Dries Van Langenhove, who sits in the federal parliament with Vlaams Belang, may not invoke parliamentary immunity from prosecution over his trip to Paris last weekend, the speaker of the parliament has said.
Van Langenhove was seen in photos and video at the weekend taking part in a demonstration organised by the French right-wing group Génération Identitaire. However at present, there is a ban on all non-essential travel outside Belgium, leaving Van Langenhove open to a fine of €250.
Questioned on the matter, Van Langenhove stated, “The French government wants to silence nationalist youth. I have rarely taken a journey that was so essential.”
Now the speaker of the federal parliament, Eliane Tillieux (PS) has made it clear Van Langenhove cannot invoke parliamentary immunity in the matter – although he has given no sign of wishing to do so.
Under Belgian law, members of parliament may invoke parliamentary immunity when facing criminal charges, and that may only be lifted by a vote of the entire chamber. The provision was designed to prevent members from being persecuted by law for their political views.
Van Langenhove was recently charged with a number of his fellow members of the group Schild & Vrienden, on charges of racism and negationism. In that case, which is potentially far more serious than a €250 fine, he decided not to invoke his immunity.
“He must respect health rules like everyone else, but in addition, the House is clear in the rules enacted: there is no travel abroad at parliamentary level,” Tillieux said.
“So if the deputy has made a move outside the Belgian border, it is a private trip, and he cannot avail himself of his parliamentary function to cover his trip. The public prosecutor can prosecute him, and it is up to that office to decide”.
In the meantime, the prosecutor’s office for Halle-Vilvoorde has opened an investigation into the trip.