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Balanced budget no reason to cheer

Despite the tough economic climate the Flemish government managed to record a surplus of 241 million euros on its budget last year. “That’s no reason to bask in confidence,” budget minister Philippe Muyters N-VA says, damping enthusiasm: “The accounts tally and the budget is balanced. But 2013 promises to be a difficult one.” To keep one step ahead of any eventualities the Flemish team has scheduled its budgetary control for sometime in February or March. The exact date will be aligned with the agenda of the Federal Planning Office, which regularly publishes economic prospects for the country. The different governments use these figures to determine their respective budgetary efforts. But Muyters does not really need these figures to know that additional cuts are unavoidable; even though he fails to mention any exact figures. According to calculations made by his socio-economic partners, it could be in the region of half a billion. Muyters could meanwhile venture a third balanced budget thanks to ‘a series of one-off windfalls’. Like the 339 million the administration is expected to save on its expenditure. Or the allocated provisions and buffers that will remain untouched. Or the better than expected income figures from the increase in succession duties after a number of large inheritances changed hands.  Even if one considers the disappointments, like the shrinking federal government dotations and the income of the own regional taxes, the bottom line still shows a surplus of 241 million euros, which will be used to settle Flemish debt. The Christian union has raised serious doubts about the positive results and high price at which it comes, believing it is “in glaring contrast with the drastic savings plans in respect of staff and resources that were agreed upon for education, the respective administrations, the public transport company De Lijn and public broadcaster VRT last autumn”. Their colleagues at the socialist ABVV union share their concerns and are asking whether “it is sensible to record a surplus at a time when we are locked in a socio-economic crisis”.