Belgium: Renovation of school buildings: the distribution key for European funds voted in Parliament's committee

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Renovation of school buildings: the key for the distribution of European funds voted in Parliament's committee

Renovation of school buildings: the key for the distribution of European funds voted in Parliament's committee

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Lhe school buildings committee of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation Parliament approved on Monday evening a draft decree which organizes the distribution of European funds intended for the renovation of school buildings in Wallonia and Brussels.

As part of the European Union's post-Covid recovery plan, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation will receive 495 million euros, of which 230 will be specifically intended for the (energy) renovation of schools. The text approved Monday evening determines the key to the distribution of this manna between the different educational networks.

The WBE network (Wallonia-Brussels Education, ex-State) will thus receive 41% of the budget, schools managed by municipalities and provinces 34%, and schools in the free network (Catholic or non-denominational) 25%.

Depending on the quality of the files they submit, each network could however receive more, but then at the expense of the other networks. The free - which was firmly opposed in the spring to a first allocation key which only granted it 18,5% of the means - could theoretically capture up to 36% of the funds, recalled Monday the responsible minister, Frédéric Daerden (PS).

To benefit from this money, the organizing authorities will have to submit their renovation or construction project by December 31, 2021 at the latest. Europe has indeed set tight deadlines for using its money. All subsidized projects must therefore be completed by 2026 at the latest.

The text was approved Monday evening, after six hours of debate, by the PS-MR-Ecolo majority.

The cdH, dissatisfied that the free only perceives 25% of the means whereas it educates 50% of the pupils in FWB, voted against. "It is an iniquitous, intimidating and vexatious decree", denounced the deputy André Antoine.

The centrists tabled on Monday a series of amendments so that these European funds are rather allocated according to the number of pupils received respectively by each of the networks, namely 15% for WBE, 35% for the municipalities and provinces, and 50% for free, but these were rejected by the Rainbow Majority.

For Mr. Antoine, the text as voted offers great constitutional fragility and runs the risk of being challenged by the Constitutional Court in the event of a complaint from an organizing power.

If this were to be the case, then it is a safe bet that the FWB could no longer meet the tight schedule set by Europe and suddenly see the 230 million euros fly away, warned Minister Daerden. "Those who will do this take the risk of having zero, rather than receiving what is planned for them, even if they find that it is not enough ...", he pointed out.

Due to chronic underinvestment over the past four decades, schools in Wallonia and Brussels are often in a general state of dilapidation. Without intervention, 40% of schools could even have to close their doors within 5 to 10 years because of their unsanitary condition.

According to estimates by Minister Daerden, a total of around € 2 billion is needed to renovate and build new FWB schools. The European windfall therefore only represents part of the necessary financial resources.

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