Federal defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS) has written to the chair of the parliamentary committee on the Belgian military’s missions abroad to demand the expulsion of N-VA member Theo Francken, on the grounds he broke the rule of confidentiality.
The committee sits behind closed doors, given the sensitivity of the information on what missions the Belgian forces are involved in, information on which could be useful to enemies and place lives at risk.
Members, similarly, are bound by a code of confidentiality not to reveal information gathered in the committee.
However Francken published a post on Twitter about two weeks ago revealing the decision of the Belgian defence ministry not to continue taking part in the French-led peace-keeping mission in the Barkhane area of Mali in Africa.
That, according to Dedonder, is a breach of the confidentiality of the committee. “Such a leak is irresponsible and unacceptable,” she wrote in a letter to the committee chair, Annick Ponthier (Vlaams Belang).
“This information has been communicated to members of parliament confidentially, partly because the French authorities had not yet been officially informed that Belgium is not participating in Operation Barkhane this year,” a defence ministry source told Het Nieuwsblad.
“The French are logically unhappy about having to learn this via Twitter, which makes for very difficult diplomatic relations.”
Ponthier has the power to call Francken to order. More importantly, she also has the power to remove him from the committee, which would be effective until the end of this legislature, meaning until after the next elections. The ban would also stop him taking part in other committees that are held behind closed doors. And to top it all, he would be fined the equivalent of 20% of his parliamentary salary.
Francken, meanwhile, has defended his position fiercely, insisting he will not be silenced.
“The possible Belgian participation in Operation Barkhane has been openly discussed in parliament for months,” he said.
“The fact that Dedonder says that we will not participate seems to me to be a clear policy intention of the minister and the government, which is not covered by the duty of confidentiality.”