the number of Deputy Prime Ministers also increased. It became usual that each party in government had his own Deputy Prime Minister, even the party of the Prime Minister since the latter is considered to be politically neutral. Under the name of 'Cabinet for general affairs ', the 'kernkabinet' raised in1961 to handle all major problems and initiatives of the government. The 'kernkabinet' interpreted this rather vague description of its competences in a broad way. Its members were the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and some other senior ministers. Usually, an equilibrium on the basis of party- and language-affiliations was installed. In the second half of the 1970s, the role and the impact of the 'kernkabinet' increased gradually. The 'kernkabinet' had become a real decision-making institution, gathering several times a week. As a consequence, the role of the Council of Ministers on certain issues was degraded to merely ratify decisions taken by the 'kernkabinet'. Much critique was voiced on this evolution, especially upon the lack of transparency and efficiency. Although heavily criticized, the 'kernkabinet' has proved to be a very helpful instrument to take decisions on complex and delicate problems. In 1981, the 'kernkabinet' was formally abolished and in 1992, the Dehaene-government abolished all ministerial committees. Despite these abolitions, there was and still is nowadays the tendency to gather with the senior ministers to solve complex problems. De facto the kernkabinet holds strong.

Willy Claes

Access_open Hoe machtig is een minister?

De politicus in de netwerkmaatschappij

Auteurs Mark Eyskens

    Defining a minister's power is not an easy exercise. It bas to be put in a broader framework: a pluralistic democracy, that has respect for human rights and basic freedoms and a market economy that is developping towards a national border crossing competition and cooperation. But there are also some basic rules coming from national but also regional and supranational institutions. There nowadays exists a so called 'Gulliver-effect': the state represented by the governement is like a giant that is threatened by a lot of surrenders whoforce him towards a powerless existence. Although citizens often have the impression politics is capable of doing anything it wants to, policy makers more often have to cope with restrictions that obstruct them in their policy aims. At the beginning of the twenty-first century ministers are heavily counterbalanced by other institions. Trade unions, big lobby groups, administration, the cabinets, the party executive and party president, parliament and the media: they all threaten a minster's power. Also the rising power of regional and supranational decision levels makes the power of a politician decline. In the future, rising information and communication skills will not only change the character of politics but also that of modern society. The internet, the globalisation ofeconomy and other changes will transform politics in a fundamental way. Leadership, power and authority will change strongly and the relationship between the citizens and their authority will never be the same again.

Mark Eyskens

Access_open Het Parlement op het einde van de twintigste eeuw

Mogelijkheden en begrenzingen

Auteurs Frank Swaelen

    The Belgian constitutional system is based upon the classic principle of the trias politica, which means that there is a separation of powers, but also a balanced cooperation between them. This article focuses on the Belgian federal Parliament, which bas been, together with the reform of the state from a unitary to a federal state, radically reformed. The Belgian Parliament nowadays is much better equipped to fulfil the function of checks and balances than thirty years ago. The number of staff and the material equipment has increased considerably. At the same time, the emphasis in parliamentary activity bas shifted from the plenary session to the committees. The control upon the budget was long time a nearly empty box. Since the reform of 1989, it has become a much stronger instrument to hold the government to account. The annual debate on the budget is rather a genera/political evaluation of the government policy and is always ended by a vote of confidence. As for the law-making function, the share of the government in adopted laws is much higher than that of Parliament. Parliament bas still the power to amend government bills, but this power is limited because there is often already an agreement between the government and the parliamentary party of the coalition-parties. Nevertheless, several important amendments have been adopted in the last legislature. The control function bas evolved in different directions. Due to an enormous increase in the number of interpellations, they have lost a great part of their importance. They constitute no langer a real threaten to the survival of the government. On the other hand, there are more oral and written questions than before and the use of parliamentary inquiry committees has augmented considerably. Despite their inherent shortages, these committees play, an important role in preparing and correcting policy. The new challenges for Parliament in the future are serving as forum of the nation and the evaluation of laws. The core business of the trias politica, namely budgetary, law-making and controlling duties, also remain to befulfilled by Parliament.

Frank Swaelen

Access_open Les changements en Belgique de 1980 à 2000

La vue d'un président de parti

Auteurs Philippe Busquin

    Several reforms were brought into force in Belgium in the last twenty years. First of all, Belgium has become a federal state with its typical characteristics of assymetry and complexity: it consists of three regions and three communities which do not coincide completely. The federalisation process has led to linguistic agreements between the Flemish and the French community taking largely into account the specific situation of Brussels. Also budgettary agreements concerning the financing of the communities and the regions are a product ofthe federalisation process. In these decades Belgian government has also significantly taken care of its public finances: The deficit has decreased and Belgium now finds itself in the European average but it has given Belgium governments a hard time. Today Belgium has reached the objectives necessary to participate at the european monetary union. Fundamental changes in society have put ethical questions on the political agenda. This has led to arrangements in one way or another on subjects like abortion and made discussions on euthanasie and the use of soft drugs at least possible. Last but not least new rules were adopted concerning democracy and the functioning of political parties. Especially the way political parties will befinanced has been take care of but also measures increasing equality between men and women and procedures for more direct democracy. The reform of the judiciary has been tackled. These changes put forward that the role of the party leaders altered considerably. At the interface of political convictions and the management ot the state, the position is loaded multifunctionally due to the several levels of policymaking and the various ways of political expression. "One bas to strive for the ideal without overlooking the real".

Philippe Busquin

    The Volksunie, partly from the opposition and partly from its participation in cabinet/coalitions made an important contribution to the processes of state reforms that remodeled Belgium in the 80's and 90's into a federal state. The party strongly introduced the federalist ideas in the political arena. In the seventies it played a pro-active role in the negociations with the French interlocuteurs. Although these negociations did not succeed, the solutions advocated in that period went on as possible outcomes for later negociations and played a catalyst role. When taking part in the cabinets either the national and for the Flemish cabinets in the 80's and the 90's, its minister(s) advocated and carried on a maximalizing federalist policy. Inside and outside the party, it was not easy to perform this policy. Even the electorate did not reward the party that much for its achievements, which can be summarized as an undeniable contribution to the federal state reform of Belgium.

Hugo Schiltz

    The unique character of the socio-economic negociations in Belgium has lost much of its glamour and prestige during the last quarter of the 20th century. While before 1975, there was more or less agreement among the social partners to redistribute welfare to the whole society, after the first oil crisis employers tended to see themselves in competition with other employers, with the trade unions and with the state. Both employers' organisations as trade unions wanted to safeguard their own priorities, respectively the competitiveness of the enterprises and the system of indexation. As a consequence, it became very difficult to reach agreements and hence, there have been no or only very small interprofessional agreements signed since 1975. The role of the government in this period evolved from the role of host for the negociations to that of co-actor and finally to director. When no agreement was possible between the social partners, the govenrment itself took the initiative and both trade unions and employers' organisations tried to lobby the government rather than being partners in negociations. The measures of the government, especially those taken with extra-ordinary powers, were often beneficial for the employers. Despite the emphasis by the trade unions on employment, their efforts beared not much fruit. The first priority of both the government and the employers was the enhancement of the financial and the economic situation of the country. Since the interprofessional agreement of 1999-2000, a new period bas begun. Trade unions and employers' organisations are constrained by what happens in the rest of Europe. Between these constaints, they can negociate and conclude agreements on the basis of freedom and responsibility. The level of negociations shifted in this period from the interprofessional level to the level of the sector or even to the level of the enterprise. Another trend is the creation of an institutional framework for social talks on the Flemish level. The challenges for the future are the installation of a European or even an international world-wide institutional framework for social negociations and the development of themes as permanent education, quality of life and work and the enhancement of the socio-economic democracy.

Willy Peirens


Auteurs Peter Biondi, Wilfried Dewachter, Stefaan Fiers e.a.

Peter Biondi

Wilfried Dewachter

Stefaan Fiers

Bram Wauters