Patrick Janssens, Mayor of Antwerp

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Patrick Janssens
Mayor of Antwerp, Belgium
By Brian Baker and Andrew Stevens

2 May 2008: Born in 1956 Patrick Janssens has been mayor of the Belgian port city of Antwerp since 2003. He initially became mayor in unusual circumstances. When he took the helm the city was in a serious crisis. The entire council, including the previous mayor, resigned in 2003 following a financial corruption scandal involving the use of city council credit cards for personal transactions. The mayor has been shortlisted for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

In 2006 he retained the mayoralty in a contested election in which his party, the Flemish Socialists, SP.A , obtained 36 per cent of the vote and he also secured the support of the Flemish Christian Democrats and Liberals to continue as mayor. His current term runs until 2012.

Janssens is a graduate of political science and economic sciences from the University of Antwerp, as well as statistics from the London School of Economics. He was an assistant at the university between 1975 and 1985. The mayor has been shortlisted for the 2008 World Mayor Award.

Patrick Janssens says he stood for re-election in 2006 because he felt that in his first three years he and his team had not achieved their goals. During this period he thinks his main successes were in bringing stability to the city administration, beginning the process of regaining the trust of the people of Antwerp and setting clear goals for city development, integrity and sports.

His principal objectives are now all focused on the work of preparing the city for a challenging future. " We have to think about social care, housing, education and leisure facilities with a evolving demographic which includes both higher birth rates and higher numbers of elderly people," he says.

Professionally, his background is in market research. He headed his own agency, Dimarso, between 1985 - 1989 and worked at the VVL/BBDO company from 1989 - 1999. That year, he surprised many when he was appointed president of the Socialist Party, a position he held until 2003.

Janssens also briefly held national office in 2003-4 having been elected to the lower house of the Federal Parliament but quit in 2004 when he was elected to the Flemish Parliament.

He says that the turbulence at the national level in Belgian politics is significant for Antwerp but not to a massive extent. He adds that the Flemish Government is responsible for and focused on most of the key issues for the city including urban development, social care and housing. But he recognises the split between national and local police services is a troubling one for Antwerp. Overall, though, says Patrick Janssens, " to have a true Federal Government with an outlined programme is very important for Antwerp's future."

With his background in advertising, Janssens has good links with Antwerp's successful and burgeoning creative sector. " I cherish the cultural and creative capital of the city. Whether it is design, fashion, theatre, musea, music… the creative capital of the city creates a dynamic urban environment. The software component of our city nourishes the economy, education and tourism."

Mayor Janssens is determined to drive forward the major infrastructure projects which will be necessary over the next 15 years to provide the accessibility necessary to maintain Antwerp's position as a port and as an international city. Several are currently being planned and executed.

His years as mayor have not been entirely without controversy. In 2007 the city council resolved to ban the wearing of religious symbols by staff employed in jobs dealing regularly with the public.

Following protests by Muslim organisations Janssens and the administration surprised many by standing firm. Staff who were affected had a choice of removing their veil or other symbols while at work or being redeployed in back office functions.

Despite the furore, Janssens says that the profile of the city workforce has actually become much more diverse during his watch.

World Mayor 2023