Tuesday

18th May 2021

Belgian government under fire in its first week

  • Charles Michel was sworn in as prime minister of Belgium on 11 October (Photo: Belgium.be)

In his first week as prime minister of Belgium, Charles Michel has had to condemn collaboration with the Nazis in World War II following controversy over two of his cabinet members.

Jan Jambon, minister of security and home affairs for the pro-devolution Flemish party N-VA, was heavily criticised for a recent interview in which he was asked about his presence at a meeting of former collaborators in 2001.

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Although Jambon first said that he never defended collaboration with Nazi Germany and called it “a mistake”, he then went on to say: “The people who collaborated with the Germans had their reasons. I did not live in that period.”

Another N-VA member of Michel's new cabinet, Theo Francken, also came under fire.

Francken is deputy minister responsible for asylum and migration.

In a social media message in 2011, he questioned “the economic added value” of “Moroccan, Congolese and Algerian” immigrants.

Francken was also present at a controversial birthday party on Saturday (11 October).

Together with fellow N-VA politician, a minister in the Flemish government, he visited the 90th birthday of Bob Maes, who founded the Order of Flemish Militants in 1949, which in the 1980s became a paramilitary group targeting immigrants.

Maes had also been a member of the Flemish National Union, a political party that collaborated with the Nazis after they invaded Belgium in 1940.

The largest opposition party, the French socialist party, is demanding that Michel ask Francken and Jambon to step down.

“These persons are not worthy of carrying the large responsibility you have given them”, said French socialist member of parliament Laurette Onkelinx. She said “the sound of boots” is present in the government, a reference to [neo-] Nazism.

Onkelinx also criticised an old e-mail from Francken in which he made a “homophobic” remark, which Francken had said was a joke.

MEPs have also entered the fray.

Gianni Pittella, head of the centre-left S&D group, said the fact that Francken and Jambon, "who openly frequent former Nazi collaborators and their associates", have government positions is “worrying”.

Michel defended his centre-right government, which consists of his French liberal party and three Flemish parties, including the N-VA.

“My two grandfathers both lived through the Second World War. One of them emerged ill from the camps and died shortly afterwards”, Michel said during a debate in parliament on Wednesday (15 October).

“I can tell you without ambiguity that I and the whole government with me condemn the collaboration.”

During the debate, which lasted 21 hours until 7am local time on Thursday, opposition parties also fiercely criticized government plans for spending cuts.

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