Shopping trip by Wilders to Belgium could prove expensive

‘Why on earth should the Ghent taxpayer have to pick up the tab for a private visit which our authorities actually advised against?’

Dutch leader of the far right  Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, posing with  new members  after the recent parliamentary elections in The Netherlands. Photograph:  EPA/Valerie Kuypers

Dutch leader of the far right Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, posing with new members after the recent parliamentary elections in The Netherlands. Photograph: EPA/Valerie Kuypers

 

A row has broken out over a brief private shopping trip by Dutch far-right politician, Geert Wilders, and his wife, Krisztina, to the Belgian city of Ghent three days after the general election in March – for which the city council has now been presented with a security bill of €13,500.

Mr Wilders lives under 24-hour guard, and although little is usually known about his private life, it’s emerged that shortly after the election on March 15th, in which his Freedom Party was roundly beaten by prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals, he expressed an interest in taking a break in Ghent.

The initial reaction from the Ghent authorities was negative because they felt they didn’t have time to carry out a proper risk analysis of the locations he was likely to visit. However, despite their unenthusiastic response, Mr Wilders’ aides remained adamant that the visit was going to go ahead.

And so on Saturday, March 18th – when it became clear that, as anticipated, the Freedom Party would be excluded from talks on a new coalition government – Mr Wilders and his wife, a former diplomat who has Hungarian roots, arrived in Ghent for the one-day break.

Because the Freedom Party leader lives alone in a “safe house” provided by the Dutch authorities, he and his wife are believed to meet only about once a week – and so a trip out of the country together is highly unusual and poses additional security headaches for his protection team.

The cost of those security headaches became clear on Friday when it emerged that Ghent city council had been forced to deploy a total of 57 undercover and uniformed police officers in advance of and during Mr Wilders’s trip – at a total cost of €13,500.

Although the two men did not meet, the only official to be informed about the visit was the mayor of Ghent, Daniël Termont, who revealed the figures when he was questioned by the leader of the Christian Democrats on the city council, Veli Yüksel – who described them as outrageous.

“People are entitled to travel wherever they wish, of course,” Mr Yüksel said, “but why on earth should the Ghent taxpayer have to pick up the tab for a private visit which our authorities actually advised against?

“Not alone that, but when the bill for policing and security rises so outrageously high, it seems only right that the cost should be recovered from the individual involved – or from the Dutch government.”

With Mr Wilders excluded, talks on a new Dutch coalition are continuing between the Liberals, the Christian Democrats, D66 and GreenLeft. Their facilitator, Edith Schippers, says she does not expect to see a new government before Easter.