A “kick in the pants” that hurt

  • BECI’s president, Thierry Willemarck, told The Echo that family welfare should be suspended to combat absenteeism in Brussels’ schools.
  • He points to lax parenting, especially among North African families.

The “woodshed” meeting at the Brussels Economy and Employment minister Cécile Fremault’s office probably wasn’t enough to quiet the boos resulting from Thierry Willemarck’s proposal. In an interview with our colleagues at The Echo, Jean-Claude Daoust’s successor as the head of BECI (Brussels Enterprises, Commerce and Industry with 35,000 corporate members defends the individual and collective interests of Brussels businesses. He also is the head of Touring) made this statement: “We have an entire population from North Africa. The children were born in Belgium, often from second-generation parents. We can’t call them foreigners. They are Belgians, but they are from a different culture. They are also in an environment where, excuse the expression, they need a kick in the pants.” Thierry Willemarck also suggested suspending family welfare to combat absenteeism in Brussels’ schools. Céline Fremault quickly called Thierry Willemarck to make her point. “I explained to him that his proposals were particularly stigmatizing of an entire community. In Brussels one business out of two is led by someone from a diverse background,” the Brussels minister explained Friday evening. “He has to play the role of leader of Brussels’ leaders without jeopardizing what his predecessor Jean-Claude Daoust built, and what was demonstrated a few months ago by reinforcing the ties between schools and Brussels businesses [via hundreds of work days provided to young Brussels residents by local businesses].”

At the end of the meeting the head of BECI, who recalled that he was one of the first to sign the business diversity plan as head of Touring, said he regretted that his proposals shocked some sensibilities. He said that he was especially concerned with “absenteeism, which leads to dropping out, then to unemployment.” In Brussels, 18.9% of 18 to 24 year olds do not have a secondary school diploma, and they are not participating in any kind of instruction or training – as opposed to 14.7% in Wallonia and 12.3% in Flanders.

In the meantime the entire political establishment has denounced Thierry Willemarck’s proposals. Most decried both the form and substance of the remarks, except for the MR, which insisted on “separating the way it was said from the basic discussion” on measures to be taken against the disrespect of educational obligations. Rudi Vervoort (PS) Brussels minister-president, said he was “incensed” by Willemarck’s “unacceptable” proposal, while Interior minister Joëlle Milquet  (CDH) called them “totally stigmatizing, simplistic and not at all nuanced.” Minister for Youth Evelyne Huytebroeck (Ecolo) spoke of “a caricature that discredits Brussels’ young people and their families.” FDF deputy Emmanuel De Bock observed that, “some Brussels executives’ real problem is hiring discrimination,” adding that “to justify it by stigmatizing people; that’s enough to fire someone.” Finally, MRAX, the Movement Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia called it “an attack that was as pathetic as it was stupid.” 

Will Thierry Willemarck still be at the helm of BECI tomorrow? Behind the scenes people are saying he is “stunned.” His managing director, Olivier Willocx, is said to support his proposals, saying, “they shed light on a real problem,” while regretting the way they were expressed. “It’s a social problem more than a cultural problem.” 


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