Federal foreign affairs minister Didier Reynders (photo) has refused to become involved in a diplomatic row between Spain and Flanders. Yesterday we reported that the Spanish government has withdrawn the diplomatic status afforded to the Flemish government’s delegate to Spain, following contentious remarks made by Jan Peumans, speaker of the Flemish parliament, on the imprisonment of members of the Catalan regional government.
Peumans, a member of the Flemish nationalist party N-VA, had made his comments in a letter to one of the imprisoned members, as well as during a speech at the opening of an exhibition in the Flemish parliament. He described the imprisonment of politicians as “an act of violence”.
Party colleague and Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois condemned the decision to withdraw the diplomatic status of delegate André Hebbelinck, and asked Reynders to register a complaint with the Spanish ambassador to Belgium Josep Borrell. According to Bourgeois, Reynders must insist on Belgium’s support for the freedom of expression and the separation of powers.
The delegate, he said, derives his status from the Belgian embassy in Madrid, and the ultimate sanction of losing his diplomatic status is normally reserved for cases where an offence is committed. In this case, Hebbelinck has done nothing at all, he said.
However the foreign affairs department will not be intervening, a spokesperson said. “That’s just not done. The minister is aware of recent declarations and reactions of the Flemish minister-president,” the spokesperson said. “It is not the role of the foreign affairs minister to comment on statements made by the president of a federal entity.”
The department was, however, prepared to pass on a message to Spain from Flanders via the Madrid embassy, but not to make any comment in Reynders’ own name.
Reynders also received the backing of prime minister Charles Michel. “There is no diplomatic row between the Belgian federal government and Spain,” Michel said.