Bart Somers’ decision to resign his mandate as Flemish minister and become mayor of Mechelen again is being received as a surprise by the opposition parties in his home city of Mechelen. The city council will hold a press conference tomorrow, but there is already loud criticism. “Somers is a master of communication and small talk, but he is not going to get away with this,” says N-VA faction leader Marc Hendrickx.
LOOK. Who will succeed Minister Bart Somers?
According to Hendrickx, there is (much) more going on. “You don’t just hand over his ministerial bonus almost six months before the parliamentary elections. He and only he knows what drives him to do this, I just hope this comes true soon,” he said.
“Somers is a master of communication and small talk. He basically sells you a vacuum cleaner when you don’t need it. But he won’t get away with this, rest assured! His retirement as minister also sets off a real game of musical chairs, both in Brussels and Mechelen. But that won’t matter to him. He thus avoids an imminent punishment in Brussels and still wants to save the furniture in Mechelen with his City List. However, it has destroyed itself in recent years. He may think it’s two birds with one stone, but it could just as easily be the blow of the hammer.”
De Wever: “Timing particularly inopportune”
Bart De Wever finds the timing of the dismissal particularly inopportune. “This was a total surprise for everyone,” the N-VA chairman responded in ‘Terzake’. “Nobody saw it coming, not even my colleagues in government.”
Prime Minister Jan Jambon was reportedly informed during the day. “Jan told me that he had noticed a certain tiredness in Somers,” said De Wever. “Conversations showed that he was somewhat discouraged and disappointed about the state of affairs, especially in his own party, I think. It is a bit ironic that Vivaldi is making a victim in the Flemish government.”
The Flemish government is now making a new attempt to resolve the nitrogen issue. “We are just entering the hours of truth in the coming days, so this is incredibly unfortunate. Bart Somers is Deputy Prime Minister. The fact that there is a change at this moment could not be worse. But I remain optimistic and assume that the course that has been completed can be completed by that successor. Or maybe Somers will stay a few more days.”
CD&V: “Political strategist”
CD&V and PVDA also react remarkably harshly. “From CD&V-Mechelen we do not consider the return of Bart Somers as mayor of Mechelen to be an example of political credibility. The back and forth between Mechelen and Flanders during this administrative period even resembles a game of political strategy, something citizens are just getting tired of. Leaving Mechelen a year after the municipal elections in 2018 to become a Flemish minister and then returning a year before the 2024 municipal elections is too transparent,” says party leader Stefaan Deleus.
“The recent events within Open Vld and – even more so – the poor results of the poll for the City List of Open Vld and Groen will not be strange to this. Nevertheless, we would like to thank (acting mayor; ed.) Alexander Vandersmissen for the serene way in which he took on his task. The seat is warm, the feeling is cold.”
PVDA: “Not credible”
“If Mechelen is always number one for him, why did he leave his city in 2019 to become minister? That is not difficult: it was a welcome career move,” responds Dirk Tuypens (PVDA). “Now that everything indicates that Open Vld will suffer a major blow in the elections next year, Somers suddenly rediscovers his great love for Mechelen. None of that sounds credible, it seems much more like strategically choosing where the best opportunities lie for his personal career. Whether the love of the people of Mechelen for Somers is also that great remains to be seen.”
Vandersmissen: “Sincerely grateful”
Mayor Vandersmissen will keep it to a short response on social media for the time being. “Every now and then a situation presents itself and I tackled it with both hands four years ago. I am truly grateful and proud that I have been able to serve as mayor over the past four years during some of the biggest crises our country has ever known: corona, Ukraine, the energy crisis…’, Vandersmissen writes.
“As chairman of our social housing company, I was also able to serve those Mechelen residents who often have the most difficult times for ten years. A politician cannot and should not wish for more: being able to make a difference for his city and its residents, especially in difficult moments. And I will continue to do so in the future, in whatever capacity or position.” The consequences of Somers’ return to the council will only become clear tomorrow afternoon.
Ahead: “Hugely surprised”
“I am extremely surprised by this decision,” says Vooruit faction leader Thijs Verbeurgt. “I am not going to comment on the personnel policy of other parties, but I can only applaud every positive choice for our city. I would like to expressly thank the current mayor for the difficult work he has done during the Covid period.”
Kristof Calvo, faction leader of the city list that has an absolute majority in Mechelen, keeps it short. “The Flemish government will miss Bart as a bridge builder, but this is good news for Mechelen. Bart is our mayor, the locomotive of our city #2800love.”
De Croo: “We are going to take our time”
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) will take the time to make the right choice for Somers’ successor. “I would like to thank Somers, he has been a wonderful minister who has played a very important role in the Flemish government and in previous Flemish governments,” he said.
“Everyone knows that Bart has a big heart for Mechelen and that he wants to continue to put his political energy in Mechelen. He had already indicated when the list was being formed that he no longer wanted to be party leader.
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