Belgium promises tough action against EU rioters

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.25, 21.6.01, p1
Publication Date 21/06/2001
Content Type

Date: 21/06/01

By John Shelley

BELGIUM has declared it is confident it can avoid any repeat of the destruction and violence seen at Göteborg last week, despite warnings of massive protests planned for the European summit at Laeken.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and Brussels Region Premier François-Xavier de Donnea have vowed that security forces will crack down hard on any violence.

The Göteborg riots, which left hundreds injured, will boost calls for a purpose-built conference centre to be constructed on the outskirts of Brussels to host future European Council meetings.

After the 14-15 December summit at Laeken, Belgium will hold at least two European Council meetings every year following a pledge by EU leaders at the Nice summit last year.

What was intended as a sweetener to win Verhofstadt's support for the controversial treaty is now being seen by some observers as a poisoned chalice.

However de Donnea insists Brussels is still looking forward to hosting European summits and believes its police force, who unlike their Swedish counterparts are allowed to use tear gas and water cannons, is well-equipped to tackle any disturbances. "Brussels police have a lot of experience with demonstrations; we have them every day in the town," said his spokeswoman Nadya de Beule. The security forces have also benefited from the experience of dealing with the Euro 2000 soccer tournament.

De Beule insisted that the devastation caused in the centre of Göteborg would add weight to calls for a conference centre to be built in Brussels on the site of a former customs depot known as Tour et Taxis, close to the city's Gare du Nord railway station and occasionally used as a music festival venue.

As well as being several minutes' drive away from the EU institutions, there is no residential housing nearby. "It would be really very easy to arrange the security against demonstrations there," she said.

However the European Commission and the federal Belgian government are thought to still favour a centre closer to the Schuman district, between the Commission's Berlaymont building and the European Parliament.

Chris Jacobs, advisor to the Belgian ministry of the interior, warns that merely placing the summit further away would not spare the EU institutions from anarchist attack. "It doesn't matter where the meetings are held, the people will go for the symbols," said Jacobs. "The symbols of Europe are in the Schuman district. "

Anti-capitalist group International Resistance said this week it expected 40,000 demonstrators during the main Belgian presidency summit near the royal palace at Laeken. The group's spokeswoman Dagmar Walgraeve said she hoped the protests would be peaceful. "That has a lot more effect than a small minority throwing rocks," she added.

The opening summit of the new Belgian presidency will be held in the medieval town of Ghent on 19 October, while the first of the European Council meetings to be held in Brussels under the Nice treaty deal will probably take place in 2002 under the Danish presidency in the second half of the year.

Meanwhile, the Göteborg riots have also prompted fears about the next gathering of G8 leaders on 20-22 July. Italy's newly-elected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the previous government's decision to host the event in Genoa was "unfortunate".

He is worried the historic port is unsuitable for an event of such a scale because its many narrow streets and alleys will make crowd control difficult.

Italy has already switched the venue for the meeting of G8 foreign ministers on 18-19 July from Portofino to Rome.

Belgium has declared it is confident it can avoid any repeat of the destruction and violence seen at Gothenburg in June 2001, despite warnings of massive protests planned for the European summit at Laeken in December 2001.

Subject Categories