The recent problems at the Belgian coast have nothing to do with the Flemish region’s tourism policy, but are a result of mismanagement by the Brussels government, according to Flemish tourism minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA).
Demir was commenting after four youths were arrested yesterday following an incident on the sea-front at Blankenberge, one week after a battle on the sands between police and gang members from Brussels.
The latest incident concerned a group seated at a sea-front terrace. When questioned, they said they were Club Brugge supporters who had come to Blankenberge to help police deal with the “foreigners” in reference to last week’s trouble.
Some of them had clearly been drinking too much, and the discussion became heated. In order to avoid an escalation, police decided to take four into administrative custody to separate them from the rest. According to images circulating on social media, some resistance was involved.
Meanwhile Demir responded to criticism, in particular from the Flemish ecologist party Groen, of her department’s policy regarding tourism at the coast.
“The problems at the coast were not tourism problems,” she said. “Anyone who claims they were is denying the real problem.”
“Criminal youth gangs descended on the coast from Brussels to run amok. That is not a new problem,” she said in an interview with De Zondag.
“In previous years, this happened mainly in provincial areas and at open-air swimming pools. The solution is simple: pick them up and punish them. But that is not a problem of tourism.”
Groen had been critical of the lack of a strategic tourism plan for the coast as a whole, where the majority of day-trippers and the chances of trouble arising tend to concentrate on the main railway destinations – Knokke, Blankenberge and Ostend. Other destinations mainly have the lesser problem of car passengers.
“That is a slap in the face to the tourism sector, which is doing everything in its power to save the summer,” Demir said. “That is also the reason why I refused this week to justify myself in the Flemish parliament. Groen would like to blame me and the tourism sector for the violence on the beach”.
And she turned the question back on Groen, which forms part of the regional government in Brussels, where youth gangs, she alleged, run wild.
“The question has nothing to do with tourism, and everything to do with bad management in Brussels,” she said.
But shutting down coastal towns to everyone but second-home owners and longer-term visitors was not the answer, she said. While towns under pressure had need of a time-out, as argued last week by Blankenberge mayor Daphné Dumery (N-VA), a shut-out could only be a very temporary measure.
“That way you punish the well-behaved tourists,” she said.