Summary

  1. MEPs took evidence from Belgian Security Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens about last month’s terror attacks in Brussels.
  2. The Islamic State (IS) group has said it was behind the bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station in the city centre, which killed 32 people.
  3. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Belgian government and security authorities have faced questions about whether more could have been done to prevent an attack.
  4. The Belgian government's response to the attacks will also be subject to a parliamentary inquiry from the Belgian Parliament.

Live Reporting

By Paul Seddon

All times stated are UK

Evidence session ends

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

And with that, committee chair Claude Moraes thanks the Belgian ministers for appearing before MEPs - they did not have to - and draws the meeting to a close.  

Belgium 'not exactly helped' over data retention

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Replying to MEPs, Justice Minister Koen Geens says that it would not be fair to blame national governments solely for the time taken to adopt the EU passenger data-sharing scheme. 

Negotiations between governments and MEPs over data protection safeguards took a number of years.

He adds that Belgium "did not exactly feel helped" either by the European Commission or the Dutch presidency of the EU in trying to change the EU's data retention laws, which the EU's top court said broke privacy rights in 2014. 

Koen Geens
BBC

Minister: 'No 100% guarantee' from terror threats

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Replying to the many questions put by the MEPs, Minister Jambon says that there is co-ordination on foreign fighters through meetings of the "G11" group.

They were started in in 2013 by Jambon’s predecessor Joëlle Milquet, and the then French interior minister, Manuel Valls. Germany and Britain also participate. 

He says that Belgian authorities are "doing everything humanly possible" to prevent future terror incidents, although there is "no such thing as a 100% guarantee". 

Seemingly in reply to Dutch MEP Vicky Maeijer, from the right-wing Freedom Party - who said the root cause of terror attacks lay in "Islamic ideology" - he says that "the worst thing" politicians can do is "make an enemy of Islam".

Mr Jambon has however faced criticism at home after saying that a "significant part of the Muslim community danced" in response to the Brussels attacks.

You can read more about the controversy here

Minister Jambon
BBC

MEP pushes for commitment to EU 'intelligence service'

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Belgian Christian Democrat Ivo Belet says that additional co-operation between national intelligence services is "what it is all about".

He asks the ministers whether they would be willing to co-operate with a "core" group of other EU countries to set up a shared "intelligence service". 

He adds that this scheme would be unlikely to get the backing of all EU countries, but might be possible among a smaller "coalition of the willing". 

Another Belgian, the Liberal MEP Hilde Vautmans, says she is happy that the Parliament's Liberal ALDE political group has also supported such a scheme, which she describes as an "EU FBI". 

Ivo Belet
BBC

Were clues missed before March attacks?

There have been several unverified reports that Belgian authorities were warned in advance of attacks planned against Brussels airport.

According to Skai TV in Greece, a map and layout of the airport at Zaventem were found on a computer and USB stick at a flat in the Pangrati area of Athens which was used by Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud in January 2015.

Belgian prosecutors have not confirmed the allegation but the flat was searched by Greek police a few days after a Belgian raid on an Islamist cell in the town of Verviers in which two suspects were killed.

French daily Le Monde reports that handwritten notes and attack plans were found on the Athens computer hard drive - and that the details matched in every respect the bombing of Brussels airport. 

Brussels airport
Reuters

Criticism of process

Daily Telegraph's Brussels correspondent tweets

Belgian MEPs react to ministers

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Belgian Socialist Hugues Bayet says it is "not yet clear" how information will be shared under the airline passenger scheme, and asks the ministers to give greater clarity. 

Another Belgian, Sander Loones, from the New Flemish Alliance party, says there are numerous examples of measures taken at a national level following the attacks which could serve as examples for other countries. 

A third Belgian, Liberal MEP Gerard Deprez, says that it is clear there were "a number of failings" from the security services. 

However, he says some coverage has also unfairly depicted Belgium as a "unique source of terrorism". 

Sander Loones
BBC
Sander Loones is a member of the same political party as Minister Jambon

'Co-ordinated approach' needed for foreign fighters

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Polish MEP Michal Boni, from the centre-right EPP group, says more needs to be done "at a European level" to share intelligence information. 

He adds that EU police agency Europol would be capable of doing more with greater information. 

He also calls for a "co-ordinated approach" to dealing with the issue of so-called "foreign fighters" returning to Europe. 

Michal Boni
BBC

Belgium 'attacked' by international media - Minister

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Minister Geens also tells MEPs he believes an "EU approach" is required to determine when security services should be given access to encrypted communications. 

He adds that the ability of terrorists to use software such as WhatsApp and Skype has made the job of investigators harder. 

He says, however, that this should be about "targeted access" on the basis of a judicial decision - not "mass surveillance". 

On the wider issue of Belgium's response, he says that his country has been subject to "unnuanced criticism", adding: 

Few countries have been attacks so violently by the international press."

Minister: Belgium 'has not turned a blind eye' to foreign fighters

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Justice Minister Koen Geens says that it is "too soon" to speak of lessons learned from judicial investigations, which are still ongoing.

He adds that the design of the attacks in Brussels was "inspired by" the model of multiple attacks that was also used during attacks in Paris last November. 

He says co-operation between the security authorities was "intense", but has been increased after the attacks - and maintains the Belgian authorities have an "excellent relationship" with counterparts in France. 

"I will not say that no mistake has been made," he adds, but says it is important to remember that a measures have been taken at "a number of levels" to boost security. 

In particular, he says that "no one can say that Belgium turned a blind eye" to the issue of foreign fighters in Europe. 

Koen Geens
BBC

Society 'will have to pay price' for increased security

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Mr Jambon says that the government is ensuring that all security services "work together", but says that "certain things can be improved" when it comes to countering the terror threat. 

However, he adds that "society will have to pay a higher price for its security that it does now".

He says the parliamentary inquiry in Belgium will serve as an opportunity to "look very hard" at where "weak points" can be strengthened. 

He thanks MEPs for their recent vote to give final approval - after years of opposition - to an EU-wide scheme to force airline companies to hand over passenger information to national security authorities. 

Jan Jambon
BBC
Mr Jambon is sitting next to committee chair and Labour MEP Claude Moraes

Belgium 'doing everything it can do' to improve security

Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Brussels

Belgian Security Minister Jan Jambon begins by thanking MEPs for their expressions of solidarity following the attack, which he describes as a "Belgian 9/11".

He says police investigations following the attack are going "round the clock", and that some "strategic areas" - such as train stations and nuclear sites- remain under extra surveillance. 

He adds that the Belgian government is doing "everything we can do" to increase security in the Belgian capital, although the terror threat level has now been reduced down a notch from the highest level. 

Jan Jambon
BBC

Background to resignation of Belgian minister

Belgium’s transport minister resigned earlier this month over accusations she had ignored lapses in security at Belgian airports.

Jacqueline Galant initially denied having seen reports from EU inspectors – leaked to the media after the attacks – which identified weaknesses in security procedures at Belgian airports.

Prime Minister Charles Michel initially defended her before admitting that the report had been discussed by her office.

The reports cited "serious deficiencies" and said airport security programmes, air carriers and suppliers were "not adequately monitored".

The inspectors had also said one of the Belgian bodies charged with ensuring security could not carry out its responsibilities because of a "lack of resources". 

Jacqueline Galant
AFP/Getty Images

Good afternoon

Hello and welcome to coverage of this meeting of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee in Brussels.

Today, MEPs are taking evidence from Belgian Security Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens about last month’s terror attacks in Brussels.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has said it was behind the bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station in the city centre, which killed 32 people.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the Belgian government and security authorities have faced criticism about whether more could have been done to prevent an attack. 

Belgium's parliament is to hold an inquiry into how the attacks were handled.  

Maelbeek station
EPA
Maelbeek station - where 16 were killed - reopened today