Belgium's Budget State Secretary resigns over budget blunder
Belgian State Secretary for Budget and Consumer Protection Eva De Bleeker (Open VLD, Flemish liberals) resigned on Friday. On Thursday, the State Secretary was severely criticised over a budget adjustment and several budget calculation errors. De Bleeker will be succeeded by Alexia Bertrand.
On Thursday, De Bleeker faced heavy criticism for having to withdraw a budget update. Belgium's federal government agreed on the 2023 and 2024 budgets in October 2022. However, opposition party N-VA (Flemish nationalists) pointed out that documents tabled by the government in the Chamber of Representatives showed that the 2023 deficit had already deepened from 2.9 to 3.4 per cent, amounting to a difference of €1.7 billion in absolute terms.
"I unfortunately have to conclude that it has become impossible for me to continue functioning at this point"
Confirming the poorer figures, State Secretary De Bleeker's cabinet pointed to the extended VAT reduction on energy. The cost of the VAT reduction is said to be offset by a reform of excise duties, making the operation budget-neutral. Still, the state secretary took into account an additional budgetary cost without accounting for the reform's possible revenues because the exact timing of the reform is still unknown.
De Bleeker indicated that she had made a "material error", which "was noticed and is being adjusted". The error led to a tense Chamber session on Thursday, where prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) also faced heavy criticism. Later that same day, opposing MP Sander Loones (N-VA) revealed that a new budget document also contained several calculation errors. The combination of both incidents proved to be the kiss of death for De Bleeker.
"I would of course have liked to have finished that work, and I would also have liked to have continued working on the challenges facing our country today," De Bleeker explained in a brief press statement. "But I unfortunately have to conclude that it has become impossible for me to continue functioning at this point. I realise that this would jeopardise my work itself and I do not want that."
Bleeker acknowledged that "these have been turbulent days, to say the least". Budget issues always bring about vigorous debates, the liberal politician said, but "it will not have escaped anyone's attention that the discussion was just a bit louder now than other times".
De Bleeker's successor is Alexia Bertrand, a notable name in the country's political landscape. Bertrand has been group leader in the Brussels parliament for the French-speaking liberal party MR, but is now switching to the Flemish liberal party Open Vld. She is the daughter of Belgian businessman Luc Bertrand, CEO of the holding company Ackermans & van Haaren (AvH). Alexia Bertrand also serves as a non-executive director at AvH.
Eva De Bleeker during a press conference to announce her resignation as State Secretary for Budget © BELGA PHOTO HATIM KAGHAT