Why ‘strong Pol’ confronts the jailers: ‘The danger is that he becomes a little too confident’

Why ‘strong Pol’ confronts the jailers: ‘The danger is that he becomes a little too confident’
Why ‘strong Pol’ confronts the jailers: ‘The danger is that he becomes a little too confident’

Paul Van Tigchelt is not having his best week. The conflict with the prisoner unions, which have long been angry about the overcrowding in the prisons, turned into an indefinite strike on Monday evening. The unions had hoped that the Minister of Justice would put a solution on the table for the lack of staff, especially after a detainee was tortured by cellmates in the Antwerp prison a few weeks ago. But that solution did not materialize.

Van Tigchelt did warn that he would requisition striking prison guards from the first day of the strike to guarantee a minimum occupancy in the prisons. An announcement that, as expected, was like a red rag to a bull. “The minister has blown up all the bridges,” proclaimed liberal trade union secretary Eddy De Smedt (VSOA). According to Robby De Kaey of the socialist trade union ACOD, Van Tigchelt tried to “muzzle” the staff.

Since then things have been going very hard. West Flemish Governor Carl Decaluwé (CD&V) ordered 52 striking prison guards for the Bruges prison alone on Tuesday. Staff members were also forced to work in the prisons in Ghent and Merksplas. Officers were called in to respond to the greatest needs in the Brussels prisons of Haren and Sint-Gillis. It is not yet clear when the guards will end their actions. On Thursday they will meet again with Van Tigchelt.

Just Pol

The crisis illustrates the difficult balancing act for Van Tigchelt. When he replaced Vincent Van Quickenborne as justice minister at the end of October, he immediately knew that he only had seven months left to establish himself as Antwerp’s figurehead for the liberals. That’s not much for a man who until then was a noble unknown to the general public. He will soon have to compete in his constituency against top performers such as Bart De Wever (N-VA) and Annelies Verlinden (CD&V).

The former OCAD boss is known to enjoy running marathons. But in recent months it has become apparent that he also has a talent for sprinting. From day one, he never missed an opportunity to be in the spotlight. As a former spokesperson for then minister Patrick Dewael (Open Vld), Van Tigchelt understands the art of seizing every communication opportunity with both hands. And if necessary, to create them himself, as when he recently traveled to Dubai to arrange the extradition to Belgium of ‘Dikke Nordin van den Dam’, a drug criminal – with success, as it turned out not much later.

simple baker’s son

Van Tigchelt cultivates the image of a simple baker’s son from the Kempen. A man who, as a drug magistrate, called himself ‘just Pol’, who until recently was a youth coach at the local football club and who spent many hours in his youth in his parents’ bakery. “On Sunday we had to go to mass, after noon I went to the Chiro. On Saturdays I played football, went for pints with my mates, and when I got home at night my dad would call me in to sandwiches to make,” he said recently Humo.

In the meantime, his rolled-up shirt sleeves are being discussed extensively in Wetstraat. What initially appears to be an old habit is, for some, also a slightly too flashy attempt to radiate decisiveness and bravado. Because Van Tigchelt markets himself as a hard-working man on the ground. A man who dares to name problems and who, for example, is not afraid to work with a camera crew Level 4 to go on a drug patrol near Brussels South Station.

Minister of Justice Paul Van Tigchelt.Image ID/ Frederiek Vande Velde

Largely right. Because before he became minister, Van Tigchelt worked for years in all kinds of security positions. He knows what it is like to roll up drug gangs or track down terrorists. He can capitalize on that experience. It may ensure that Van Tigchelt will soon also appeal to voters who are not necessarily traditionally blue. At least that is the hope in the party.

Yet the question is whether it is not all a bit too harsh. Isn’t Van Tigchelt a bit too much sheriff, not enough diplomat? For example, the fact that he quickly placed responsibility for the torture in Antwerp on the then striking prison guards is one of the reasons why the unions are now in war mode. Also his passage Gert’s tablewhere he jokingly announced his resignation, was not well received.

“If he still has an entire legislature as minister, it might be better to be a little more reserved. But he has to make a return on June 9. Then you choose to go into communicative overdrive,” says political scientist Dave Sinardet (VUB). “The danger is that you become a little too confident, a little too uninhibited. And yes, sometimes maybe a little too arrogant. It’s a fine line between playing up your experience and making it ridiculous.”

overcrowded prisons

With the overcrowded prisons, the strong man of the liberals is already faced with a file that cannot be solved in one, two, three. His entourage notes that we cannot simply open a drawer with additional prisons. The fact that the execution of short prison sentences is a hobbyhorse of Open Vld does not make it any easier.

Public opinion is generally not very concerned about the fate of prisoners, according to the cynical political law. But he has little to gain from a weeks-long battle with the unions during the election campaign.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: strong Pol confronts jailers danger confident


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