Belgium police intervene at far-right event over concerns about public safety News
Belgium police intervene at far-right event over concerns about public safety

Belgian police intervened at the National Conservatism Conference (NatCon) on Tuesday, following an order prohibiting the event. The order, issued by the mayor of the Brussels municipality of Saint-Joose-ten-Noode Emir Kir, was aimed at preventing public disorder.

The conference, set for April 16 and 17, faced disruption on its first day due to the police intervention. Although not completely shut down, police fully restricted entry to the event around noon and asked the organizers to clear the area while speeches were nonetheless delivered. In the period leading up to the event the conference had been a contentious issue in Brussels, particularly amidst the upcoming European Parliament elections in June. Organizers have already encountered challenges in securing a venue, with the event ultimately taking place at the Claridge Hotel in Saint-Josse-ten-Noode.

The annual event garners significant attention, serving as a platform for approximately 40 conservatives, right-wing politicians, scholars, journalists, senior clergy members of the Catholic Church and other public figures to convene and reinforce the principles of national conservatism in Western and other democratic nations. Notable speakers at the conference include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, former Reform UK Party (formerly Brexit UK) leader Nigel Farage, former Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck and French politician Éric Zemmour.

The police intervention has garnered international attention, prompting criticism from various politicians. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo voiced his dissatisfaction on X (formerly Twitter) condemning the actions of the Brussels police as unacceptable and contrary to the Belgian constitution. He recognized the importance of municipal autonomy in democracy but emphasized that it should never override constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

The notion that prohibiting political gatherings regardless of personal beliefs and disagreement is unconstitutional was also shared by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni, who echoed De Croo’s sentiment, expressing disbelief and shock at the violation of freedom of speech resulting from the intervention.

The convention organizers also asserted a violation of their freedom of assembly due to the mayor’s order and challenged the decision at the Council of State, Belgium’s highest administrative court. In an overnight ruling by the Council of State, the conference has been allowed to proceed today, as reported on the website of ADF International, a conservative Christian legal organization some of whose members were scheduled to participate and speak at the event. The Council of State considered all pertinent factors and ultimately determined that there were inadequate grounds to justify the ban, citing insufficient risks to public order. Instead of banning the conference authorities should focus on ensuring the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly.