The Belgian Environment Minister from the nation's Flanders region resigned from her post on Tuesday after sparking outrage by accusing students holding weekly climate strikes in Brussels and other cities of being puppets in an orchestrated plot.
In addition to denigrating the motivations behind the protests, Joke Schauvliege claimed she was given intelligence from security officials that the demonstrations over the last five weeks—and attended by tens of thousands of students and others—were not "spontaneous actions" but something more nefarious.
"The minister's allegation is an insult to the authentic engagement of so many young people." —Youth for Climate"I know who is behind this movement, both of the Sunday demonstrations and the truants," Schauvliege said last month, referring to the tens of thousands of students who have walked out of their classrooms to demand that their leaders rapidly shift away from fossil fuel-based energy to combat the climate crisis.
"I have also been told that from state security," she added. "I can guarantee that I do not see ghosts alone."
However, Schauvliege was forced to admit Tuesday that her claim was false after Belgian security authorities told the press that "We have not reported anything" to the minister about a plot by students to do anything other than gather legally and demand action from their elected representatives.
Flemish Environment Minister Schauvliege resigns after receiving waves of protest messages. She falsely claimed that State Security had informed her that an organization was behind the climate marches in Belgium. https://t.co/TPzjxhFyjc
— Kees van der Leun (@Sustainable2050) February 5, 2019
The climate debate, Schauvliege tweeted Tuesday as she announced her resignation, "must not revolve around me as a person, and that is why I take a step that should bring back serenity and reasonableness."
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Schauvliege refused to call her claim a "lie," however, saying she had simply said something that wasn't true.
Student organizers had already responded to the minister's comments with a mix of disgust and dismissal.
"At first, I had to laugh really hard" after hearing the comments, march organizer Anuna de Wever told VRT network. The 17-year-old has helped gather as many as 30,000 students to attend recent Thursday climate strike marches and 80,000 demonstrators at a rally on January 27.
"It is very strange that a minister can lie about such a thing," de Wever told the Guardian. "That's just not the case. Can we stop doubting the movement?"
"I still hope that she wants to work with us on a more ambitious climate policy," she added before Schauvliege announced her resignation.
"The minister's allegation is an insult to the authentic engagement of so many young people," said Youth for Climate, the grassroots group which has organized the marches, said in a statement.
The outgoing environment minister has clashed with climate action groups in the past. Greenpeace filed suit against the Flanders government last year over its failure to take meaningful action to curb air pollution from cars.
"These governments are willfully negligent by not sufficiently protecting their citizens against the serious impact that polluted air has on our health," Greenpeace Belgium said in a complaint about Schauvliege's administration.