The search to replace Marc De Mesmaeker, the General Commissioner of the Federal Police due to step down on 15 June, has not yet begun, La Libre reports. Some fear that the lengthy process to find his replacement will leave the police without proper leadership for “a long time.”
Those familiar with the process warn that a minimum of six months must pass before appointing a General Commissioner and that the position can only be approved by a Federal Government that has a majority of seats in parliament.
With next year’s federal elections looming and the country’s Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden yet to launch a call for candidates, many believe that the next chief will have to wait a couple of years before their appointment. This is largely down to Belgium’s often protracted negotiations to form a government.
“14,000 people will continue to work without having a real boss,” a police source told La Libre. “Only Belgium is capable of having a police force without a chief."
Tensions between police and politicians
In response, the Interior Minister’s cabinet told La Libre that the application procedure will be opened “at the appropriate time,” a lack of clarity that may fuel pre-existing tensions between Verlinden and the police force.
While De Mesmaeker is said to be unpopular among officers, many within the police believe that his departure had been hastened by the Federal Government, which has ousted him over the perceived failure of police to address the recent rise of drug-related violence.
In November, police unions stated that the political authorities had made a tradition “of blaming everything and anything on another victim” after rumours began to circulate about De Mesmaeker’s potential sacking.
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Relations have improved little between the Interior Minister and the Federal Police. In recent months, various police officers held various strike actions over "broken promises" on Verlinden's behalf regarding pensions and pay rises.
Moreover, Belgian police have highlighted a rise in aggression towards officers, which they felt was epitomised by last year’s murder of on-duty officer Thomas Monjoie in Schaerbeek’s red-light district.