Media in Brussels and abroad reported last week about a serious incident which took place in July at a coffee bar in the EU quarters in Brussels. A person who turned out to be chairman of a trade union in the European Commission physically assaulted another guest in the coffee bar and insulted her verbally in the belief that she was Jewish. The incident took place on July 16 at Caffe Italiano, a popular place in the EU quarters in Brussels, but became publicly known only on September 3 when the media reported about it. Two persons who happen both to be EU officials but did not know each other became entangled in a dispute which quickly degenerated into what appears to be a hate crime.
The assailant was carrying around a metal plate with “Mussolini” written on it – the name of the Italian dictator during the Second World War. When the victim, as the only person who dared to speak up, remarked on this, she was brutally assaulted, both physically and verbally. The man hit her on the head with the metal plate, tried to strangle her and called her a “dirty Jew”. The victim had to afterwards look for medical care. As there were witnesses to the incident, she also filed a complaint to the police.
According to media reports, the assailant has been working in the European Commission since 2005. He has been convicted for a crime in his home country and has received a suspended sentence. This must has been overlooked by the Commission when he was employed. It is standard procedure for the Commission to request an extract from the criminal records in the member states.
What came as a shock for many is that he was chairman of one of the labor unions in the Commission and as such received plenty of votes in recent elections. After the incident he was forced to resign from the post. His union published the following statement:
“We have learnt with deep concern about press articles, according to which he has been accused of having assaulted a person while voicing anti-Semitic statements. We condemn any form of violence, racism and discrimination and will not tolerate members who do not live up to these principles. At the same time, we trust the competent authorities will establish the exact course of events and will respond accordingly.”
A representative of the “Belgian League against Anti-Semitism” told media: “This serious incident illustrates yet again that you don’t have to be Jewish in order to be a victim of anti-Semitism.”
The incident has been reported to the Commission as well. Voices have been heard that the alleged assailant should be suspended from his post during the investigation of the incident – as has been the case in the past when officials were accused of misconduct – but this seems not likely.
In a message to all Commission staff, Kristalina Georgieva, European Commission Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources, wrote:
“If true, this is very troubling, as it goes against our fundamental values. The European Commission has zero tolerance for any act of racism, hate speech or other unethical behaviour by our staff, including anti-Semitic actions. This is explicit in our rules.
In this particular case, the Commission is aware of the incident and has opened an internal investigation. What is important now is that the facts are established. The Belgian Authorities are currently doing exactly that. In the meantime, the presumption of innocence applies.”
The Brussels Times