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Belgium's Reynders on terrorism, Ukraine and Greece


interview

Belgium's Reynders on terrorism, Ukraine and Greece

Belgium is providing Europe’s highest proportion of jihadist volunteers to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq , official figures tell us — in proportion to Belgium’s population: some 200 are currently in the conflict region, and 100 have returned. Belgian special forces recently broke up a strike cell preparing an attack in Belgium. We talk to the Foreign Minister about counter-terrorism efforts, Ukraine and Greece.

Audrey Tilve, euronews: “Didier Reynders, your country, along with France, is especially concerned by the threat of terrorism. We’re going to talk about the means involved, but first, how do you explain that Belgium is one of the main hotbeds of jihadism in Europe?”

Didier Reynders, Belgian foreign Minister: “We’re in a country that has diverse communities of significant size, but we are also working daily to identify the jihadists. I don’t know, statistically, if every country goes about this work in the same way. So I hope that all the countries in Europe keep track as closely as we do, which allowed us just a few days ago to carry out police operations and intercept groups before they went into action, which is essential. We keep a close eye on them, and that is probably what makes the difference: we are quite accurate in identifying the people who present a risk.”

euronews: “Several European countries have presented a pile of proposals aimed at predicting or repressing terrorism, for example by taking away the passports of jihadists or candidates, their ID cards or even nationality. We also hear talk about giving schoolchildren courses in secular citizenship. We get the impression of measures papering over the cracks. Is all this really effective?”

Reynders: “Taking away passports and ID cards is very important — a substitute card is provided for identification, that’s what we want to do — taking away these means of travel. It prevents people from moving around freely in case they are clearly indicated as dangerous. This is as it should be. And you raise the point about radicalisation. There, we have to take action with real means. In prisons, isolation is also effective.”

euronews: “To group fanatics all together, you think that’s a good solution?”

Reynders: “Of course, absolutely, specific enclosures to prevent them from contact with younger or other inmates who would otherwise become strongly radicalised in prison.”

euronews: “But full contact among themselves.”

“Not necessarily, you can have isolation systems in cells. But in any case, if they’re already radicalised, as far as I’m concerned they can stay together. They mustn’t contaminate the others. That’s the first measure to take. The second is education, that is setting out how to learn…”

euronews: “Can providing citizenship classes compensate for parents’ failure to educate? Can it prevent indoctrination?”

“There are two things we have to do at home, and it’s not the same in Belgium as in France, not the same as in other countries. For us, we have to be far more involved in education also through how imams are trained. In Belgium we don’t have specific education for those who practise and are, even more importantly, in charge of the Muslim religion, such as exists in Catholicism or secular morality. The other facet is young people. Our country has something we’ve inherited through our history. Religion is taught in schools. But in an official school, the pupils split up to take classes in the different religions. Manifestly, what we have to do is to keep them together in class and try to talk to them not only about citizenship but about the history of religions, about their capacity to live together even when we have different convictions. But those aren’t solutions for avoiding an attack next week. Those are solutions that might take several generations, to repair, which is true, the failures that have been committed in the way living together has been organised among several communities.”

euronews: “We’ve heard some Muslim countries citing the plight of the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans to put the attacks in Paris into relative terms. There is a real overlap between these crises, the fate of these peoples and the balancing of our societies. Will that not move along development of politics in Belgium, and of European politics dealing with emblematic cases such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”

Reynders: “I wish there were a stronger European Union presence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have hung back too often, leaving the Americans to take the lead. We have to work together. But first the Israelis and Palestinians need to talk to each other again. What happened in Paris is different. Journalists were killed because they expressed themselves freely, through caricature. Police officers were killed because they represented authority. But the Jews were killed simply because they are Jews. We cannot excuse or find any sort of reason for that sort of act, whether social or stemming from conflicts in the world.”

euronews: “Let’s talk about Ukraine, the attack on Mariupol. Europe hoped that Russia’s economic difficulties would force Vladimir Putin to bend his position, but no way. What sort of way out do you see for Ukraine, if at all?”

Reynders: “More pressure needs to be brought on Russia. We’ve used economic sanctions and sanctions on individuals and companies. We have to do that while keeping channels open for discussion with Russia.”

euronews: “It’s been a year since the start of trying to open up a dialogue, and not much has come of it. More than 5,000 people have been killed in Ukraine.”

Reynders: “We must keep up the strongest pressure possible on Russia, as we’ve been doing.”

euronews: “Is partitioning Ukraine still taboo? That is what’s been happening, Putin achieving his enlarged New Russia.”

Reynders: “That’s what he wants to do. We want Ukraine to form back together again, taking all its parts into account. Probably, some people don’t feel represented, and didn’t, by power concentrated in Kyiv in the past. So there is a lot of work to do there. But that doesn’t rule out maintaining Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

euronews: “About Greece, which is at the centre of Europe’s attention at the moment. the new government is going to ask its European partners to erase part of its debt and allow it to pay the rest back over more time, freezing interest payments for a while. Is Belgium ready to accept some of these requests?”

Reynders: “The first thing is that Greece, whatever its government is, has to keep its commitments. What we expect first of all from the new Greek government, is that it respect this.”

euronews: “Meaning?”

Reynders: “It means returning to healthy accounts. If the new government comes asking for longer reimbursement periods, if we’re going to be able to accommodate that, it is always possible…”

euronews: “So, ‘yes’ to spreading payments out but ‘no’ to writing off part of the debt?”

Reynders: “Simply ‘no’ to calling into question all the commitments Greece has made itself. A government must respect what has been agreed.”

euronews: “You were minister of finance for a long time. You know that 180 percent debt is unsustainable and that if no concessions are granted, in the end Greece will default on its payments to the detriment of its creditors, who are mainly European states, therefore the European taxpayer. Is that what we want?”

Reynders: “What strikes me the most in the current debate is that Greece is being lined up in opposition to Europe. It’s not Europe facing Greece, it’s all Europe’s taxpayers. When one asks, ‘are you ready to erase Greece’s debt?’ it means asking a Frenchman, a German and a Belgian to pay what Greece owes. That’s not the way we work, I believe. Even the International Monetary Fund has strongly diluted Argentina’s debt or others’, but that is in asking for a return to balance in the end, to be capable of reimbursing one day. That’s the balance that has to be found. It’s up to the new government to tell us what they ask but also what it’s prepared to do within Greece itself.”

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