Friday, April 15, 2016

Belgian Transport Minister Resigns Amid Security Shortcomings: Jacqueline Galant is the first minister to step down after last month’s terror attacks

Belgian Transport Minister Jacqueline Galant, above, resigned Friday.

The Wall Street Journal
Updated April 15, 2016 7:20 a.m. ET

Belgium’s transport minister resigned on Friday amid allegations that she ignored warnings over shortcomings in security monitoring and funding at Brussels Airport, becoming the first member of the government to fall in the wake of last months terror attacks.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel confirmed that he had accepted the resignation of Jacqueline Galant, a member of his own centrist party. “I salute the dignity she shows,” Mr. Michel said.

Pressure on Ms. Galant had grown in recent days after leaked European Commission reports showed that the European Union executive had repeatedly warned that the country’s civil aviation authority wasn’t conducting sufficient checks at Belgian airports.

The commission is in charge of ensuring that airports, airlines and national regulators implement EU laws on aviation security. Those laws, and the commission checks, are limited to the “airside” of an airport—after passengers have passed through security—rather than the “landside,” which includes the airport departure hall where the terrorists set off their bombs on March 22.

The commission’s reports also raised questions over shortcomings at the civil aviation authority, which is controlled by the transport ministry.

In a news conference, Ms. Galant blamed the criticism on a personalized campaign against her. “The orchestrated and theatrical confusion of the past 48 hours prevent me from continuing the accomplishments in my portfolios with serenity,” Ms. Galant said. She rejected claims that she neglected security issues. “In fact, if there was ever an area to which I always paid attention it was this one,” she told reporters.

The concerns triggered by the commission reports were underscored by the resignation earlier this week of the senior civil servant in Ms. Galant’s ministry, Laurent Ledoux. In comments to Belgian media, Mr. Ledoux harshly criticized Ms. Galant’s working methods and claimed that she ignored calls for extra funding for security monitoring at the airport.

At a hearing in the Belgian Parliament on Thursday, Ms. Galant was also criticized by lawmakers for her failure to prevent a walkout by air-traffic controllers. That walkout, triggered by a pension dispute, led to severe disruptions at Brussels Airport on Tuesday and Wednesday, just over a week after the hub reopened.

“My way of acting has at times annoyed certain people, but it has also been applauded by others,” Ms. Galant said in her news conference on Friday.

The March 22 bombings killed 16 people at the airport and another 16 at the Maelbeek subway stop. More than 300 were injured.

Two other members of the government, Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens, had offered to resign in the days after the attacks. But their offers were rejected by Mr. Michel.

Mr. Michel said that his government has now commissioned a precise analysis of the way the commission report has been treated since it was sent to the ministry in the spring of 2015. He also noted that the government had been reinforcing security at the airport before the March 22 attacks, regardless of the reports.

Ms. Galant’s resignation was nevertheless appropriate because her ministry failed to inform him and parliament about the commission’s findings, Mr. Michel said. At the hearing on Thursday, Mr. Michel told lawmakers that he found out about the reports through the media.

“I cannot accept that the parliament wasn’t informed about this precise element yesterday, even if the minister had indicated to me that she personally hadn’t received the document,” he said.

Christophe Cordier, a spokesman for Ms. Galant’s party, the Reformist Movement, said on Twitter that the party will designate her successor “as soon as possible.”

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