Tenth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 2004

Part Four: Country Reports

4.1 [ pdf version in A4 format]

Belgium (Flemish community)

VRAK 2000-2004

1.  VRAK (AKtie VRedesbelasting) (Flemish Peace Tax Campaign)

(since June 2000): Patriottenstraat 27, 2600 Berchem-Antwerpen.

Phone: +32-3-281 68 39; Fax: +32-3-281 68 79;

E-mail: vrak@advalvas.be

2. Report written by Dirk Panhuis

Bruineveld 11, 3010 Leuven, Belgium.

Ph. +32-16-25 40 11.  E-mail: email: cpti@cpti.ws.

3.  VRAK is a de facto organization

with a board consisting of

  1. Dirk Panhuis (retired teacher)
  2. Luc Simoens (priest)
  3. Koen Moens (peace activist)
  4. Jan Hellebaut (1/2 time staff person in 2001-2003; 1/3 time in 2004)

Some volunteers help on a regular or irregular basis. VRAK has no formal membership.  The VRAK-INFO is sent to 1.000 à 2.000 addresses.

4. 

The approximate yearly budget in €:
Year 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Budget (approximate)

 4.000

 6.000

 10.500

 10.000

 12.000

 19.000

 17.700

 16.000

Salary (approximate)

0

1.100

6.000

6.300

8.000

10.000

11.700

11.000

5. Goals and activities:

  1. lobbying for legislation in the national (federal) parliament: recognition of CO to paying taxes for military purposes and creation of a PTF;
  2.  support WTR's by street actions, legal and financial support;
  3. conscientization of the public about WTR and PTF through the newsletter VRAK-INFO, leafletting, our presence with stand ‘how to spend tax money?’ at peace and other grass root meetings, coverage of (court) actions by press;
  4. obtain support from big and small grass roots organizations;
  5. collaboration with our French speaking sister organization Contribuables pour la paix ;
  6. support civil forms of conflict resolution;
  7. support CPTI; support other regional, national, and international (peace) actions. 

6. Present size and scope of the movement:

hard to tell.

  1. The newsletter VRAK-INFO is mailed to some 1.000 à 2.000 addresses.  Only part of them pay.
  2. Most people we ask at large gatherings (on peace, ecology, third world, …), sign our petition asking for legislation.  They receive some free copies of the VRAK-INFO .
  3. 71 organizations have signed our petition asking for legislation.

Note: VRAK is only active in the Flemish Community (some 6 million inhabitants).  The Kingdom of Belgium (10 million inhabitants) is a Federal State, comprising three Regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and bilingual Brussels) and three Communities (Flemish, French, and German speaking).  The regions are territorial; the communities are made up of the persons.

7. Recent developments:

Parliament.

The June 1999 elections (the mother of all elections: Federal House, Federal Senate, Regional parliaments, European Parliament: all at the same time) brought a landslide defeat for the Christian-democrats and socialists, and gains for extreme-right, right, and greens.  The federal government was then composed of six parties: liberals (right), socialists, and greens (both Flemish and Walloon): a purple-green (rainbow) coalition. The greens support us, the socialists want to keep military spending low, the liberals are most in favor of military spending: they keep each other in balance and almost nothing was done in the area of peace.

The proposal for a PTF bill was slightly revised by VRAK and Contribuables pour la paix, was discussed with mainly green supportive members of the House and finally (March 19, 2002) introduced in the House by members of the green parties (Agalev and ECOLO), SPIRIT, and one christian-democrat. It was not discussed in the commission on finance.

In the June 2003 elections no green MP was elected in Flanders and only three for the French speaking greens (ECOLO). The purple government is composed of liberals and socialists+ SPIRIT on the Flemish side and liberals and socialists on the French-speaking side. SPIRIT is the partial successor of the Volksunie (Flemish nationalist party) and is devoted to peace issues. During the discussions for the formation of a federal government, for the first time in Belgian history, they mentioned the issue of COMT. The proposal for the recognition of COMT and the creation of a PTF receives their full support. It has been revised slightly by VRAK and SPIRIT and will be introduced in the House in 2004.

In the mean time Belgium and other countries of the EU are working silently but steadily toward a European Armed Force.

Recently (May 4, 2004) the Flemish Parliament decided to create a Flemish Institute for Peace and Prevention of Violence.   This institute has nothing to do with COMT, but could be significant in many issues of peace and war: it has study, information, and advisory tasks in the fields of polemology, social defense, arms control, international arms trade, peace economy, peaceful approach to conflicts, and international coexistence.

War Tax Resistance.

Hardly any person refuses to pay (part of) the military taxes they CAN withhold when they have to pay extra. (Many people receive refunds.). After some warning notices some give in, some go on. Encouraging is that a few people are pursuing their action against the Internal Revenue Service. Besides, in their civil disobedience action they refuse all the money they can refuse.

Judicial.

JH withheld payment of extra taxes when he could (cases pending in the administration). He has a case pending in court of cassation: the court the can overturn a decision of the Appeals Court (for a formality). Any judicial step in this process is used for public action (+ press coverage). The lawyer of JH is using more and more the international conventions.

Outreach.

VRAK supports other peace initiatives and seeks to gain wider support in those circles.  Particularly since the abolition of the draft in Belgium in 1993 resistance to financial conscription seems to make sense to people in general and to the peace movement in particular.

VRAK regularly goes to peace and grass root gatherings with its stand How to spend your tax money.  This stand is very good didactic material as a start for interesting discussions.  We give the passers by a 5 cent coin and ask them to put it in one of four transparent tubes, labeled ‘Education’, ‘Social’, ‘Environment’, and ‘Military’.  Needless to say that the military tube remains almost completely empty.  Leaflets are distributed and signatures collected for our petition asking for legislation. 

From time to time we publish (or are asked to publish) articles in church, third world, and peace magazines. 

Public interest.

In society we encounter a growing interest for the ideas of VRAK. Even politicians and military agree with us that problems cannot be solved by war. People eagerly sign the petition of VRAK for the recognition of COMT and the creation of a PTF. Several magazines now ask VRAK to write something about these issues. The written and oral press reports correctly about court cases.

8. Publications etc.

  1. Newsletter VRAK-INFO (some 1000-2000 copies), 4 times/year on 4 to 8 pages.
  2. A web site is maintained by web master Bob De Baecke: http://surf.to/vrak. {www.vrak.be 11/2007 -webweaver}
  3. Leaflets:
    • The older ones are still used.
    • The new bank note flyer bears a resemblance to a 20 euro bank note. It is very handy for starting a discussion.
    • Ten misunderstandings (4 pages) and Arguments and Counterarguments (4 pages) are very useful for all those who need more but not too long an explanation.
    • The Guide for tax refusal is occasionally sent out.

9. Plans for the near future. 

  1. More intensive lobbying in parliament.
  2. Financial campaign to have a solid base for payment of salary and other costs.
  3. Join broader peace and social protest against unethical use of (tax) money.

10. Other.

VRAK is committed to international activities and to CPTI.

  1. Dirk Panhuis  and Emilia Rojo participated in the 8th conference in Washington, DC.
  2. D.P., E.R. and Jan Hellebaut participated in the 9th conference in Hirschluch, Germany.
  3. Dirk Panhuis is secretary of CPTI.
  4. VRAK is preparing the Tenth International Conference on WTR-PTCs in July 2004.