The Belgian government has revised its copy. A few days after having ordered the closure of theaters and showrooms to contain the emergence of the Omicron variant, the executive on Wednesday, December 29, renounced this decision, after having seen it suspended, Tuesday, in extreme urgency, by a decision of the Council of State. “Culture is finally part of the political debate after eighteen months of crisis during which it was flouted”, enthuses Pierre Thys, director of the National Theater, and one of the spokespersons of the Standing for culture movement. The theaters can therefore reopen, as the authorities announced on Tuesday evening.
The closure of cultural venues, decided on Wednesday, December 22 by the government of Alexander De Croo, had upset the sector. This one had mobilized in number, in the streets of Brussels, Sunday, to denounce this « humiliation ». Theaters and cinemas had decided to remain open despite everything, with the displayed support of elected representatives of the opposition and even of the majority, whose parties had nevertheless participated in the consultation committee which resulted in the confinement of the cultural sector. Paul Magnette, president of the Socialist Party, member of the ruling coalition, admitted in the newspaper L’Echo : “Collectively, we messed up. ” Scientists from the crisis strategy expert group publicly regretted the lack of logic in such a decision, which was not based on their recommendations.
It is in this tense context that the judgment pronounced by the Council of State occurs. “The political and scientific consensus had broken, there was a crack in which to plunge.”, insists Nelson Briou, one of the lawyers responsible for bringing an appeal on behalf of the producer of a play that was to be performed in Brussels at the end of the year.
Access to culture is a fundamental right enshrined in the Belgian Constitution. “And this judgment reminds us that it is necessary to demonstrate that there were no measures less prejudicial to fundamental rights”, explains Pierre-Arnaud Perrouty, director of the League of Human Rights. For the Council of State, the administrative act ordering the closure of the cultural sector was not “Objectively and reasonably justified”. The judgment notes the disproportionate nature of a measure which “Violates the freedom of artistic expression”.
For Philippe Degeneffe, president of the Federation of Performing Arts Employers, “This is an important symbolic victory for the cultural sector, but one that must be qualified”. Indeed, the return to the previous situation means that it is again the maximum capacity of 200 people in theaters, regardless of their size, which will be applied; to the chagrin of the sectors concerned. “It’s a disaster for large venues”, says Pierre Thys. Alexander De Croo’s government is now working on gauges proportional to the size of the rooms. A decision on this should be taken as early as next week. But everything will depend on the virulence of the Omicron variant.
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In Belgium, the Council of State reopens performance halls