Theo Francken, a member of the N-VA and the minister for asylum and migration, is under investigation over claims that the Sudanese migrants came to harm after he allowed three of the country’s officials to inspect their documents before they returned.
Fears have been raised that Sudan’s government, led by Omar al-Bashir, was effectively allowed to handpick political opponents for repatriation from Europe. Bashir, who came to power in 1989 after a military coup, is wanted in The Hague over allegations of crimes against humanity.
On Sunday, Bart De Wever, the N-VA leader, said he would rather bring down the government, which has been in power since 2014, than allow such a senior representative of his party to be forced out.
“If Theo Francken is asked to withdraw, then the N-VA will withdraw,” he said. “On this subject, I am very clear. I support Theo Francken and I will not let him down.”
Michel has insisted that whatever the result of the inquiry, Francken’s resignation is not on the cards, prompting claims from the leader of the Socialist party in parliament, Ahmed Laaouej, that in Belgium “there is no longer a prime minister”.
Eric Van Rompuy, a prominent member of the CD&V Flemish conservative party, accused Michel of becoming “a puppet” of the N-VA.
Michel, 42, is Belgium’s youngest prime minister, and leads the francophone, liberal Mouvement Réformateur. He said there was no need for a change in administration. “The country is going well, and 2018 will be a better year than 2017,” Michel told the Belgian broadcaster RTL.
The CD&V’s Kris Peeters, the deputy prime minister and economy minister, said: “Whoever leaves government now plays with fire. There is economic growth of 2% and job creation is positive, but there is still work. Work is what we have to do now.”
Carl Devos, a political commentator from the University of Ghent, told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that the prime minister was in an impossible position.
“Charles Michel knows that Theo Francken is untouchable,” he said. “He knows that if he had to ask his secretary of state to resign, it would simply sign the end of his government, which would be a resounding failure for him.”
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