Belgian MEP criticises ‘xenophobic sauce’ in discourse over coronavirus crisis

Kathleen Van Brempt speaks at a European Parliament plenary session. [European Parliament]

As the debate over distribution of EU funds continues in Belgium, nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and Vlaams Belang parties are consciously spreading disinformation about the coronavirus crisis and spicing it up with ‘xenophobic sauce’, Belgian MEP Parliament Kathleen Van Brempt (SP.A/S&D) criticised in a statement.

The Socialist MEP also condemned the two Flemish parties of “abusing the pandemic to incite the population against the EU”.

Van Brempt criticised, in particular, N-VA lawmaker Tomas Roggeman, who suggested that the EU would use €450 million of “European corona money” for aid to Morocco, while his native region of Flanders would ‘only’ receive €6 million.

“Morocco receives 1,000 times more European aid per infection,” Roggeman argued.

The EU did indeed pledge €450 million in aid to help Morocco counter the coronavirus, a joint EU-Moroccan statement seen by Reuters said on Friday (27 March).

The bloc will offer €150 million immediately to a special fund created by Morocco to respond to the crisis, while the rest will be allocated to help the country meet financial challenges related to the pandemic, it said.

Van Brempt pointed out that the €450 million that Europe is allocating to Morocco is not the so-called ‘corona money’, but an amount that the country will receive under the European Neighbourhood Policy, which is also financed from a separate budget.

In her response, Van Brempt said that it concerns “the reallocation of existing cohesion fund resources that can now also be used for COVID-19, but this represents only a tiny fraction of the aid granted by the EU”.

“The neighbouring countries do not get that money just like that. They have to submit project applications for it, which must also be approved. What the EU has decided is that the funds already committed from the European Neighborhood Instrument may also be used in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

“What N-VA, but also Vlaams Belang, are doing now is deliberately and maliciously spreading disinformation and pouring a ‘xenophobic sauce’ over it, with the intention of abusing a pandemic to incite the population against the European Union,” Van Brempt emphasised.

‘Coronationalism’

Meanwhile, her fellow Belgian MEP Cindy Franssen, whose party forms a coalition with the N-VA in the Flemish government, denounced the attitude of a “certain party” in a column published in the newspaper De Morgen, noting that the regional distribution key for those funds had been agreed already back in 2014.

“As a less developed region, Wallonia receives more than Flanders. Flanders, on the other hand, receives much more funds intended to stimulate innovation and investments, like Horizon 2020,” she added, denouncing what she called  “coronationalism”.

In mid-March, as the Flemish and Walloon governments enacted further measures to tackle the then-emerging crisis, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA) complained that although Flanders is being harder hit than Wallonia by the coronavirus, most of the European support for Belgium flows to the south of the country.

According to the special fund the EU the had set up to combat the coronavirus fallout, an amount of 37 million is dedicated for Belgium. Of this amount, two thirds will go to Wallonia with €16 million, Flanders will receive €6.5 million, the Brussels Region €4.3 million and €9.6 million are dedicated to the French Community.

The regional allocation is calculated through a key similar to those used for the EU’s usual cohesion funds.

Last week, N-VA MEPs were among the few in the European Parliament to abstain during a vote on the redirection of these funds.

On Monday (30 March), Belgium even abstained during a vote on approving €37 billion in EU funding for member states’ response to the coronavirus, as Flanders did not accept the distribution key for the funding.

Read more about the coronavirus situation in Belgium here.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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