An investigation has been opened into Vlaams Belang MP Dries Van Langenhove for violating Belgium’s non-essential travel ban to take part in an extreme-right demonstration in Paris this weekend.
The public prosecutor’s office launched an inquiry on Sunday, one day after Van Langenhove travelled to Paris in breach of current coronavirus fighting measures to participate in a demonstration in favour of the extreme right movement Génération identitaire.
“Dries Van Langenhove has an exemplary function as a representative of the people. He must therefore also comply with the measures,” said Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden, condemning the trip to Paris.
Some 1,500 other people took part in the rally, in protest of the legal dissolution of the group, whose views are similar to those of Van Langenhove’s own right-wing grouping known as Schild & Vrienden, and which is also being investigated for racism.
Defending his actions, Van Langenhove told De Morgen: “The French government wants to silence nationalist youth. I have rarely taken a journey that was so essential.”
The public prosecutor’s office in Halle-Vilvoorde in the judicial district where Van Langenhove lives has launched its own investigation and will draw up an official report, its press officer Carol Vercarre said.
She added it is too early to discuss possible punishments, but in normal circumstances, breaching the measure for non-essential travel is punishable by a fine of €250.
Vlaams Belang’s party leader Tom Van Grieken has since responded to the criticism that the trip broke the ban on non-essential travel, telling Flemish public broadcaster VRT that “defending freedom of expression is always essential.”
“As a member of parliament he had a number of duties to fulfil and he wanted to give a boost to the French in their protest against the French government that wants to ban right-wing youth movements,” he added.
Van Langenhove was elected to the federal parliament in 2019 as an independent, but is now a member of Vlaams Belang.
The Brussels Times