Disputes between Flemish and federal governments pile up
A new dispute is brewing between the Flemish and federal governments concerning the auction for a mobile internet licence. According to Wilfred Vandaele, MP for the Flemish Nationalist N-VA party, it could create “a huge problem” if the federal government fails to share the income of the 800 MHz licence with the regional communities. The 800 MHz band was used up till now to broadcast analog TV and hence comes under Flemish government power. The release of the bandwidth could now be auctioned for digital broadband, which is a federal power. The federal government initially seemed prepared to pay the regions up to 74 million euros to release the band spectrum, but is said to change its point of view. Vandaele, who fears the licence will be used to force the regions to pay an additional contribution to the federal budget, has warned that the Flemish government could veto such a proposal. “If Flanders fails to agree, the federal government will not be in a position to auction, and that will give the Flemish government the authority to contest every decision on licensing at the Constitutional Court and the Council of State,” says Vandaele, who calls for a cooperative agreement in respect of the distribution of returns. The most important dispute between the federal and regional levels is the fate of the usurping powers, regional powers paid for by the federal level. The transfer of these powers to the regions will earn the federal government 300 million this year. But so far no agreement has been reached with the regions and the Flemish government is opposed to the transfer. It believes the federal government should be liable for any agreements they entered into until they have phased out. On top of that there is the issue of pensions for regional officials, which is currently mostly financed by the federal government. Plans to get the regions to contribute much more have been tabled and the Flemish government has already put aside funds in anticipation, but so far not agreement has been reached. Meanwhile Flemish minister-president Kris Peeteres and federal minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister Didier Reynders MR are still at each other following Peeters’ decision to approach the Council of State in opposition to Reynders’ plans to create a corps of economic diplomats on federal level. Peeters believes this is a purely regional power. Yesterday Reynders responded to his accusations in parliament by insisting that these officials will provide counsel on federal powers on a purely voluntary basis. He further reminded that the initiatives were in fact started by his predecessors Yves Leterme and Steven Vanackere both CD&V. The federal government is struggling to stick to Europe’s austerity measures, but any effort to devolve more responsibility to the regions have so far been unsuccessful.