Approval of a draft law on consular assistance to Belgians abroad

The Council of Ministers approved this morning a draft law on consular assistance to Belgians abroad. This draft law was submitted by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders. Consular assistance is the help which Belgians receive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when they are in trouble abroad.

This draft law fills a gap. As in most other European countries, there is indeed to this day no law in Belgium regarding consular assistance. It was important for Minister Reynders to clearly define what our citizens can expect or not from our consular posts abroad. The draft law delineates also the responsibility and competences of consular services.

The draft law gives a limitative list of the circumstances in which consular assistance can be provided. This “consular package” is based on the services foreseen at the European level as well as on the current practice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

  • Death of a Belgian citizen;
  • Serious accident of which a Belgian citizen is the victim;
  • Serious offence of which a Belgian citizenis the victim;
  • Worrying disappearance of a Belgian citizen;
  • Arrest or incarceration of a Belgian citizen;
  • Situation of extreme emergency in which a Belgian citizen is caught;
  • Severe consular crisis;
  • International child abduction when the child and/or one of the parents is a Belgian citizen.

Belgians who also have the nationality of the country in which the consular assistance is required are not entitled to consular assistance if the agreement of the local authorities is required. This doesn’t mean however that consular assistance may not be provided.

Consular assistance becomes thus a right instead of a favor. Citizens are also reminded of their responsibilities. Consular assistance will be refused to a Belgian who would decide to contravene a travel advisory of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travel to a warzone or take disproportionate risks without taking the necessary insurance.

The draft law keeps a balance between the need of a greater legal security while ensuring the efficiency of consular assistance. The framework law in which this draft law is introduced gives the necessary flexibility to the provision of consular assistance. This assistance must indeed be able to adapt itself to situations which are often very complex and take place in a constantly evolving (international) context.

This draft law completes the efforts undertaken by Didier Reynders over the last few years in order to formalize and safeguard consular tasks performed by Belgian consular posts abroad. Accordingly, this law will take the form of a new chapter of the Consular code adopted at the end of 2013.