Belgian parliament calls time on free beer

The open bar policy was impacting the quality of debate...

Belgian parliament calls time on free beer

Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister (centre), enjoys a beer in Kehoe's, Dublin, after a walk about canvassing on Grafton Street with Minister Dick Roche (left) and MEP Pat Gallagher to call for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty. Picture by Julien Behal PA Archive/PA Images

Belgian MPs will no longer get free beer or wine in their parliament.

Alcoholic beverages have been free-of-charge in its restaurant for almost 20 years but the Bureau of the Senate, comprising the speaker, deputy speaker and leaders of political parties, decided on Wednesday to start charging in a bid to improve professionalism in public discourse. Politicians in the low country will, however, continue get their coffee for free.

An earlier decision not to scrap the policy, which began in the late 1990s to stop MPs leaving parliament late at night to get drinks during lengthy plenary sessions, was met with vocal opposition. According to Politico, an investigation into bad behaviour in parliament recommended the move to "improve the quality of debate".

The ethics committee had found that heavy drinking was creating "unpleasantness". It followed an incident in September 2016 when one representative was accused of making a racist comment during a parliamentary debate.

Picture by Geert Vanden Wijngaert AP/Press Association Images

Speaker Siegried Bracke had initially denied there was a problem after discussing it with party leaders last week. He said there was "no reason to reduce the alcohol consumption", citing figures that show MPs drank three glasses of beer and two glasses of wine per month, on average.

Marijs Geirnaert, the chair of the Association of Alcohol and Drug Problems, favoured the ban due to the fact that "politicians are role models". It will now take effect, though it is not known what the prices will be.

If you're a member of the regional parliament of Flanders, however, your drinks will remain on the house...