Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Drowning in a pool of laws

Since 1 January 2003 the Belgian law gazette can only be read electronically. World's forests must be very thankful to Belgium's government(s), because now a lot of trees is saved from ending up on a book shelf.

Now we've reached 2007, some calculations have been made. In 2006, no less than 76,468 pages have been published in the Belgian law gazette. Only in 2004 the annual compilation was even more bulky, with 87,755 pages published that year. The 2006 result means that there were about 200 pages published each day, or 1,400 a week. There's only one conclusion that can be drawn from these facts, namely that Belgium's legislators urgently need a pill against legislative diarrhoea.

There is a legal maxim - which already exists since the time of the Roman Empire - that goes as follows: "Nobody is supposed not to know the law." So we, Belgians, are supposed to know those 76,468 pages of law gazette almost by heart. It would be already a miracle if you can download this gigantic volume of pages on your computer!

As Belgium's federal government has got a State Secretary of Administrative Simplification - i.e. Vincent Van Quickenborne; member of the Flemish Liberal (what's in a name...) Party VLD - he was able to comment on this new facts. To his opinion, the amount of rules in Belgium has decreased in 2006 despite the increase of pages in the law gazette. Still according to Mr Van Quickenborne's opinion, the increase is due to the many translations that need to be published (Belgium has got three official languages, i.e. Dutch, French and German). Secondly, as Belgium is a federal state, the legislative documents of the regional and communal governments also appear in the Belgian law gazette. Thirdly, in order to simplify or abolish a law or an existing rule, you need to create a new rule. And fourthly, a lot of Belgian legislation is no more than the conversion of European directives into national legislation (maybe we can abandon with that foolish Union that brings us more eurocratism and corporatism instead of freedom). And that's why the Belgian law gazette grows every year fatter and fatter (by the way: if you accumulate the amount of pages created since 2000, you reach the number of 433,000 !!)

However, the (Flemish) Union of Independent Entrepreneurs (Unizo or Unie van Zelfstandige Ondernemers in Dutch) was astonished by the statements made by Mr Van Quickenborne. Karel Van Eetvelt - Unizo's chief spokesman - laughed at Mr Van Quickenborne, and said that a lot of entrepreneurs indeed suffer from Belgium's overregulation. The administrative cost for Belgium's entrepreneurs is estimated at €10 billion a year! Other surveys indicate that a downfall of one quarter of regulations can boost the economy by 1.4%. Our policy makers certainly need to reflect this number.

We already talked about the quantity of new regulations. What about its quality? Well, we can observe some cases that show the inefficiency of the Belgian system. In the law gazette's edition of 15 December 2006 (half a month ago), for example, there appeared a ministerial act dealing with the organization of the Finance Ministry. The issue isn't that peculiar, but the date when the act was signed is: 10 October 1979!!! This means that it took more than 27 years to be officially published!! A remarkable detail: the minister who signed this act was the christian democrat Gaston Geens... who rests in peace for already four years and a half! Another example: in the end of 2005, Rudy Demotte - the federal Minister of Social Affairs and member of the Walloon Socialist Party PS - promised the Belgian palliative centers to give them more financial backing. But in return, the conditions in order to get those funds were about to be strenghtened. What kind of new conditions this may be, would be read later in the Belgian law gazette. On 20 December 2006 the owners of the palliative centers knew to which conditions thay had to live up. It's quite obvious that this kind of situations can only happen in Belgium.

And it is even more obvious that Belgium and its governments have to stop playing 'Big Brother' all the time, trying to control the whole society with an army of new regulations. An introduction of the American system in which some laws contain an 'extinguish clause' could be very helpfull. With this clause, laws disappear after a certain determined time unless it's necessary to keep the law. This clause has been implemented in the famous anti-terror regulations of president Bush. Another idea would be to revise the whole serie of Belgian lawbooks page by page, and eliminate those acts that are really too stupid to maintain. But that will be a hard game to play, since the Belgian law gazette already exists since 1845. When will the new generation of politicians stand up to do this job in the name and fate of freedom?

1 comment:

Leane said...

Interesting to know.