Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Leaked EU reports damn Belgian airport security

  • The bomb on 22 March exploded in the land-side of Brussels airport (Photo: Reuters)

Belgian opposition parties have leaked classified EU reports which indicate that authorities “seriously” neglected airport security during the past five years.

The reports, published by the Ecolo and Green parties on Wednesday (13 April), cover the airside of Belgium’s five airports - the secure zones accessible to airport staff and to passengers after they check in.

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  • Galant (r) said she never saw the reports (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The bomb at Brussels airport on 22 March exploded in the landside area that is accessible to the general public.

But the revelations have prompted calls for Belgium’s transport minister, Jacqueline Galant, to resign prior to a parliament hearing on the issue on Thursday.

The first European Commission study was carried out in June 2011 by two EU officials who interviewed Belgian aviation safety staff in Brussels and visited Liege airport.

The second study was carried out in March 2015 by two EU experts who also conducted interviews and visited Antwerp airport.

The 2011 report found Belgium “non-compliant with serious deficiencies” in five areas, such as monitoring of foreign airlines and of cargo screening procedures .

It found Belgium “non-compliant” in three other areas, such as security training of staff, and urged authorities to “swiftly take appropriate corrective actions.”

The 2015 report said Belgium was still “non-compliant with serious deficiencies” in five areas and “non-compliant” in three areas.

One of the serious problems was related to “explosive detection systems” that “were not regularly monitored at several airports.”

Written one year before the 22 March terrorist attack, the report said Brussels airport had deficiencies on “surveillance, patrols and other physical controls, protection of passengers.”

Galantgate

In what Belgian media have called Galantgate, the minister on Wednesday defended herself by saying she had no knowledge of the EU reports and had not received a “formal request” to take action.

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel on Thursday also told MPs that the commission's reports were sent to two civil servants at the aviation authority only.

"These reports were … not communicated to the government, which discovered them in the press," he said, adding that he wanted full "clarity" on how they were overlooked.

The Green and Ecolo parties published another document later the same day that cast doubt on Galant’s statement, however.

The document, an internal email from her top civil servant, Laurent Ledoux, to the minister dated December 2014 said: “There are serious deficiencies in Belgium concerning aviation security.”

It urged her to recruit more security staff or to hire outside consultants.

“Minister Galant visibly has a problem with the truth, and it’s not the first time,” Green party MP Kristof Calvo said.

The commission reports also cast doubt on Michel’s statement.

They said that when EU experts did the inspections in 2011 and 2015 they were accompanied by between six and 10 Belgian officials, whose names they listed, on each occasion.

Monitoring

The EU commission said on Thursday that it carries out on average 35 airport security reviews a year in the bloc’s 28 states.

“We’re doing this to make sure weapons and explosives can’t get on board an aircraft,” a commission spokesman said.

“If an airport shows shortcomings these have to be addressed by the national authorities and the commission also monitors whether this is being implemented.”

He declined to comment on the content of the EU reports for “security reasons.”

The leaked reports go against a previous commission statement.

Brussels airport "was not provoking any particular headache" in terms of security, a commission official told press on 23 March, the day after the Brussels attacks.

Not a failed state

Galant has held her post since October 2014.

Ledoux, her top official, resigned from his job on Wednesday and accused her of treating her staff in the style of the “Gestapo” - Nazi Germany’s secret police.

Galant and Michel’s liberal MR party is in a ruling coalition with the centre-right CD&V, the liberal Open VLD, and the Flemish nationalist N-VA parties.

The 22 March attacks had earlier prompted Belgium’s interior minister (N-VA) and justice minister (CD&V) to offer to resign. But Michel said he needed them to help manage the security crisis.

The PM last week also defended Belgium’s reputation.

"It took us a few months to arrest Abdelslam, it took more than 10 years to get Bin Laden," Michel told foreign correspondents in Brussels, referring to Salah Abdelslam, a terrorist fugitive who had been hiding in the Belgian capital, and Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11 whom US forces shot dead in Pakistan.

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