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Philippe Close is Brussels' new mayor
Philippe Close (PS) has become the new mayor of the City of Brussels, write various Belgian media. He will take over the position of party mate Yvan Mayeur, who resigned following a corruption scandal.
Close currently works as the Bruussels councillor for finance, human resources and tourism and as party leader in the Brussels parliament.
Meanwhile, a dispute between Flemish and French-speaking socialists has led to Ans Persoons stepping down as councillor for Dutch-language affairs in the city.
Mayeur rapidly lost support even within his own party when it was revealed that he had taken attendance fees for board meetings of Samusocial, an organisation within the Brussels social aid agency which he used to chair before becoming mayor. According to an investigation by the Brussels region, Mayeur and current chair Pascale Paraïta took a total of €17,000 each in fees for meetings that may not have taken place.
Both Rudi Vervoort (PS), minister-president of the Brussels region, and Laurette Onkelinx, president of the party in Brussels, advised him to consider stepping down. The Flemish socialist party SP.A made it clear his resignation would be a condition of their further membership of the coalition in Brussels-City.
The break with SP.A came when some French-speaking socialists tried to move Mayeur into a portfolio as councillor, which both SP.A and opposition vehemently opposed. Onkelinx stepped in to untangle matters, but the damage to relations was done and Persoons lost her portfolio, leaving Els Ampe (Open VLD) as the only Flemish councillor left.
The Samusocial issue continues to be investigated. The whole board has resigned, Paraïta has taken an unpaid leave of absence and an agency of the region has taken over the day-to-day running of the organisation. The Brussels prosecutor’s office has started its own enquiry.
The issue has raised questions about the organisation of companies and non-profits set up in Brussels to run what would normally be municipal matters, as well as the involvement of councillors in such constructions. Close is connected to about 20 non-profits.
According to Bianca Debaets (CD&V), state secretary with the Brussels region, the system is a means of avoiding transparency in government. “It is a deliberately set-up smokescreen where democratic control by the city council is totally absent,” she said. “Why should a non-profit be organising huge concerts and running concert halls? Why is one of the city’s companies the organiser of financially attractive trade fairs? Why do the boards of these organisations sometimes have so many members?”
“The trust of the people of Brussels is completely gone, thanks to this disgraceful Samusocial affair,” said opposition member Bart Dhondt of Groen. “I’m very sceptical that Close will be able to repair it. A lot of people, like us, fear this may be a case of old wine in new bottles.”