Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Letter from Limburg

The Brussels Element

As the father of 6 children (1 at university, 4 in school, and the youngest starting school in April), making ends meet has never been that easy. With increasing interest rates more than doubling my morgage over the last 2 years, the gradual 20% increase in my grocery bills over the past 4 months has not been a pleasant development. If I didn't have 2 jobs, I think we'd have gone under a long time ago.

Regardless of the wisdom of the action (it will be financed by increasing traffic fines), it therefore came as a pleasant surprise to learn late last September that the government intended to make school books 'free'. The parents of each child in further education were to be 'given' the sum of 308 euro per year, tax free. Instead of the schools buying the books, as they have done for years, and then sending the bill to the parents, the schools would buy the books and send the bill to the Ministry of Education. Sounds simple enough ... ahh, but they forgot the Brussels element.

Because the purchases will in many cases be larger than 200,000 euro, they are 'governed' by the EU purchasing regulations. The purchase therefore has to go out for European public tender; the specifications, invitations and sealed bids have to be sent to Luxemburg or Brussels for approval. It is estimated that the whole process, with a continual flow of paperwork in both directions, will take between 19 and 24 weeks ... and most schools haven't a clue where to start, and even if they did, the enabling legislation hasn't passed yet.

This week we've been told to forget it for this year. Instead, the government will see if they can arrange some kind of tax deduction ... isn't the EU wonderful!

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