SHARE
COPY LINK

BELGIUM

Franco-Belgian tensions resurface after ‘naivety’ slur

Tensions between France and Belgium caused by the extent of the threat from Islamist extremists in Brussels were raised once again this week, as they were in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

Franco-Belgian tensions resurface after 'naivety' slur
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Belgian counterpart Charles Michel. Photo: AFP

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin was heavily criticised on Wednesday after he accused Belgian authorities of
“naivety” over the spread of Islamist extremism.

“I think there was a will, or a lack of will, on the part of some (Belgian) authorities… perhaps also a kind of naivety,” Sapin said Tuesday, suggesting that they “thought that to encourage good integration, communities should be
left to develop on their own.”

Speaking to French TV station LCI, he added: “But we know, and France perhaps knows better than others, that this is not the right answer. When a neighbourhood is in danger of becoming sectarian, we should (implement) a policy of integration.”

Sapin's words, coming a day after the suicide bombings in Brussels, were slammed in France and Belgium.

“It is indecent when people are suffering, are in shock. We need solidarity, not lectures,” said Belgian Socialist politician Laurette Onkelinx.

A member of Sapin's own French Socialist party, Francois Lamy, described the finance minister's statement as “just shameful”.

The row had echos of the days after the Paris attacks when French media and certain politicians pointed the finger at Brussels for failing to nullify the Islamist extremist threat that had grown right under its eyes.

The fact many of the attackers who killed 130 people in Paris were from Brussels and that the coordinated attacks were clearly planned in hideouts throughout the country, left many in France with the view the Belgian authorities and intelligence services were guilty of huge failings.

“The wretched attacks were prepared abroad and mobilised by a team of actors living on Belgian territory,” said interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve at the time, after summoning his Belgian counterpart for talks.

And following the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the chief surviving suspects from the Paris attackers, some in France wondered why it took Belgium a full four months to find him, when he was seemingly right under their noses.

“Either Salah Abdeslam is very clever or the Belgian services are stupid, which is more likely,” French MP Alain Marsaud commented after the capture.

The two countries also clashed in February when Brussels decided to step up checks on the French border to prevent migrants, displaced from the Jungle camp in Calais, from setting up a similar sprawling encampment outside ports in Belgium.

France called the move “odd” and “not based on reality”.

However the leaders of the two countries have tried to present a united front, particularly since Brussels has joined Paris in the growing list of European cities scarred by a major terrorist attack.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sought to distance himself from his colleague's words, saying he did not want “to lecture our Belgian friends”.

“We closed our eyes, everywhere in Europe and including France, to the rise of extremist Salafist ideas in neighbourhoods where a mix of drug trafficking and radical Islam have led astray … some of the youth,” Valls told Europe 1
radio.

An aide to Sapin told AFP he had not wanted to single out Belgium and was talking more generally about the terrorist threat.

The aide said Sapin had sent a message to his Belgian counterpart, Johan Van Overtveldt, apologising for the “controversy”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

ISLAM

UN slams French ‘burqa ban’ for ‘violating’ rights

The UN Human Rights Committee on Tuesday criticised France's so-called burqa ban, saying the law "violated" the rights of two women who were fined for wearing full-face veils in public.

UN slams French 'burqa ban' for 'violating' rights
Photo: AFP
The committee called for the women to be compensated and for a review of the 2010 law that forbids people from publicly wearing clothing that conceals 
their face.
   
“The French law disproportionately harmed the petitioners' right to manifest their religious beliefs,” the committee said in a statement.
 
It added that it was not convinced by France's claim that the ban was necessary for security and social reasons.
   
The two French women were convicted in 2012 for wearing the niqab, a veil with an opening for the eyes.
   
“The ban, rather than protecting fully veiled women, could have the opposite effect of confining them to their homes, impeding their access to public services and marginalising them,” the committee said.
 
READ ALSO:
UN set to lambast France for its 'discriminatory' 2010 burqa ban
Photo: AFP
   
The UN Human Rights Committee, made up of independent experts, ensures countries stick to their human rights commitments but it does not have enforcement powers.
   
It said the French ban was “too sweeping” but that governments could still make people show their faces in specific circumstances.
 
'Violated' human rights
 
The committee's decision reignites a debate that has raged in France for years over Muslim headwear and other religious clothing.
   
The debate has regularly pitted supporters of the country's secular constitution against those who argue for religious freedoms.
   
The 2010 law had strong public support when brought in under former president Nicolas Sarkozy. But many said it targeted the tiny minority of Muslim women in France who wear Islamic veils.
   
Condemned by critics for pandering to far-right voters but backed by many women rights activists, the law made France the first European country to ban 
garments that cover the face.
   
An estimated five million Muslims live in France and women who ignore the ban can be fined up to 150 euros ($170).
   
“The vast majority of cases where people have been stopped for checks and have been condemned to fines… have been women wearing the niqab,” committee 
member Ilze Brands-Kehris told AFP.
 
Burqa ban five years on - 'We created a monster'
Photo: AFP
   
“In the context of fewer than 2,000 women wearing the full-face veil in France… (the law has) a vast disproportionate effect on those women.”
   
Other EU countries, including Denmark, Austria and Belgium, have also implemented similar full-face veil bans.
   
“France violated the human rights of two women by fining them for wearing the niqab,” the committee said, adding that measures should be taken to prevent similar violations in future, including a review of the law.
   
France, which has ratified UN rights treaties, is “under obligation” to comply with the committee's recommendations and act in good faith, Brands-Kehris said.
 
'Oppression of women'
 
The committee's stance contrasts with a 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling which upheld the French ban, rejecting claims that it breached religious freedom.
   
The court found that France was justified in introducing the ban in the interests of social cohesion as it was “not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing”.
   
Explaining the committee's decision, Committee Chair Yuval Shany said a general criminal ban did not allow a “reasonable” balance between public interests and individual rights.
   
“The decisions are not directed against the notion of secularity, nor are they an endorsement of a custom which many on the committee, including myself, regard as a form of oppression of women,” Shany said.
   
In August, the committee also criticised France over the 2008 sacking of a nursery worker who refused to remove her veil at work, arguing it interfered with her right to manifest her religion.
   
The so-called Baby Loup case, named after the nursery, had already faced multiple legal battles in the French courts.
 
Debate about the effectiveness of the “burqa ban” also made headlines earlier this month after it was revealed that French gangster Redoine Faid, who broke out of jail in July using a helicopter and was recaptured three months later, had at times worn a burqa as a disguise.
   
Police say Faid was caught after officers saw someone wearing a burqa but walking like a man.
SHOW COMMENTS