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Brussels state secretary Pascal Smet resigns over controversy from visiting Iranians and Russians

11:20 19/06/2023

Brussels secretary of state Pascal Smet ( has resigned after emails surfaced that revealed his administration not only invited an Iranian delegation and Russian politician into Belgium but also paid the associated costs of their travel.

“I did not make a mistake myself, but it was done under my responsibility,” Smet said, having tendered his resignation in a letter to Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort (PS).

Emails revealed that Smet’s cabinet allowed the accommodation costs of the Iranian delegation along with a Russian deputy mayor, as was done for all other heads of delegation.

“I cannot reconcile it with my conscience that Belgian money for accommodation expenses would go to a representative of the Iranian or Russian regime,” Smet said, adding that the organiser of the conference that the delegation attended, Metropolis, will refund the costs to the Brussels region.

Calling the payment of their accommodations an “error of judgement”, Smet said that a staff member made the call without notifying him but also added: “I am responsible for the misconduct of a member of my cabinet.”

Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib (MR) was also criticised for reportedly insisting on letting the Iranian delegation into Belgium, and Smet said he felt “personally affected” by how Lahbib “threw him under the bus” in the federal parliament regarding the delegation’s visit.

Lahbib claimed there that Smet had made “insistent demands” for the Iranian delegation to be granted a visa, but Smet provided documents and emails from as far back as March which confirmed he had expressed strong disapproval of any Iranian and Russian delegations coming to Brussels.

Reactions to his resignation have been mixed, with some calling it “courageous” and others “a grave error” considering Lahbib’s role in the debacle.

Vervoort himself said the Brussels government is losing “a secretary of state with great passion for his region”.

Smet said that party chairman Conner Rousseau told him his resignation wasn not necessary “but he does respect my decision”.

Others – namely in the opposition – supported Smet’s decision to step down.

“This is a justified and only correct decision – this was too serious a political mistake,” Brussels MP Mathias Vanden Borre (N-VA) said on Twitter.

“Inviting criminal regimes to Brussels goes against the international open status that Brussels promotes. This was not a diplomatic conference, but a political meeting.”

MP David Leisterh (MR) agreed, tweeting: “The pride of Brussels is to receive the oppressed, not the oppressors. The Brussels government can no longer just act without fearing consequences. Our capital deserves better.”

Others point to Lahbib’s role in the debacle, with Vanden Borre (N-VA) pointing out that “the granting of visas is and remains ultimately a federal decision. We maintain that this is a shared responsibility.”

Party chairman and Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever agreed, saying: “That Pascal Smet takes responsibility is correct, but the final political responsibility remains with the foreign minister. She cannot stay on. A signal is needed that genuine political refugees in our country are safe from the Iranian regime.”

MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez painted an even broader picture from the mess: “We see here again the frivolity and amateurism of the Brussels government in all areas, starting with the economy, cleanliness and mobility.”

Reactions aside, Smet stated that he is also tired of politics, having already had to answer to the Uber committee in the Brussels parliament earlier this year regarding allegations that he gave the American rideshare corporation preferential treatment because he was friendly with one of its employees.

Smet became involved in politics in the late 1980s and has headed a number of departments in both the Brussels and Flemish governments.

His successor will be determined in the coming weeks. Brussels-City alderwoman Ans Persoons and Vooruit leader Hannelore Goeman have been mentioned as potential candidates.

Hilde Sabbe ( is now leaving the Brussels parliament because Smet will once again take her place.

Written by Helen Lyons



How is it possible that a member of staff decides alone how to spend or waste tax payer’s money? The director - Secretary of State - did not know? How many staff member have the budget rights? No wonder that taxation in Belgium is amongst the highest in Europe. And what was the outcome of this “important” conference in times of accelerating climate change? A lot of CO2 emissions… compensated by what?

Jun 20, 2023 09:23

He resigned but he just took up his old seat. It's not like he has disappeared from politics and I can imagine his connections and influence are still intact. Politicians everywhere think they have a job for life and giving up all their pay and privileges is simply never an option.

Jun 20, 2023 14:24

I agree with the previous contents and would like to add one more angle:
Maybe the reason he was so super sensitive and resigned so hastily could very well be in order to halt some other type of investigation which, if had been made public he would have had much more serious issues to answer on.
However, just wanted to make sure everyone understands that even after an act which drove him to resign, he still feels that we is good enough and we need to keep paying him heftily, in another position, that of the legislator!

Jun 23, 2023 19:56