The Flemish Christian democrat party CD&V has named Koen Van den Heuvel to replace Joke Schauvliege, who resigned on Tuesday. Van den Heuvel (pictured) will take over her portfolio of agriculture, nature and the environment once he is sworn in. Schauvliege resigned after claiming that demonstrators for a better climate policy were unwitting partners of some kind of conspiracy – and she claimed this had been confirmed by state security, a claim immediately denied by the intelligence service.
Van den Heuvel was until yesterday leader of the CD&V fraction in the Flemish parliament, and according to party president Wouter Beke was unanimously approved by members to take Schauvliege’s place.
“It is an honour to become a minister,” he said when presented to the press. “It’s just a pity it had to happen in these circumstances.” And he thanked his predecessor for the work she has done over recent years.
With regional elections due in May, Van den Heuvel has no time for the usual running-in process allowed to new ministers. “I’ll be giving it my all from day one,” he told reporters.
The elections in May will have been at the front of Beke’s mind in proposing Van den Heuvel. The new minister’s base is in Antwerp, where the CD&V score is indifferent, and where former minister-president Kris Peeters took a beating from N-VA sitting mayor in last year’s municipal elections. Raising Van den Heuvel’s profile regionally will help raise the party’s profile in Antwerp.
Elsewhere, justice minister Koen Geens (CD&V) took the unusual step of issuing a formal denial of Schauvliege’s claim that the intelligence services are monitoring the climate protests and their participants – a claim Schauvliege herself later disowned. The student protests have received publicity worldwide, but it was the adult version which launched a campaign to flood Schauvliege’s mobile phone with protest text messages – the modern version of a letter campaign which gave the former minister the impression there were massed forces against her.
“Should there at any moment be attempts at infiltration by extreme left or extreme right entities uncovered in the organisation of these demonstrations – threats which state security is there to monitor – then such plans will be further investigated,” Geens said. “But at the moment there is no indication of any such thing.”
Today’s weekly climate demonstration by students moves to Leuven, where 10,000 are expected to attend. Police have already advised anyone who does not absolutely have to be there to avoid the centre of the city. A march will still take place in Brussels, from North to South station, while gatherings will also take place in Antwerp, Arlon, Hasselt, Kortrijk, Liege and Mons. And the trend is spreading: Dutch students will take part in the first climate demonstration in the Netherlands today in The Hague.