Belgium’s new Prime Minister Charles Michel is embroiled in a three-pronged crisis just days after taking office
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Belgium’s new Prime Minister Charles Michel is embroiled in a three-pronged crisis just days after taking office

The new francophone Liberal PM is facing fresh calls to sack Interior Minister Jan Jambon after he was quoted as saying in a newspaper that Flemish collaborators with Nazi occupiers in Belgium during World War II “had their reasons”. The new Immigration and Asylum Minister,Theo Francken, was, meanwhile, pictured at a meeting to mark the 90th birthday of Bob Maes, the founder of the VMO, a far-right Flemish organisation, who was convicted after the war of collaborating with the Nazis.

Some old emails later came to light in which Mr Francken,a Flemish nationalist, allegedly made homophobic statements. It also emerged that in a Facebook post in 2011, Mr Francken questioned the “added value” that immigrants from Morocco, Congo and Algeria could be to the Belgian economy, comparing them unfavourably to Chinese, Jewish and Indian immigrants.

The 36-year-old has since apologised  in the federal parliament, saying, “I realise I hurt people by saying this. I never intended to. I want to present my sincere apologies. I can guarantee you that I will be a state secretary who defends the interests of all the people in this country, with a great respect for everyone.”

Earlier, Mr Jambon, also of the N-VA Flemish nationalists, caused another  furore after he had spoken out in defence of those that chose to work together with the Nazis. “Those people had their reasons,” he said.

Mr Michel, the youngest Belgian PM ever who took office only a week, has now issued a strongly-worded statement against collaboration during WW2, saying, “It’s a crime that cannot be justified”, he said.

In a further setback, trade unions throughout Belgium have announced a general strike for 15 December against new government cuts.

The incidents are being used as ammunition by the Francophone Socialists who have pledged to  oppose the new Michel-led coalition government.

Elsewhere, Italian MEP Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, says he is “extremely concerned” at the presence of the two Ministers in the newly-formed government.

He said,”The presence of these individuals in the Belgian government and them having responsibililty for delicate policy areas such as home affairs and asylum is a particularly worrying development.”

By Martin Banks