Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo was grilled over the handling of NatCon in Brussels. EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU


Belgian PM takes flak over late response to NatCon event cancellation attempt


Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has come under fire in Parliament for allegedly failing to act when Brussels mayors wanted to cancel the National Conservatism (NatCon) conference.

The officials, in particular Saint-Josse Mayor Emir Kir, repeatedly tried to stop the event taking place, without success, kindling a story that made headlines globally over what was seen as an attempt to curtail free speech and the right of peaceful assembly.

The move by Kir to send in the police and prevent people from entering the venue was ruled unconstitutional by Belgium’s highest judicial authority.

After other leaders condemned the situation, De Croo gave a reaction on X, in what is now one of his most-liked posts ever, calling the efforts to cancel NatCon “unacceptable”.

Yet, since then, neither he nor his Government appear to have taken any concrete action against the mayors involved.

Three right-wing opposition parties grilled the Prime Minister on the issue in Parliament on April 18.

Barbara Pas of the Vlaams Belang Party, which had its member Tom Vandendriessche speak at NatCon, said the mayors “showed where the real threat for democracy comes from”.

She claimed that Brussels regularly prevented nationalists and conservatives from protesting, adding: “Then, no one cares”.

She continued: “Last year, Vlaams Belang had to once again appeal to the Council of State to allow a demonstration to proceed after [City] Mayor [Philippe] Close issued a ban.

“The reaction at that time was not that it was unacceptable or unconstitutional,” Pas said.

“You remained silent, and your party colleague, Mr [Sven] Gatz, responded with ‘Scum, go back to your village.’

“[This time] it was only when this made headlines in the international press and the whole world could see how three local mayors were completely disregarding the Constitution that you responded, long after the British Prime Minister,” Pas said.

“In contrast to Mr [Guy] Verhofstadt, who applauds all of this, you called it unacceptable,” she added.

Peter De Roover of the centre-right N-VA party spoke about a “highly embarrassing” event in “the emirate of Kir”, which he said flew in the face of the principle of free speech.

De Roover added that De Croo only spoke out relatively late in proceedings and only then in English, from which he inferred that was simply De Croo reacting to British PM Rishi Sunak’s publicly declared alarm.

Independent MP Jean-Marie Dedecker stated that Belgium used to have a what he described as a highly progressive Constitution.

He said that had in the past attracted notable international figures such as Victor Hugo, Edouard Douwes Dekker and even Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who sought refuge in Brussels.

“Now, European leaders are forbidden to meet while Islamo-socialists invite hate preachers in their own parliament, to sing Quran verses while free speech is cancelled,” Dedecker claimed.

“They even invited the Butcher of Teheran. Brussels wants to be the capital of Europe, but acts like a Turkish mountain village, governed by a Grey Wolf.

“Our country was scorned,” he said.

De Roover claimed De Croo had failed as head of the executive branch.

In reply, De Croo claimed he was on a flight at the start of the incident and needed to get to grips with the details fully before giving any reaction once he had landed.

He said local mayors had the authority to safeguard public order in their municipalities but that they should respect the Constitution when wielding that authority.

“In a State under the rule of law, a body like the Council of State can tell a mayor that he made a mistake and must ensure that that event can go ahead,” De Croo said.

“I am glad that the event was able to proceed and I hope that everyone in the room is glad that it was able to proceed, not because of what was said – I absolutely do not agree with what was said in that meeting – but because the right to association and the right to freedom of expression should not be politically coloured.

“They should not be something we invoke when it suits us and something we do not invoke when it does not suit us,” he concluded.

De Croo avoided potentially difficult questions about a Zakia Khattabi, climate minister in his Government. She posted on X that she approved of the attempts to ban the NatCon event.

De Croo said the Government was not responsible for the principle of free speech as that fell to the Council of State and the Constitution.