Vlaams Belang plays down links with Chinese secret services at New Year reception
The far-right Vlaams Belang party celebrated the New Year in Antwerp on Sunday. Party leader Tom Van Grieken joked about his party's difficulties in recent weeks, with several politicians having been linked to Chinese intelligence.
"I'm sorry I'm late. I had January 10 marked on my calendar," Van Grieken said at the start of his speech, "but that's Chinese New Year, of course." There have been a number of recent incidents within Vlaams Belang linked to Chinese intelligence services.
A few weeks ago, Frank Creyelman was expelled from the party after it emerged that he had received bribes from the Chinese intelligence services. His brother, Steven Creyelman, was forced to resign as chair of the parliamentary committee on defence procurement. Shortly before Christmas, fellow party member Filip Dewinter denied collaborating with Chinese spies, although he said he had been "perhaps naive", after his name was mentioned in the Frank Creyelman espionage case.
"I'm sure the parliamentary ethics committee won't find fault with Dewinter"
Dewinter and Van Grieken joked in front of their audience. "It's all nothing, really," Van Grieken said afterwards. "I'm sure the parliamentary ethics committee won't find fault with Dewinter. There's just nothing there. State Security concluded in 2018 that no criminal offence had been committed."
Pressure on N-VA
Both Van Grieken and Dewinter also looked ahead to this year's elections. In June, Belgians will vote at the European, federal and regional level. In the autumn, there will be provincial and municipal elections. Dewinter is mainly focused on municipal elections. "If we do well in the Flemish and federal elections, there will be considerable pressure on the N-VA in many municipalities a few months later," he said.
At the Flemish level, however, Dewinter fears that Bart De Wever, leader of Flemish nationalists N-VA and mayor of Antwerp, will try to mirror his local coalition in the government. According to Van Grieken, everything in Flanders depends on a majority between Vlaams Belang and the N-VA.
"I will be very disappointed if Vlaams Belang doesn't do well"
"I will be very disappointed if Vlaams Belang doesn't do well," Van Grieken said. "But whether the cordon sanitaire is broken. I have no control over that." The cordon sanitaire dates back to 1992, when Flemish parties except Vlaams Blok, Vlaams Belang's predecessor, passed a resolution in the Flemish parliament condemning Vlaams Blok's 70-point plan on immigration, which they said violated the European Convention on Human Rights.
The resolution established the principles of the cordon sanitaire, which ensures that no Flemish party will enter into government agreements or political pacts with Vlaams Belang. The cordon sanitaire applies to both local and national levels and elections.
#FlandersNewsService | Vlaams Belang's Tom Van Grieken delivers a speech at a congress of Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang, 10 December 2023, in Antwerp © BELGA PHOTO KRISTOF VAN ACCOM