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GAS act almost approved. What now?

The Belgian Parliament is voting against the society. That is the opinion of 213 civil society organizations. Only the Green parties, Ecolo and Groen!, will represent the Belgian society and vote against the extension of the system of GAS (municipal administrative penalty) fines

Of the 150 MPs, only 13 will vote against the extension of the GAS fines – despite the outcry from 213 organizations, several media and a lot of specialists, representing almost the entire Belgian society.

Of course, there has been a gap between the parliament and the society before. In 2005, for example, labour unions protested against the ‘Generatiepact’, a reform of the pension system. But this time, not only the labour unions are protesting – almost the whole society is against it, from environmentalists to associations for families.

And they’re not just signing petitions – some large organizations have even written extensive analyses of their arguments against the GAS system.

 

GAS fines are increasing

The parties that approve of the law are hiding behind their loyalty to the coalition. Many politicians seem to have forgotten that there are possibilities other than repression and fines for responding to municipal transgressions. But they’re afraid of losing voters to the opposition.

According to the law that’s being voted on this Thursday, the number of GAS fines is rising. More things are forbidden, you can be fined from the age of 14, and the amount is being raised to €350 (€175 for minors). Moreover, people can be prohibited from visiting certain places for 3 months.

 

Critical voices

Some critics especially disapprove of the section on minors. The Kinderrechtencoalitie (Association for the Rights of Children) states that “the application of the GAS fines for minors is part of a growing social intolerance towards children and young people, focusing on reducing nuisance in the short-term."

Former magistrate Jan Nolf fears that the principle of the separation of powers is being undermined. Local governments have too much freedom in interpreting the law, which creates legal uncertainty and arbitrariness. Jan Blommaert is afraid of a ‘Big Brother state’ in which inappropriate behaviour is detected and punished. Blommaert also points out that protest is being made impossible: many activists have received GAS fines.

 

Revoke the law?

Rarely has a bill created such a big debate in the society. But little of that liveliness of discussion is to be found in the parliament. The Flemish Youth Council asked for a hearing, but the majority of the MPs refused.

The 213 organizations wrote a letter to the MPs to pressure them.  If the law is approved, the organizations are considering going to the Constitutional Court. "And if that is not enough, we will, if necessary, go to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg,” states the Youth Council.

The League for Human Rights is asking the senators to revoke the law. The Senate would then propose amendments, which the parliament must consider. 15 Senate members are needed for a revocation: in addition to the seven senate members from the green parties, eight more need to support the revocation.

You can find more information and the latest updates on www.gasboete.be

 

(c) DeWereldMorgen.be - christophe callewaert