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The Belgians will not go to Barkhane in 2021. And for 2022 we will see!

(B2) The Belgian Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, confirmed this Wednesday (May 19) in the defense committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Belgium will not join the French operation in the Sahel

The Belgian Ludivine Dedonder (PS) and the French Florence Parly (TDP app. LREM), all smiles in front of the photographers during the last 'defense' council on May 6 (credit: Council of the EU)

In 2021 this is excluded, no troops available

« Due to several factors such as the unforeseen extension of the NATO-led “Resolute Support” mission in Afghanistan and the reorientation and development of new initiatives within the framework of the Sahel Coalition, Defense had to review its planning operational for 2021 “indicates Ludivine Dedonder, according to the official report received by B2. " A new large-scale deployment in 2021 is therefore not realistic »

No commitment was made

Belgium therefore makes Paris wonder a little. There is no breaking a promise, assures the minister. “ Our country had not yet made any commitment. » France will appreciate… Paris which asked the “ European states to deploy more conventional troops as part of the Takuba task force » will have to chomp at the bit. And Florence Parly's objective of having around ten countries in Takuba risks being considered more worthy of the Coué method than of reality.

For 2022, we will see

For the following year, the Belgian minister is indeed more than cautious, “ the different deployment options for 2022 are currently being studied. "An extension of the Belgian military deployment in the Sahel" will be discussed in the Council of Ministers and in Parliament ". The folder " on the program of operations for 2022 “will be submitted to the government” in the last quarter of 2021 ».

A scandal with Paris narrowly avoided

This subject of Belgian participation in Barkhane was a high point of tension between Paris and Belgium. As evidenced by the tweet affair of MP Theo Francken (N-VA). Following a meeting of the commission responsible for monitoring missions abroad, the nationalist deputy tweeted this: “Operatie Barkhane: “geen deelname in 2021 #DedonderLudivin #Comdef” (Operation Barkhane: “no participation in 2021")

The French were not yet officially aware of the decision taken by the Belgian cabinet. And the phone then 'heated' between Paris and Belgium. The Belgian Minister of Defense then demanded, a few days later, in a letter addressed to the president of the commission (Annick Ponthier, belonging to the far-right Vlaams Belang party) sanctions (letter published by the RTBF). What was finally applied: ban on attending meetings to which the obligation of secrecy is applicable, until the end of the 2020-2021 ordinary session and fine in the form of a 20% deduction from his parliamentary allowance for a period of three months. Not without provoking some angry reactions from other deputies, who are nevertheless partners of the majority, such as Denis Ducarme, finding the sanction exaggerated. “ There is no fault of Théo Francken, but of Minister Dedonder thunders the Liberal MP (MR) according to the daily Le Soir.

Comment: a change of heart, a sign of disagreement?

Contrary to the official position, this is indeed a change of heart by the Belgian government. Even if no certainty was acquired, the Belgian intention had indeed been displayed, and repeated (apparently) at least during a bilateral meeting. In addition to the official argument of the lack of troops, we can put forward two other politico-military elements. On the one hand, the absence of a political consensus between the various partners of the majority on this high-risk commitment. On the other hand, the absence of a truly fixed framework for the multinational plan. Are there other elements to explain this Belgian attitude? Nothing can be excluded... In any case, there is some trouble on the line between Paris and Belgium.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).