Dear Neighbors to the North, Some weeks ago, the Belgian gay community was in turmoil. Well, mostly in Brussels and the Walloon provinces. What happened? Federal minister of Social Affairs and Health, Maggie De Block, had cancelled the national HIV plan that is primarily meant to counteract the spread of HIV.
Minister De Block did so without consulting all relevant parties, much to the dismay of the gay community that saw this as a big scandal. Angry posts on Facebook and Twitter told Maggie to go to hell.
Does she really have evil plans for Belgian gays? Shouldn’t she know better as a doctor? As is often the case with those kinds of decisions, there was a certain logic behind the decision of the federal Minister, and that logic again shows how badly torn apart our country really is. This also applies to HIV prevention.
For the launch of the national HIV plan we have to go back to an earlier government, when the Walloon and socialist politician Laurette Onkelinx was the federal Minister of Social Affairs and Health. While the Flemish governments had been putting aside large sums of money for campaigns, in Brussels and in the Walloon provinces, the willingness to do this as well was mostly lacking. Scantily, some government institution donated some money for a modest campaign, but these HIV prevention campaigns were child’s play compared to the initiatives the Flemish have been organizing for years. And with great success.
Laurette Onkelinx was serious when it came to balancing the situation. She decided to create a national HIV plan with funds from the federal government in order for Brussels and the Walloon provinces to do more in HIV prevention. But at the time they forgot to mention that this plan was totally unconstitutional. Since the last and current sixth state reform, prevention in health care is fully controlled by the “Gemeenschappen,” in other words the separate Flemish and French-speaking communities. Flanders has been doing so for more than ten years, but in HIV prevention, the French-speaking community is hopelessly behind. Onkelinx wanted to use federal money to sponsor her own community, even though that was not allowed. She did something similar with the national cancer plan, which will probably die a silent death soon.
Even though this national HIV plan was unconstitutional, nobody dared to present it to the Constitutional Court. They would have immediately enraged the Belgian gay community. In some cases, it is indeed better not to go out on a limb.
This small “revolt” in handling federal money for prevention had made Laurette Onkelinx very popular with gays from the Walloon provinces and Brussels. Nobody asked themselves why she did what she did, let alone that she did not want to use public money from the Walloon provinces to finance campaigns, even though it is precisely those provinces who should. They should pay out of their own pockets, not those of the federal government.
Minister De Block’s decision to cancel the plan is in fact a decision to undo illegal legislation. The Flemish government has been taking HIV prevention serious for more than a decade, and now it is up to the French speaking communities in Belgium to do the same. Preferably with their own money, just like the constitution and other laws prescribe. Without a “revolt” with the excuse of protecting a weak group of the population. If the French speaking community really doesn’t know how to set up a successful campaign, they only need to take Flanders as an example.