Secretary of State for Asylum apologises in parliament

The new Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken (Flemish nationalist), has apologised in federal parliament. He did so after a couple of controversial acts that had brought him in the eye of the media storm.

First, Theo Francken attended a birthday party for Bob Maes, the founder of the VMO, a far-right Flemish organisation. Next, some old e-mails came to light in which he allegedly made homophobic statements. These mails were leaked by an N-VA employee who later quit the party.

Last but not least, a Facebook post by Francken from 2011 popped up. In this post, he questioned the "added value" that immigrants from Morocco, Congo and Algeria can be to the Belgian economy. This came to light in French media. Francken was comparing Jewish, Chinese and Indian immigrants to the above-mentioned group, and this from an economic point of view. He can imagine that the first group can bring the Belgian economy something extra, while he finds this harder to do for the other (North-)African group. "Or is this a bridge too far?" he concludes. 

"I never intended to hurt anyone"

This last incident brought him in stormy waters, especially since the issue had a direct link with his new portfolio. Theo Francken had no other choice than to be humble and apologise in an attempt to allow the dust to settle and avoid an early exit. "I realise I hurt people by saying this. I never intended to. I want to present my sincere apologies", he told parliament in a short statement.

"I can guarantee you that I will be a state secretary who defends the interests of all the people in this country, with a great respect for everyone." A big round of applause followed on the benches of the ruling coalition, but silence reigned on the opposition benches, although for most opposition MP's the case is now closed.

PM puts out another fire

Earlier, PM Charles Michel had made a firm statement against collaboration during the Second World War. It was Interior Minister Jan Jambon of the Flemish nationalists who had spoken out in defence of those that chose to work together with the Nazis. "Those people had their reasons," he said. This caused quite a stir, after which Charles Michel was forced to make a clear statement. Michel underlined that both he and his government, including the N-VA, condemn collaboration. "It's a crime that cannot be justified", he said.

The incidents were used as ammunition by the Francophone socialists, who are determined to stage a fierce opposition against the Charles Michel-led government.