Choosing Tervuren’s next mayor

Mayor Marc Charlier won 636 preference votes in Tervuren. Also standing for the pro-independence NV-A was Annemie Spaas, wife of Vlaams Brabant governor and former Tervuren mayor Jan Spooren. Annemie received 615 preference votes in Tervuren, making her the second most voted politician in Tervuren.

Choosing the next mayor appears less about how Tervurenaars vote, but whether or not the party holding the balance, Groen Tervuren, once again opts for the N-VA or decides to favour Voor Tervuren, the local fusion between Flemish liberals and Catholics. Come what may, the choice of mayor appears limited to Flemish nationalist N-VA’s Marc Charlier or Flemish liberal Thomas Geyns.

Mayor Marc Charlier won 636 preference votes in Tervuren at June elections, ahead of liberal Thomas Geyns’ 524 Tervuren votes. But Charlier’s path to extending the mayorship is less clear due to the looming menace from Geyns’ electoral deal joining the liberals to the Catholics. And other nasty unknowns abound. The changing fortunes of Flanders’ two pro-independence parties – Vlaams Belang and Charlier’s N-VA – is one such uncertainty for mayor Marc’s tenure. Charlier has been in power since inheriting the job from Jan Spooren, who was promoted to Vlaams-Brabant governor in 2020. But shooting ahead to 1186 Tervuren votes in EU elections, up 67% from 2019, rival Vlaams Belang can now dream of a single town council seat at local elections in October.

Vlaams Belang’s 1186 votes in Tervuren (at EU elections) far surpass the estimated threshold of 798 to gain a first Tervuren council seat. Seat allocation under the country’s Imperiali system normally prevents new lists and smaller parties from gaining seats on town councils. But if Vlaams Belang were to step up its act and campaign for a councilor in Tervuren, the party could steal up to 40% of pro-independence N-VA Tervuren’s vote in town elections.

Without the October support of Tervurenaars who normally vote Vlaams Belang in June, Charlier has little hope of being re-selected for the post of mayor, worth up to €105,000 per year. Such details would please main contender Flemish liberal Geyns, who crafted the deal with former competitor, the Flemish Christian Democrats to form ‘Voor Tervuren‘. Geyns is now almost in reach of snatching the mayorship. And by going to the electorate together, Flemish Catholics and liberals hope to earn an extra seat thanks to Imperiali seat allocation, even if they gain the same 33% percentage of the vote as in 2018. The largest party or alliance in Tervuren, whether N-VA or Voor Tervuren, will essentially get to offer Groen’s top candidates a deal settling not only broad policies, but also all-important alderperson positions.

Geyns claimed 524 preference votes in Tervuren in June elections — less than current mayor Marc's 636 votes and less than the 615 preference votes received by Tervuren's most popular female politician, NV-A's Annemie Spaas

Geyns claimed 524 preference votes in Tervuren at June elections — less than the mayor’s 636 votes and less than the 615 preference votes received by Tervuren’s most popular female politician, N-VA’s Annemie Spaas. Annemie is the wife of former Tervuren mayor Jan Spooren. Annemie is no longer hindered by electoral law from sitting on the town council after her husband was promoted to governor of Vlaams Brabant, worth up to €118,000 per year, according to the Court of Audit.

Significantly, the 27-year old lawyer Geyns also did not outperform Flemish Catholic Kristina Eyskens, the daughter and granddaughter of Belgian prime ministers and viscounts Gaston and Mark. With 527 votes, Kristina now earns up to €59,187 per year as alderwoman responsible for education, finance, IT and civil affairs. And thanks to a 1899 ‘substitutes’ law, she is entitled to eventually take up a seat in the federal parliament. All Eyskens has to do is wait until one of her party running mates obtains a ministerial or similar position. The catch is that she may be waiting a long time until Belgium actually forms a federal government. After the June 2010 elections, it took 541 days to form a government.

Mayor and parliament job?

Once appointed, Eyskens could, as many Belgian top politicians do, combine the federal parliament with her current job as alderwoman. Or, if she gains more votes than her running mate Geyns, Eyskens could even grab the mayoral ribbon. Generally, Tervuren mayors and alderpersons prefer to maintain second jobs as Belgian law does not forbid it.

“I would definitely bet on Kristina as the most likely candidate for mayor,” an unnamed opposition Tervuren councilor tells Tervuren+. Bilingual Flemish Catholic Eyskens is apparently somewhat softer on only speaking Dutch when marrying Tervurenaars than Flemish nationalist NV-A’s Charlier, especially during electoral campaigns. So Eyskens also has a real chance of becoming the second woman ever to head the commune of Tervuren since 1983 when Flemish Catholic Lea Coudré-Foccaert, fondly remembered by older locals, inherited the post. Her grandson now sits on the town council carrying on the family tradition in politics.

To vote, non-Belgians (after 5 years) and EU citizens (immediately) first need to register with Itsme and eID before Wednesday 31 July at https://www.inscription.elections.fgov.be. Tip: the Brussels’ region website gives you information in English at https://www.brussels.be/registration-municipal-elections and directs you to the very same federal website.

What don’t we know?

Visual Registertovote

A first unknown for Tervuren elections on Sunday 13 October is the impact from Flanders, unlike Brussels, removing the obligation to vote at local level. Studies indicate lower voter turnout would hit Vlaams Belang voters hardest, with up to 50% of them now estimated to ‘never’ or only ‘sometimes’ vote at non-mandatory local elections. That’s a big hit, too, for the current mayor as up to 40% of N-VA’s town hall vote may come from voters that might prefer to choose Vlaams Belang for town elections but do not have the option on October ballot papers.

Less of an impact will come from that 43% of town’s population of non-Belgian origin. Tervuren has never had an elected non-Belgian councilor. And parties traditionally only field Tervurenaars of non-Belgian origin in symbolic places, lower down on lists. Part of the problem is that town hall has registered only 506 Tervurenaars (without Belgian citizenship) for this year’s elections, down from 600 in October 2018. That indicates that up to 3100, or 22%, of Tervuren’s potential 14,068 voters will not be allowed to vote on Sunday 13 October.

Backroom deal for mayor?

The final decision on who becomes mayor will most probably lie with Groen Tervuren’s top candidates. They must choose between supporting NV-A‘s Marc Charlier, Flemish liberal Thomas Geyns (Democraten Tervuren) or, possibly, Flemish Catholic Kristina Eyskens (CD&V), if she outperforms Thomas. The decision may depend less on factors such as whether or not Vlaams Belang presents a list in October or whether Tervuren parties gain or lose a few voters. The decision appears to depend on what is offered in terms of policies but also alderperson positions.

Traditionally, Tervuren town hall coalitions can only be formed between Flemish parties. Tervuren Unie has four councilors, but all four oppose the strict application of Tervuren’s Dutch-only language policy. And it is also unclear what effect new European party Volt Europa has on equations. The restricted choice of possible coalition partners enables Groen Tervuren to possibly exact a higher price for support: three out of the seven alderperson posts, worth up to €59,187 per year. Currently, Groen Tervuren holds two alderperson positions thanks to its coalition with NV-A and Flemish Catholic CD&V Tervuren.

The author of this article is a reporter on EU politics and recently joined Volt Europa.

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