Tens of millions will flow into the digitization of the police, the fight against cybercrime and detention centers in the coming years. But the big winner in the De Croo government’s investment plan is the railway, which will receive a quarter of the billion that is released.

The word investing appeared in one form or another 17 times in the policy statement of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) on Tuesday. During the budget conclave last weekend, his government decided to invest an extra billion euros over the next three years in, among other things, the railways, digitization and the climate. The package comes on top of the 1.25 billion euros in federal investments that are made through the European recovery plan.

Initially, the majority parties put wish lists for more than 3 billion euros in investments on the table, but the liberals and CD&V did not like that. Investments are one-off measures and do not have to be included in the budgetary framework, but they do increase the already high Belgian debt.

The essence

  • During the budget consultation, the De Croo government committed new investments worth one billion euros.
  • Most of the money goes to railways, digitization and cybersecurity.
  • As a result of that package and the European investment plan, Belgian investment must exceed 3 percent of GDP for the first time in a long time.
  • State Secretary for Relance Thomas Dermine (PS) speaks of a historic turning point.

The budget agreement includes 29 investments, according to the list that De Tijd was able to view. The biggest recipient is rail, which will be allocated EUR 250 million. 181 million euros will go to the expansion of freight transport, which should lead to companies using trucks less often to transport goods. “This government is clearly opting for more trains and fewer trucks,” said Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo).

Railway Brussels – Luxembourg

42 million euros will go to improvements on the line between Brussels and Luxembourg. A train ride between the two cities now takes 3 hours and 18 minutes, which is long for a trip of 217 kilometers. With the car, if traffic jams do not throw a spanner in the works, it can easily go an hour faster. 27 million euros will go to making the stations more accessible. Apart from the investment plan, the government also earmarks another 2 million a year to support night trains. The price to drive on the railway at night is reduced for passenger transport.

A second major investment yard is the digitization of government. 190 million euros is being earmarked for this. 79 million euros will go to iPolice, the digitization project of the police services. 58 million euros will be invested in preparing telecom for the future. Money also goes to digital customs (40 million), the digitization of pensions (8 million) and social security for self-employed entrepreneurs (5 million).

Another priority is cybersecurity, for which EUR 155 million will be made available. The amount will be divided between Defense (73 million euros), e-Health (64 million euros) and Foreign Affairs (18 million euros). Foreign Affairs, among others, has already been hacked in the past. In the coming years, the Ministry of Defense wants to develop a cyber security component itself, which must stand alongside the land, sea and air forces. In the long run, 300 people will have to work there, compared to 100 people today.

Detention centers

Security, but not online, is also the construction of a series detention centers. If it depends on Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD), prison sentences under three years will also be carried out from 1 December. Now such convicts are given an ankle bracelet. Instead, they are not taken to prison, but have to serve their sentences in a detention center, where the regime is less strict, but where there is a lot of guidance. Existing infrastructure such as old residential care centers or barracks is being converted. 92 million euros is being earmarked for this.

Expansion of tax shelter for starters and growers

Linked to the billion euros in investments, the De Croo government is also launching a series of reforms that should encourage private investors to pump more money into the economy. The tax shelter system for starters and growers will be boosted. Anyone who invests in start-up or growing companies can deduct those investments from tax. The ceilings on the amounts that companies can raise in this way are doubled.

Other reforms are on the agenda to improve the functioning of our economy. These include a more modern framework for intellectual professions, strengthening the circular economy and an action plan to encourage SMEs to take up public procurement.

To the renovation of government assets 150 million euros, with the focus on making buildings energy-efficient. In the run-up to the budget discussions, State Secretary for the Buildings Agency Mathieu Michel (MR) had submitted a plan for this. He believes that 5 billion euros of investment will be needed over the next ten years to set up the entire portfolio. So with the 150 million, only a small part of the road can be covered.

Finally, another 50 million euros will go to investments in science policy, 34 million for specific climate measures and 79 million for smaller and difficult to catalog investments, such as a quality monitoring system in health care and the establishment of a virus bank.

Spread investments

The billion euros in investments will be spread over three years. Next year it will be 200 million euros, 350 million in 2023 and 450 million in 2024. It should help boost the level of public investment in our country. According to the most recent figures from the rich countries think tank OECD, all Belgian governments together invest 2.63 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The average European country invests just over 3 percent.

Public investment has fallen sharply over the years, because it was an easy item for cost-saving governments to cut. State Secretary for Relance Thomas Dermine (PS) spoke of a historic turning point on Tuesday. According to his forecasts, the Belgian governments will invest 3.5 percent of GDP in 2024. He does not want to comment on the concrete measures until Friday, when he officially presents the investment plan.

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