Europe

Belgium minister quits in Brussels airport security row

Belgian Minister Jacqueline Galant in Brussels (15 April 2016) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jacqueline Galant had been under pressure over a leaked EU report

The Belgian transport minister has resigned over accusations she ignored lapses in security at Brussels airport before the attacks of 22 March.

A confidential document shows security lapses at Belgium's airports were identified by EU inspectors in 2015.

Minister Jacqueline Galant had denied having seen the report, which was leaked by opposition parties.

Attacks on Zaventem airport and a Brussels metro station by so-called Islamic State left 32 people dead.

Prime Minister Charles Michel had previously defended Ms Galant, and he had told parliament that her office had not seen the critical EU report.

However on Friday morning, following the publication of further documents on Thursday evening, Mr Michel said that "contrary to what was communicated to me" the report had been discussed, according to public broadcaster RTBF.


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Mr Michel said he had met Ms Galant on Friday morning and following the meeting the minister submitted her resignation to the king.

Ms Galant wrote in her resignation letter that "the orchestrated and theatrical confusion of the last 48 hours prevents me from continuing in the performance of my duties".

The minister's resignation followed that of Belgian federal transport agency chief Laurent Ledoux on Thursday.

He had complained of a lack of funding from Ms Galant and said that the minister herself should "take responsibility and step aside".

Ms Galant said on Friday that she was shocked by the way Mr Ledoux had resigned, and said he was carrying out a "media crusade".

The 2015 European Commission report, published by public broadcaster RTBF (in French), cited "serious deficiencies" and said airport security programmes, air carriers and suppliers were "not adequately monitored".


'State malfunction' - Belgian media review by BBC Monitoring

Belgian newspapers believe that while Ms Galant had to go, her departure does not change the fact that the entire government's reputation on security appears to be in tatters. "The minister had a problem, the minister is gone," a commentary in the Het Nieuwsblad (in Dutch) says, but adds that the Brussels recent attacks revealed a wider problem with security. "And this seems to have been a bit more structural in nature than the government let on."

Le Soir (in French) agrees, saying it is still unclear whether all the necessary safety measures were taken at Belgian airports before the attacks. "The response to this question has been lost amid cries of 'Go away, Madame Galant'," it says. The real issue, it adds, is a "malfunction of the machinery of state" that has left both the government and the entire country weakened.


The two suicide bombers who attacked Brussels airport blew themselves up in the departures area and would not normally have faced any security checks.

The bomb attacks on the airport and Maelbeek metro station occurred just four days after Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was caught near his home in Molenbeek. He had been on the run for four months.

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

Mr Michel has had to defend his country's approach to fighting terror threats, insisting Belgium is not a "failed state".

The interior and justice ministers both offered to resign in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, following revelations that Turkey had warned Belgian authorities about one of the attackers when it deported him back to Belgium, but the prime minister asked them to stay on.