Mayors crack down on law that should make local governments more effective in the fight against organized crime: “It’s just making it more difficult for us” | Interior

The mayors of Flemish central cities are cracking down on the law on administrative enforcement. This law should give local authorities more clout in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime. But the mayors fear just the opposite: the way the new regulation is now, they will only be able to intervene after much more bureaucracy. “While acting quickly is very important here.”

Organized crime does not operate in the shadows, but blends into the economic fabric of our daily existence. “Money is laundered in shops without customers, drugs are produced in company hangars, people are exploited in massage parlors, and so on. These are matters that often catch the eye of a mayor or the local police more quickly than of the Justice Department.”

It is important to give those players the necessary tools to be able to take the first measures themselves, they say.

More powerful, or not?

After intense consultation with all stakeholders, Minister of the Interior Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) came up with a bill. Tomorrow it will be on the agenda of the House Committee on the Interior. The ‘federal bill on municipal administrative enforcement’ must provide a new legal framework so that local authorities can take more effective action against organized crime, for example by revoking operating licenses or initiating an integrity investigation.


By the time we have all the papers, the bird has long since taken flight

Wim Dries (CD&V), mayor of Genk and chairman of VVSG

But just the opposite is true, says the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG) in a joint communication with mayors of various political parties: the current draft law means that local authorities will be less able to intervene than now. The mayors want an adjustment.

“Paper tiger”

“The bill before us gives birth to a paper tiger,” says Mathias De Clercq (Open Vld), mayor of Ghent. “Local authorities must be able to intervene quickly and efficiently against undermining crime. The bill does not offer those guarantees today.” For example, cities and municipalities will be able to conduct such an ‘integrity investigation’ into persons in certain ‘sensitive’ economic sectors, but if they want to conduct such an investigation for one case, they must immediately screen the entire sector. So, for example, if a municipality has problems with a rogue catering establishment, it must have all catering establishments on its territory screened. “This is practically not feasible and not desirable with regard to entrepreneurs who cannot be blamed.”

A municipality that has sufficient information itself to close a building and can motivate this, will also first have to seek mandatory advice from the Directorate for Integrity Assessment for Public Administrations (DIOB), a federal body. “This shows little confidence in local authorities and is at odds with the principle of subsidiarity. In addition, the DIOB will be overwhelmed with local requests for advice and create an administrative ‘bottleneck’. By the time we have all the papers, the bird has long since started flying,” says Wim Dries (CD&V), mayor of Genk and chairman of VVSG.

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In addition to the federal initiative, there is now also a draft decree at Flemish level on the establishment of a DIOB. VVSG notes that this design also needs adjustments and clarifications. The association also expressly asks both levels to coordinate their initiatives sufficiently. “There is an absolute need for coordination between the federal draft law and the Flemish initiative, it cannot be the intention that we have to work with 2 DIOBs”, also points out Mohamed Ridouani (Vooruit), mayor of Leuven.

“Step back”

Today, a mayor can intervene where necessary on the basis of the administrative police powers from the New Municipal Act. Those powers should be strengthened, while the bill imposes much more restrictive conditions on the mayor and curtails his municipal autonomous police powers, according to the VVSG.

“That is not strengthening the local authorities, we are taking steps backwards with this,” says Christoph D’Haese (N-VA), mayor of Aalst. “What is now before mayors prevents mayors from acting quickly and that is very important.” He adds: “Where is the confidence in the expertise and strengths of our local authorities?”

“The legal framework of Minister Verlinden imposes additional barriers and procedural pitfalls,” concludes N-VA Member of Parliament Yngvild Ingels. The party is putting its own bill back on the table. “Our bill gives local authorities much more options for customization and that is exactly what administrative enforcement is all about.”