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“The only check on a red-and-green tax tsunami is a vote for the N-VA.”
When the N-VA was created in 2001, it was without any suspicion that the party would one day become the largest in the country. Eighteen years later, the N-VA is presenting voters with clear candidates for government leadership positions for Flanders and Belgium. We had a talk with Bart De Wever and Jan Jambon.
Jan, everyone thought you were going to be the next Minister-President of Flanders. What happened?
Jan Jambon: “Good question (laughs).
No, seriously, in elections you always have to present yourself to the electorate with the best team and the best arrangement.”
How do you look back on the N-VA’s first participation in the federal government?
Jan Jambon: “I think we really made our mark. When I became a minister five years ago, we inherited the mess that Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo had left behind. A sluggish labour market, little new investment and taxes that were far too high. The least you can say is that we turned that situation around. With theand corporate tax reform, we breathed new life into our economy.”
Bart De Wever: “There are those who like to encourage the perception that the N-VA engages in social destruction, and that poverty has increased on our watch. But who has benefited the most from the tax shift implemented by Johan Van Overtveldt? It’s precisely people with the lowest incomes, who now receive the equivalent of a thirteenth month on an annual basis.”
Based on the Belgian Federal Planning Bureau’s calculations of various election programmes’ financial scope, it has also been said that the N-VA will further impoverish the poorest members of society.
Jan Jambon: “That’s completely false. The only ones who lose out in our programme are the long-term unemployed. In our model, they lose their unemployment benefits after three years. Everything else improves once again, including the lowest incomes.”
Bart De Wever: “In addition, we want to increase the minimum pension. It is unacceptable for someone who has worked and contributed his whole life to, after retirement, be left with less than someone who has not.”
What about the budget?
Bart De Wever: “The budget? Flanders has had a balanced budget for years.”
Jan Jambon: “If Brussels and Wallonia were to get as many people working as Flanders, the federal budget would also be a great deal healthier. Our social welfare state will only survive if everyone contributes his share. For this reason, you must always reward work and entrepreneurship and make it more attractive than not working. For us, people must first contribute before they can qualify for benefits under.”
The Michel government foundered on migration, and for some the N-VA is an anti-immigrant party.
Jan Jambon: “We are not against immigrants, but we are against uncontrolled migration where anyone can just walk in as they please. We want to be able to decide for ourselves who may be allowed in the country and under what conditions, without losing sight of the humane aspect.”
Bart De Wever: “If the N-VA is an anti-immigrant party, then you have to explain to me what people like Assita Kanko, Darya Safai and Zuhal Demir are doing on our lists. They are the perfect example of what we expect from newcomers: that they learn to speak our language, accept our values and find work.”
Let’s now take a look at Flanders. The next Minister-President will inherit a prosperous region.
Bart De Wever: “Flanders is progress. Under Geert Bourgeois, we have hit one record after another: the highest exports ever, the highest number of employed persons ever, the highest number of tourist overnight stays, the lowest number of traffic fatalities, and the largest investments in social housing. Ben Weyts cut the Gordian knot of the Oosterweel link and also made Flanders the most animal-friendly region in all of Europe.”
Jan Jambon: “The next Minister-President will in any case need to be very grateful towards his or her predecessor. When we talk about progress and the power of principles, I don’t think we can overlook all that Geert Bourgeois has contributed. Just look at the improbable trajectory our party has completed thanks to Geert: from a one-man group in the federal parliament to the largest party in the country and Minister-President of the Flemish government. Geert Bourgeois doesn’t get the credit he deserves for this.”
What are the challenges for Flanders over the next five years?
Bart De Wever: “There are more than enough. Flanders has thousands of open job vacancies that we must see filled. Within Belgium, Flemings, with an employment rate of 75%, may be the champions, but this percentage is still lower than in neighbouring countries. On top of this, there are quite a few challenges in the area of mobility and in the care sector. Also, we must continue to prepare Flanders for the transition to smart technologies.”
Flemish education used to be a showpiece, but it’s now become more of a source of concern. According to the N-VA, does this mean there is a lack of ambition?
Bart De Wever: “In all thecountries that participate in the PISA study held every three years, Flemish fifteen-year-olds have the lowest level of ambition. Yet this lack of ambition of course begins with those who draw up the syllabuses and, in doing so, set the bar lower each time.”
Jan Jambon: “If you receive instructions from your umbrella organisation that you have to work with smileys instead of with full stops, or that you no longer need to test knowledge or reading skills, then this can remain fairly invisible. But if a PISA study then comes along that really tests that knowledge and those reading skills, you of course have to come clean.”
So what has to change?
Bart De Wever: “We have to give control of the class back to the teacher. Also, we have to get away from this idea that a pupil’s well-being is incompatible with learning and hard work.”
Jan Jambon: “This also applies to higher education. It makes no sense for our universities to lower their standards because the first-year students entering a programme are not ready.”
During the election campaign, the N-VA is focussing on progress. What does this mean?
Bart De Wever: “Flanders must progress. We must not give in to those who believe that we will only make it if the people of Flanders gradually dismantle the prosperity that they themselves have created. When I see everything Groen, the ecologists’ party, has in its program, my heart misses a beat.”
Jan Jambon: “If you believe the latest poll, on the French-speaking side we will get a green-red front that dreams aloud of free public transport and a four-day working week. If these parties come to power, they will completely reverse the recovery we initiated under the Michel government. And guess who will foot the bill? We won’t play any part in that.”
What is the chance of such a front actually existing?
Bart De Wever: “When you see that the left-wing parties in French-speaking Belgium are expected to account for about 60 percent of the vote, I don’t think that’s so hypothetical. However, Kristof Calvo, Groen’s group leader in parliament, shouldn’t quite yet be thinking of taking possession of the Prime Minister’s office. This would constitute an attack on the wallet of the Flemish middle class. We cannot let that happen. The only check on a red-and-green tax tsunami is the N-VA.
Bart De Wever, candidate for Minister-President
and Jan Jambon, candidate for Prime Minister