Flanders president: revoking Flemish representative’s diplomatic credentials is “hostile”

Belgium’s PM contradicts Spain’s foreign minister Josep Borrell, claims there is no diplomatic spat with Spain

The president of Belgium’s Flanders region, Geert Bourgeois, has decried Mr Borrell’s decision to strip André Hebbelinck, the Flemish government’s representative to Spain, of his diplomatic credentials. Mr Bourgeois also referred to the decision as a “hostile” move, one that is “unprecedented in the history of the EU”. Speaking on Flemish public radio, the Flemish leader stated that he will request an interview with the newly-appointed Spanish ambassador, Beatriz Larrotcha, to persuade the Spanish authorities to change their mind.

Bourgeois insisted that “this hostile move is unheard of in the history of the EU” and he revealed that he has no official record of the Spanish government’s decision yet. Yesterday minister Borrell personally informed the Flemish representative to Spain that he would be removing his diplomatic status following a letter and a public statement by the Speaker of the Flemish parliament, Jan Peumans, deploring the fact that the former Speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and the other pro-independence leaders are held in prison. Mr Peumans opined that, for this reason, Spain “fails to meet the necessary requirements to be part of a democratic Europe”.

Furthermore, Mr Peumans spoke on the Flemish public radio this morning insisting that he is free to hold his own views. “So far nobody has ever drawn a line for me and Spain shouldn’t do that, either. We live in a democracy [Belgium] and I can voice my opinions in my country as I see fit”, he remarked, and he added that “in Spain politicians have been imprisoned for standing up for their views and that sort of thing does not happen under the rule of law”.

Once again, Spanish minister Josep Borrell conveyed to the Belgian ambassador that Mr Peumans’ words had made the Spanish authorities uncomfortable and informed him that he would be revoking Mr Hebbelinck’s diplomatic credentials as per Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which both Spain and Belgium are members of. Mr Hebbelinck may continue to serve on Belgium’s representation to Spain, but without diplomatic status. This is the third time in the last few weeks that Spain’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the top Belgian diplomat in Spain. Furthermore, minister Borrell added that from now on his ministry will refuse to grant diplomatic status to any Flemish representative to Spain.

Belgian PM contradicts Borrell

This afternoon Belgian PM Charles Michel denied that “a diplomatic spat has erupted between the federal government of Belgium and Spain”. Mr Michel noted that Flanders has the autonomy to make its own decisions.

This fresh incident comes ahead of next Tuesday’s meeting of European leaders in Brussels, where Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez will be joined by his Belgian counterpart, Charles Michel. Yesterday Belgium’s federal government denied any involvement in the incident and stated that “it is a problem between Flanders and Spain” and that the Spanish authorities are “free” to decide whose diplomatic status they choose to revoke.

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