BDW: “Dutch is key to emancipation and the labour market”

Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever is being sworn in as the new Mayor of Antwerp on Friday. Mr De Wever heads a coalition of Flemish nationalists, Christian democrats and liberals and his appointment signifies a break with the past for a city in which the socialist party has held sway in the local administration for a century. flandersnews spoke with the new mayor and first asked him how the people of Antwerp would notice the difference.

Bart De Wever: The people of Antwerp must see that a start is being made to solve the mobility problems in and around Antwerp. In order to keep Antwerp livable we have to tackle the problems on the big road infrastructure around the city.

We must deal with population growth in a balanced way ensuring that both young and old feel at home in this city. We will have to expand the capacity of our schools and child care facilities.

We must also implement our ideas about a shared city citizenship with rights and duties.

If we can manage all that, then we will have succeeded.

Change comes at a time when money is short. Will your administration be able to afford to implement this change?

Bart De Wever: The coalition agreement to administer the city took account of financial realities and above all of the intention not to raise taxes.

For the first time in the history of this city the financial implications of our ambitions were scrutinised during the coalition talks.

It goes without saying that in the future both the city and its social services will have to focus on their core activities and take choices that meet the most important challenges first.

One of your ambitions is for everybody in the city to have a working knowledge of Dutch. How will this be achieved?

Bart De Wever: In Antwerp knowledge of Dutch is a key to emancipation and the labour market.

Together with the Flemish Government the city must ensure that the number of language courses on offer is sufficient. We are asking people who call on the city's social provisions, e.g. the living wage or social housing, to be prepared to learn Dutch.

No sanctions are being imposed if you do not speak the language properly.

If Dutch language lessons are organised in a social housing block and there is obvious unwillingness to attend these, then sanctions will follow. There's no something for nothing.

Mr De Wever, you are the country’s most prominent Flemish nationalist. Understanding Flemish nationalism is not always easy for foreigners. Will your appointment mean that the city of Antwerp is folding in on itself and will no longer be as open to the outside world as it has been in the past?

Bart De Wever: As in the past? Are you being serious? Various high-ranking Antwerp officials who are in a position to know tell me that in the past too little work has been put into the professional development of the international relations of the city of Antwerp.

I can tell you that I have always invested heavily in international contacts.

During the local election campaign I made time to see the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. I can tell you now that I am determined to invest heavily into our city's international calling.