Meet the non-Belgian councillors in your commune

By now, we hopefully are all aware that non-Belgians can vote in the communal elections in Belgium, especially since the next one will be on October 14 and the deadline for registration is on July 31. But do you know that non-Belgian EU citizens can also run for office in the communes?

Yes, you got that right. In fact, while many non-Belgians in Brussels may have been forgetting the local elections and neglecting their precious democratic right to vote, other non-Belgians have gone far beyond just voting. They ran for councillor, got elected, and dedicated themselves to serving the city. 

Today, we introduce you to some of your fellow non-Belgians in Brussels who currently occupy a position in their respective communes.

Rik Jellema 

  • Country of Origin: The Netherlands
  • Commune: Etterbeek
  • Position: Alderman for public works and roads, public buildings, development of green spaces, and sustainable neighborhood contracts
  • Party: Ecolo-Groen

Rik Jellema is quite the historic figure in Brussels local politics.  In 2000, when non-Belgians were allowed to participate in the communal elections and EU citizens were allowed to run for communal office for the first time, he was the very first non-Belgian to be elected councillor in the Brussels region. And then, when elected non-Belgians secured the right to become aldermen and alderwomen in 2006,  he again became the very first non-Belgian in Brussels to be appointed alderman in 2012.

Originally from Leeuwarden in the northern side of the Netherlands, Jellema moved to Brussels in 1987 to work as a translator for the Council of the European Union. In 1991, he joined Flemish political party Agalev which later became known as Groen. After two legislative terms as councillor, he became a member of the Collège échevinal or the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Etterbeek.

Under his leadership, Etterbeek was granted its first sustainable neighborhood contract by the Brussels regional government in 2013. The project, which is now in its final phase, aims to produce more affordable housing and nurseries, and develop more green spaces in Etterbeek.

As a non-Belgian public servant in Brussels, Jellema considers himself an advocate for all Bruxellois – whether Belgian or non-Belgian, European or non-European. He says, regardless of background, residents of Brussels all have the same human needs: a good school for our children, clean streets, good air quality, security, etc.

So what is it like working with Belgian politicians? Jellema admits clashes are inevitable at times. As a Dutchman, he says he is wont to “say what he does and do what he says.” And this straightforward style of politics doesn’t always sit well with Belgian diplomacy and sensitivity. But he says, he always does his best not to provoke the Belgians while still maintaining his ground.

 

Victoria de Vigneral 

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Saint-Gilles
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Reformist Movement (MR)

Victoria de Vigneral was one of the youngest councillors to be elected in the last communal elections of 2012. She was 28 years old back then. Now, six years later, she looks back on her first term as councillor and describes it as the most rewarding experience of her life.

De Vigneral grew up in Normandy and lived in Brittany before moving to Brussels in 2006 to pursue a master’s degree in communications.  Years of being a political activist eventually led her to the world of Brussels politics. 

As councillor, de Vigneral spent the last six years reaching out to Saint-Gilles residents and reporting their concerns to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. One of her recent activities involved participating in the decision to extend the opening hours of bars and restaurants in Saint-Gilles from 12 midnight to 1 o’clock in the morning during weekends and holidays. It took several heated debates before the controversial issue was resolved last month.

At present, de Vigneral is busy preparing for the this year’s communal elections and encouraging her fellow Europeans in Brussels to vote.

Bertrand Wert

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Ixelles
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Ecolo-Groen

Bertrand Wert is one of the most visible, vocal, and passionately engaged non-Belgian politicians in Brussels. Aside from his communal duties, he also organises ways to  get more non-Belgians to vote in the October communal elections and mobilises the 1bru1vote campaign calling for the Belgian government to grant non-Belgians the right to vote in the regional elections. At the same time, he serves as project advisor for the European Commission’s Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME).

Wert is from Lyon, but he has been a Brussels local since 2000. After years of working in the EU institutions, he became a councillor in 2012. One of his most significant accomplishments is having been able to influence the Ixelles commune’s decision to change the food provider in public schools in favour of a firm that specialises in healthier, more sustainable, and better-quality meals for students.

Along with his party, Wert has also been instrumental in gearing the Ixelles commune towards the use of less toxic and more environment-friendly service transportation. He is also pushing for better conditions and security measures for the inhabitants of some of Ixelles’ most vulnerable neighborhoods.

 

Virginie Taittinger

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Etterbeek
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Reformist Movement (MR)

If her name rings a bell, that’s because she comes from the illustrious Taittinger family of Champagne fame from the city of Reims.

Taittinger moved to Brussels more than 10 years ago and entered Brussels politics in 2012. While serving as councillor, she also runs her own Champagne brand called Virginie T. which she launched in 2008.

Caroline Schickel 

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Etterbeek
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Ecolo-Groen

As a non-Belgian councillor, Caroline Schickel considers it her job to uphold the rights and interests of her fellow non-Belgians in Etterbeek. She says she never misses an opportunity to speak on their behalf such as promoting their right to register and vote in the local elections, participate in town hall discussions, and avail of public services.

Schickel comes from the northeastern French region of Alsace. It has been more than 20 years since she moved to Belgium. With a background in European politics and journalism, she worked for the European Commission and the Council of the European Union and later joined the Groen party. She has served as a councillor for a total of two and half years. Last year, she co-authored a communal policy to strengthen the fight against bicycle theft. Under this policy, residents can receive a 30 percent subsidy for buying good quality bicycle locks and other protective equipment for their bikes.

For the next years, Schickel is taking a break from politics to spend more quality time with her children. But she doesn’t exclude the possibility of running for office again in the future. Meanwhile, she says she will continue as an environmental activist and campaigner. 

Anne Morin

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Saint-Gilles
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Socialist Party (PS)

Anne Morin describes herself as a passionate European fighting for a fairer world and aspiring to put her energy and expertise at the service of organizations that share her values and objectives. In 2008, she left Paris to work for the European Commission and later on for the Party of European Socialists.

Under the banner of the Belgian Socialist Party, she became a councillor of Saint-Gilles in 2012. While serving her commune, Morin is also working as a political advisor for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

Perrine Ledan

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Uccle
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Ecolo-Groen

Former journalist Perrine Ledan became a full-fledged ecological activist when she migrated to Brussels about 18 years ago.  She joined Ecolo in 2000 and became a leading activist for the green party before becoming a councillor in 2012. The issues and projects close to her heart include promoting local trade and organic farming, the fight against global warming, and campaigning for more efficient and sustainable mobility in Uccle. 

Caroline Laporte 

  • Country of Origin: France
  • Commune: Ixelles
  • Position: Councillor
  • Party: Reformist Movement (MR)

Caroline Laporte is a twice elected councillor of Ixelles, first in 2006 and then in 2012. She has been a proponent of creating more nurseries in the commune and offering immersion programs in schools. For this councillor who hails from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, engaging in Brussels politics is a way to give back to Belgium, her home since 2001. In recent years, Laporte has been less active in the commune following her election as consular advisor for the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad in 2014.

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