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7 months ago

Diplomatic World_nummer 56.

INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIE

INTERVIEW WITH SOPHIE WILMÈS, FEDERAL MINISTER OF BUDGET BELGIUM As a Minister of Budget, Sophie Wilmès is coming to the EU-Budget table with one wish: bringing Europe and the people closer. 40 What are the main challenges you are facing today as Minister of Budget in Belgium? The main challenge that I had to face since I am federal Minister of Budget is to find the right balance between the budgetary consolidation and policies supporting the economic recovery. When this federal government took power in 2014, our deficit was over 3% and our debt was increasing endlessly. Now, I’m proud to see that our deficit was divided by three in only three years. Meanwhile our debt will be going down close to the line of 100% of our GDP in the end of this legislature. This is an accomplishment when we know that we took also a series of measures whose primary objective was to help our economy. I, with the government, simply applied my motto: it’s the economy which supports the budget and not the other way around. How is your role impacted as Minister being member of the European Union? As member of the EU, I have to work in a specific budgetary framework. There are two main rules to this framework: the deficit cannot go over 3% of the GDP and the debt cannot be higher than 60% of the GDP, without processing to a reduction of it at a sustained pace. Those rules have a huge impact on the political decisions we could take on a national level. But I understand completely their reasons of being. We need to have clear guidelines to keep everybody on the same track. However, I’m in favour of a “smart application” of the European budgetary rules. The budgetary framework should be flexible enough to allow Member States to answer to the unpredictable. If we had followed the rules by the letter in 2016 for example, it would have been impossible for this Government to make funds available in response of the terrorist attacks in Brussels. This is proof of necessity to be rigorous but flexible. In the meantime, ESA2010 codes can be an obstacle to investments but we know how a country investing in strategic fields is important to the economy. We are discussing at the moment with the European Commission to see how we can make budgetary imperatives and needs for investment coexist. Which are the tools for a federal Minister of Budget to be involved & support cultural & economic diplomacy in Europe & beyond ? I am directly involved in the discussions around the European multiannual framework programme 2021-2027. Those negotiations are crucial, knowing that, at that time, the UK will have left the EU. We are talking about a budget at least 10 billion euros short. This forces us to reconsider the way we make the EU-Budget, by focusing first on the real needs of the EU and the policies we have to implement. In this case, I am coming to the table with one wish: bringing Europe and the people closer. It demands to look at every single policy with a fresh eye, determining which has an added value and which doesn’t anymore. It is absolutely imperative because, if the EU budget cannot go higher and higher without any control, we have to be ready to face new challenges for the next coming years; security and immigration being both topics extremely important as well. Can you tell us the important milestones in your professional career & what values inspired you to join the public cause ? Deep down, I’ve always had the sense of commitment to the common good. Of course, becoming a Federal Minister was the main milestone in my political career because you are the centre of the decision-making process. You take

Sophie Wilmès and Barbara Dietrich decisions that have a positive impact on the largest possible number of co-citizens. That might sound scary first but it is very fulfilling. To be honest, I also have to mention the first time I was elected in the local council of Uccle. This is an important milestone because it is the beginning of everything. This is the first-ever realization of my political engagement. At that time, I was driven by the wish to improve people’s lives and making the society a better place to this generation but, above all, for the next generations. I guess those commitments still drive me nowadays, as a Minister. As Belgian citizen, born in Brussels, married to an Australian citizen, being a mother with 4 children, how has openness to other (regional) cultures & languages influenced both your family and professional life And you forgot to mention that I’m a French-speaking Belgian living in the Flemish-part ! Being in contact with different cultures is always a learning experience. It breaks every paradigm you might have on things. Reality is never an one-side story. Living in a country where different communities live is an asset. On another level, to live peacefully together, communities have to be able to talk to each other. Communication is the key. It allows to find a common ground. That is why I find language skills particularly important. This is no coincidence if my children talk to me in French, speak with their father in English and go to school in Dutch. 41