By Riccardo Dugulin for Global Risk Insights
On September 8th the European Commission (EC) presented a quota-based plan aimed at distributing the weight of the current migrant crisis within the European Union (EU). As such, 25 out of the 28 member states have been summoned to accept portions of the 160,000 registered migrants that arrived in the EU zone within the last few months. In the latest quota-scheme, Belgium is expected to host 4,500 migrants.
As a result of the sudden increased influx of migrants within the EU, the number of asylum seekers that arrived in Belgium in August 2015 has increased by 55.3 percent in comparison to arrivals in July 2015. While the exact numbers for 2015 are yet to be released, this volume is likely to result in an increase of up to 30 percent of refugees in Belgium.
In 2014, more than 13,000 demands were registered in Belgium, 6,000 of which were accepted. The overall Belgian migrant hosting policy, linked to the federal Fedasil fund, has cost a total of EUR 303 million which roughly represents 0.15 percent of the national GDP.
While the current migrant crisis and heightened number of persons seeking to obtain refugee status in the EU has gained unparalleled media attention, it has so far had a limited impact on the finances of the Belgian federal state. The EC recently unlocked a EUR 1.8 billion aid package linked to the crisis in March 2015 and more than EUR 140 million of this package will be allocated to Belgium. However, it has been the logistical aspects of the current crisis that have put a strain on the Belgian state.
In late August 2015, representatives for the Centers for Public Social Action (CPAS) issued a formal request to the government to unlock additional funds to re-open structures that have been closed in 2013 and provide operational clarity in regard to the current situation.
There are 6,000 CPAS in 562 districts in the Walloon region of the country, with these operation centers in charge of the first-line housing and protection of refugees in the country. Since 2013, the closure and restructuring of over a third of the CPAS infrastructure have put a strain on the local aid network, raising capability questions as the number of migrants increases.
The current logistical crisis in Belgium is best exemplified by the makeshift migrant-tent camp that is currently located in Brussels’ Parc Maximilien. Given the Foreigners Office’s inability to promptly process the entirety of migrants’ demands, between 800 and a thousand people are now camping in the area.
In an attempt to support the current federal government efforts, the Federation of Belgian Enterprises (FEB) is currently trying to design an overall policy structure that would enable private actors to independently provide aid to the government and public aid and non-governmental organizations. However, this is unlikely to come into action before the end of September 2015, and the exact impact of the effort remains difficult to assess.
At this point, there have been no direct negative effects of the current crisis on the Belgian political and social environment. However, there is an underlying risk of instability in the country associated by enduring political tensions. Since mid-August, the Flemish nationalist party, N-VA, a part of the ruling center-right coalition, has been calling for socio-political reforms aimed at diminishing refugee rights and increasing security measures. This has created rifts within the Mouvement Reformateur-led government that may, in the medium-term, translate into a governmental loss of the parliamentary majority.
As with the rest of the Eurozone, the current migrant crisis also generates an enhanced risk of social unrest. Since August 2015, the majority of demonstrations linked to the migrant issue in Belgium have been carried out to show support to migrants and no violence has been reported. However, there is a potential risk that smaller radical far-right groups may organize anti-migrant rallies that could lead to heightened social tensions and temporary disruptions.
For the foreseeable future, the main issues Belgium will face due to the enhanced influx of migrants are linked to institutional and logistical questions. Federal and local authorities will need to promptly address these problems while maintaining a cohesive discourse in order to safeguard the working parliamentary coalition.