3. Belgium

In Belgium Peace Tax Bills have been introduced since 1985 in both the Belgian Senate as the Belgian Chamber of Representatives.[1]

I will compare the bill which is introduced in the Belgian Senate on March 20 1986 number 210 (1985-1986), with the Dutch bill.

In the explanatory memorandum of the bill it is mentioned that since 1964 a provision for conscientious objections to military service exists.[2] The introducers state that the intent of the bill is to also recognise the objections against tax duties with regard to military purposes, to give each citizen a chance to make a part of his tax money, to be used for conversion projects, that is conversion of the human and material resources which at this moment are destined for military defence, for methods of nonviolent conflict resolution.

The bill d.d. 1986 consists of two parts, namely the establishment of a Peace Tax Fund under the administration of the Minister of Finance and the establishment of a Belgian Institute for peace and development projects. Every citizen can during the year relevant for the assessment transfer money to the Peace Tax Fund as a payment in advance, the money paid will be deducted later from the tax assessment. The money collected in the Fund is transferred within two months to the Belgian Institute for peace and development projects.

Section 4 prescribes that the payments to the Peace Tax Fund are limited to five percent of the tax debt.

The payments to the Peace Tax Fund cannot be paid back, not even in the case where too much is paid in advance.

The introducers make clear that payments to the Peace Tax Fund cannot be compared to deductible gifts. Deductible gifts are deducted before the tax assessment is decided.

They state that the Minister of Finance who has all the means to this and who is also responsible for the tax calculations, is in a competent position to receive the money of the Peace Tax Fund.

The introducers state that the Belgian Institute will be under the trusteeship of the Prime Minister, but that the institute has to have all possible autonomy.

Section 11 prescribes that the institute has the task of the research and the financing of projects in connection with disarmament conversion, that is nonviolent defence, the conversion of the armament industry, peace education and in general disarmament and peace in the world.

In section 12 is prescribed that the institute will be under the rule of a General Council. This Council has a Dutch speaking section and a French speaking section, each of sixteen members. Each section has eight members, under whom eight MPs, four members from nongovernmental peace organisations and four members from nongovernmental development organisations.

The MPs are members as long as their parliamentary mandate, the other members can be member for four years. The members cannot perform more than two successive mandates.

Section 13 prescribes that the members of the General Council shall elect a chairman from among the members of the Council, for a period of two years, alternately a member from the Dutch speaking section and from the French speaking section.

The General Council has to give a detailed report each year to parliament about the activities of the institute and the financial administration. The accounts are added to the state budget.

The General Council can establish one or more advisory committees with regard to projects. The members of such a committee are elected because of their expertness.

Section 16 prescribes that the General Council acts in complete independence within the framework of this bill.

The bill is discussed in the Senate committee for finance in the session of February 11 1987. The report about this session is d.d. February 25 1987. The Minister of Finance pointed out that everybody can already pay to recognised institutions with exemption of tax. The Minister considers that the bill is of a different character, that in this proposal the citizen can spend a part of his tax money and that for this two new state dependent institutions have to be established, a Peace Tax Fund and an Institute for peace and development projects.

The Minister of Finance is of the opinion that it is not recommendable to establish new state dependent institutions, because there are too many already, that the projects to be financed by the aforesaid institute, can be financed also by existing institutions.

The minister could not agree from the beginning, with the principle that a citizen gives a destination to his tax money himself. The minister is of the opinion that this initiative has to be praised, but that the proposed means is inappropriate.

A member of the committee is of the opinion that it is dangerous to offer the possibility to citizens to decide themselves about the destination of part of their tax money. In the committee were seven votes against and six votes for the bill. The bill is discussed in the Senate on March 10 1987 and there was no vote. The Senate decided to demand that the Council of State would give advice about the bill.

The advice of the Council of State is d.d. October 21 1987. The Council of State is of the opinion that the establishment of a special fund is incompatible with the principle of the universality of the state budget, laid down in the Constitution. The Council of State points out that it is possible to book the money involved in a special section of the budget of the Department of Finance, and that it is not necessary therefore to establish a Peace Tax Fund.

The Council of State considers that the introducers did not inquire whether it is desirable or even imaginable that the already existing regulation for tax deductible gifts, would function together with the proposed regulation, that the procedures are different, but that the purposes are the same.

The Council mentions that in both regulations the beneficiary could be the same philanthropical, cultural and scientific institutions, but the introducers did not propose any choice for the taxpayers, because in their proposal the money will flow to the Belgian Institute for peace and development projects as the only beneficiary.

The Council speaks about a glaring contrast with regard to the regulation for tax-deductible gifts which gives the taxpayer a real choice with respect to the ideological pluralism.

In later bills, I mention for example the Bill d.d. June 7 1990, number 1226 (1989-1990), the advice of the Council of State with regard to the booking of the money into the special section of the budget of the Department of Finance has been followed. So the Peace Tax Fund is not necessary any more, but it becomes the name for the Institute for peace and development projects.

On January 29 1991, on February 5 1991 and on March 7 1991 the bill d.d. June 7 1990 is discussed in the Commission for Finance of the Belgium Chamber of Representatives.

MP De Vlieghere states there that certain taxpayers have an individual moral objection to the fact that by way of tax paid by them a part of the expenditure for the defence of the country is paid.

He mentions that this bill will give the possibility to them to express their objection and to destine a part of their taxes (5%) to a Peace Tax Fund, which will not imply that parliament will lose part of its budget right in favour of the individual citizen.

MP De Vlieghere points out that the bill is very much of present interest because of the war in the Persian Gulf. He mentions that in many western countries a growing number of people are convinced that the citizen has to control that his money is used in an ethical way by the tax office or even by private investors. With regard to this he mentions the ethical investment funds in the United States, Great Britain and such organisations in Belgium.

MP De Vlieghere mentions also that in some other western countries legal recognition for this conscientious objection is demanded, that in Flanders the Vredesactie works for the realisation of that and in French speaking Belgium the organisation ‘Les Contribuables pour la Paix’.

MP De Vlieghere points out that the bill does not have the intent to abolish the armed forces or even a diminution of the defence expenditure, only parliament can decide about that.

MP De Vlieghere states that this bill will not have as a consequence that the individual citizen concerned will pay ultimately less tax, he mentions the explanatory memorandum to the Dutch bill and he also mentions the German system of the ‘Kirchensteuer’ (Church tax) which allows a taxpayer to destine a part of his tax money to the denomination of his choice. He also mentions that the Belgium system of pension fund saving can be compared to that in some degree.

In the general discussion a MP states that he endorses the purposes of the bill but he considers the means not in conformity with the normal democratic procedures, according to which the majority, under proposal of the government, decides about the destination of the total sum of the tax revenue. That MP considers also that certain purposes of the bill can also be realised now within the existing system, and further he remarks that also other tasks for the proposed fund are imaginable for example the acquisition of grounds for parks, gardens, by the state. This MP also refers to section 115 of the Belgian Constitution which prescribes the universality of the state budget and following that the principle of unity of the treasury.

Another MP emphasizes that the proposal wants to accommodate primarily to a problem of conscience of the individual taxpayer and that the payment in advance to the fund is of minor importance, only to prevent that ultimately the person involved would pay less tax than his fellow citizens.

This MP states that the intent of the bill is not a repartition of the general resources, that is the domain of the parliament, but is the accommodation of a moral objection of an individual taxpayer who does not want to pay tax for a certain purpose, defence expenditure.

This MP compares the individual choice with the choice between military service and civilian service by which the fulfilment of the civilian service is only intended to prevent that the individual citizen who has a moral objection against the military service would have advantage with regard to his fellow citizens who do not have that moral objection.

The previous speaker remarks, that the bill only creates an additional expenditure, by way of the Peace Tax Fund, without that a compensating diminution of expenditure, for example with regard to the Department of Defence, is realised, and this speaker asks how such a proposal could accommodate to the conscientious objections of the individual citizen.

The Assistant Minister of Finance states that the budgetary impact of the bill could be about 30 billion Belgian francs, if all the Belgians would use this right.

The Assistant Minister asks why in the bill only physical persons can apply for the provision.

The next speaker recalls that also in the past proposals have been formulated to provide to the citizen with the possibility to destine his tax money partially. Nevertheless he states that he is against the proposal because the task of the fund is not broad enough.

This MP asked the Assistant Minister whether elsewhere in the world such a system already exists, according to which an individual citizen may destine a certain percentage of his tax money himself.

The Assistant Minister states that the bill, as other similar bills in other European countries, wants to give the individual taxpayer the possibility to decide at least partially, about the destination of his tax money. The Assistant Minister considers this as contrary to the fundamental principle of Belgian parliamentary democracy, according to which the tax collection and the destination of the tax revenue has to be carried out collectively, that is by Parliament and the Government.

The Assistant Minister argues the fact that the tax collection and the destination of the expenditure are indivisible, which cannot be determined by an individual not even when there is for example fundamental discord with the defence policy.

The Assistant Minister states that a generalised use of the possibility to pay a part of the tax money to all kinds of ethical social and political purposes would make the country quasi indirigible.

The Assistant Minister is of the opinion that the conscientious objection of the individual taxpayer does not counterbalance the basic civil duties in the respect to parliamentary rules.

An MP is of the opinion that the idea behind the bill is too simple: the citizens are divided in two categories, on the one hand the citizens with a conscience, which people do not fulfil military service but civilian service and/or want to destine part of their tax money to a Peace Tax Fund, and on the other hand citizens without a conscience, these are the people who want to pay taxes for defence.

This speaker states that this simplistic philosophy has success in public opinion, but that he, nevertheless, is convinced that the defence policy is necessary, as is the duty of each citizen to contribute to that by way of his taxes.

MP De Vlieghere denies that there is the intent to divide society into people with and without conscience, or to impair the budget right of the Parliament.

Another speaker states that the bill is introduced when there was no risk of war. The present day conflict in the Persian Gulf proves that peace is not served by an ill-considered diminution of the defence expenditure.

MP De Vlieghere considers that the budgetary impact will be very small, that his prognoses of the number of conscientious objectors will number some hundreds of taxpayers.

An MP emphasizes the unrealistic character of the bill. He states that one can also have moral objections against other expenditure for example the payment of interest. Because of debts of the past, which expenditure has to be done nevertheless.

A next speaker emphasizes that the tax money of each citizen will flow to the general resources. He states that with other words the individual taxpayer does not need to have problems of conscience about the real use of the tax money. This MP is afraid that, following this bill, also other funds, for less praiseworthy purposes would be established, for example for repatriation of immigrants.

The Assistant Minister is of the opinion that almost all parts of the state budget can cause conscientious objection: salaries for priests and vicars, subsidies for abortion clinics etcetera.

After this discussion the majority votes against the bill (13-1)

On March 17 1995 a new bill is introduced in the Belgian Parliament.

In the explanatory note is stated, that the development of armaments has become unacceptable for many citizens in our society, that one has only to consider the technological developments which threaten mankind and environment, and military strategies for use of nuclear weapons, that the bill will give the possibility to those citizens who have conscientious objections against the military destination of their tax money, to destine part of this tax money for a Peace Tax Fund.

In the explanatory memorandum is further stated that this bill will recognise the conscientious objections against tax duties with regard to military purposes and that the Peace Tax Fund is established as a budget fund under the rule of the Minister of the Interior, the task of the fund, especially the education of the population to civil defencibility, falls within the responsibility of that minister for the most part. The percentage is not fixed on five percent anymore.

Section 2 of the bill prescribes that the percentage of the tax assessment which has to be transferred to the Peace Tax Fund is fixed by the audit court each year. This percentage is the fraction of which the numerator is the expenditure for military defence with regard to the last budget year, as communicated by the Belgian Government to NATO, and of which the denominator is the total tax revenue for that year.

The Belgian bills are limited to the income tax. There is no verification procedure with regard to the seriousness of the conscientious objections.

  • [1] Peace Tax Bills introduced in the Belgian Senate are:
    • 915(1984-1985) bill d.d. June 26 1985;
    • 210(1985-1986) bill d.d. March 20 1986, meeting resp.report Finance Committee February 11 resp.25 1987,
      • general Senate debate March 10 1987, Advice Council of State October 21 1987;
    • 753(1988-1989) bill d.d. June 30 1989;
    • 1368(1994-1995) bill d.d. March 17 1995.

    Peace Tax Bills introduced in the Belgian House of Representatives are (the list has to be completed yet):
    • ?(1984-1985) bill d.d. May 9 1985;
    • 43(1985-1986) bill d.d. December 4 1985;
    • ?(1988-1989) bill d.d. October 12 1988;
    • 1226(1989-1990) bill d.d. June 7 1990, Amendment d.d. January 29 1991,
      • meetings of the Finance Committee January 29 1991, February 5 1991
      • and March 7 1991,report of the Finance Committee d.d. March 8 1991
    • ?(1992-1993) bill d.d. March 18 1992.
  • [2] In 1995 the last conscripts served in the Belgian armed forces. From then on it has become an all volunteer force.

Copyright and responsibility Erik Th. Hummels 1997

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