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Mechelen mayor Bart Somers wins World Mayor Prize
Bart Somers, mayor of Mechelen and former minister-president of Flanders, has been awarded the World Mayor Prize. Somers (Open VLD), 52, becomes the first Belgian mayor to ever win the prestigious honour, beating 37 other international nominees to win.
The biennial prize is awarded by the City Mayors Foundation, an international organisation that promotes and facilitates open communication and good practices between city governments. It awards the prize to a mayor who “has made exceptional contributions to his or her community and whose vision for urban living is relevant to towns and cities across the world”.
According to the prize citation, Mechelen “has shown Europe that people from many different countries and cultures can come together and be proud citizens. Bart Somers believes that all people in Mechelen are unique and different. They have different dreams, do different jobs, lead different lives. But Mechelen is their home, their city”.
The foundation gives Somers (pictured), who became mayor in 2001, credit for turning Mechelen into a role model for integration. One in five people in Mechelen has North African roots, there are 128 nationalities, and the city has a zero record for young men travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight.
This is the third time a Flemish mayor has figured in the World Mayor Prize. Antwerp’s Patrick Janssens was nominated in 2008, and Ghent’s Daniël Termont was nominated in 2014, coming in second.
“I believe that true social cohesion is only possible if we prevent segregation,” Somers wrote in his nomination essay. “That is a task for the government. The government should set an example and make it clear that we all need to integrate in diversity. It is not only up to the newcomer to adapt. Everyone has to adapt to the New Normal, to a diverse society. That is what we try to do in Mechelen.”
Photo courtesy Bart Somers