Interview | The municipalities of Anderlecht and Marsassoum rewarded at the PLATFORMAwards

3 marzo 2023

This interview was originally published by Brulocalis in French and Dutch in the January-February 2023 issue of Trait d’Union magazine (pages 44 & 45).

By Quentin Vanhay, external communication officer at Brulocalis

The partnership between the municipalities of Anderlecht and Marsassoum, represented by Mr. Julien Milquet (Alderman for Sports, Social Cohesion, Religious Affairs and International Solidarity in the municipality of Anderlecht) and Sény Mandiang (Mayor of Marsassoum), received the first prize of the PLATFORMAwards 2022 from the hands of the German MEP Mrs Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, in Grenoble (France). The biennial programme, co-funded by the European Union, rewards projects which aim to develop development cooperation practices between cities and regions. On this occasion, we put some questions to Mr Milquet – together with Ms Anaïs Marie, Project officer: international relations and partnerships for the municipality of Anderlecht – on the implications of such an award for his municipality.

Congratulations on this award! What does this mean for your town?

Julien Milquet : First of all, there is the recognition of the work that has been done in the Programme. Then we will receive a grant of €20,000 from the European Union for the communication and promotion of the partnership. This means that teams will accompany us to Marsassoum as part of a future mission and will make video shootings, interview local people and local communities, as well as videos. Finally, Anderlecht will probably be given as a «consulting municipality», for example to help municipalities all over Europe which are wondering how to create a partnership and on what basis with what philosophy, or how to «boost» it and improve it…

Was it interesting to be able to participate in this competition?

Anaïs Marie : Yes! It gave us a very positive memory. In addition to the opportunity to network, we were given the chance to network, we were also lucky that other activities were organised at the same time in the city of Grenoble, such as the 48 hours of the inclusive transition or the Conference of the International Observatory of Participatory Democracy (IOPD), which allowed me personally to share and get in touch with a number of actors from Europe, Senegal and elsewhere.

The project from Aderlecht was described as ‘the most exemplary of all’. What aspects stood out to the jury in your opinion?

J.M.: Our project had unique aspects such as the inclusion of women, people with disabilities, and different socio-economic categories that are a bit more precarious.

A.M.: We are also lucky enough to have a partnership that develops projects that are holistic and therefore respond in some way to all the United Nations’ SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals, editor’s note), but that also tackles more specific issues such as governance, since we are working on balancing the finances of the commune of Marsassoum.

What does this mean for your commune? How is this mission organised from a practical point of view?

J.M.: We want to work and therefore have results, which is why we mobilise various internal resources. This is a collective project and the aim is not to leave the employees on their own but to involve them. A cooperation and international solidarity programme like this one has to be worked on. You need resources from the municipality, but you also need to find other resources. This is what we have done, for example, with the award of this prize, which brings us an additional €20,000 in aid. We are of course also counting on financial support from the Federal Government in the framework of the International Cooperation Programme for Brussels municipalities, to Brulocalis.

Could this award serve as an impetus to launch other projects of this type within the municipality?

J.M.: We are working on a project for a House of Culture and Social Cohesion in a Palestinian village near Nablus. We would also like to open a second partnership in the south, which will focus on social and health issues, with the province of Zagora in Morocco. They would be interested in coming to see how we work on certain issues relating to the elderly and the disabled. Finally, we would like to relaunch some historical twinning with other working class suburbs of large European cities such as Hammersmith & Fulham (London, editor’s note) with a programme more focused on culture.

What are the experiences and learnings from such a partnership?

J.M.: There are clearly some areas that can provide inspiration and food for thought, such as the issue of participatory budgets or social cohesion…

A.M.: … but we do not think that there are any real possibilities for direct replication between the two municipalities, which are still very different… Another way of learning is to share, to be able to exchange, for example with other Belgian cities that are members of the Federal Programme, on our experiences in order to see what works and what does not.

Have you encountered or are you facing any difficulties or obstacles in the framework of this cooperation? What are the pitfalls to avoid?

A.M.: It is not really a difficult project. It has existed since 2018, is very well supervised and also very well supported financially, so we have been able to afford our ambitions.

J.M.: Afterwards, there is the question of distance and therefore of follow-up which can sometimes arise. But fortunately we can count on a partner (Marsassoum, editor’s note) who is serious, efficient and motivated, with a dedicated municipal team that works hard for its citizens. There was also COVID.

J.M.: Yes, in fact, for the record, our partners (from Marsassoum, editor’s note) were with us in the first days of the containment in March 2020! We were directly confronted with it, as we are everywhere, and there may have been a slowdown in certain projects, but in the end it didn’t change much. We were able to keep in touch by email and video conference. It should also be noted that the impact of COVID was less strong for them than for us, which allowed them to conduct their activities almost normally.

Did this mission create new synergies between the administration, the political world and civil society?

A.M.: We work at several levels and in a transversal way, for example, with other people in the municipality, such as the municipal collector, who deals with all human resources and financial issues. At the level of our projects, whether here or in Marsassoum, we have agents involved who are part of the steering committee dedicated to the programme.

J.M.: We also work with civil society in our projects. A citizen who is interested in European twinning and who is part of our steering committee for Marsassoum, helped us to (re)make a whole series of contacts on the spot, and this on a completely voluntary basis.

On a more personal note: would you like to see more foreign cooperation programmes like this? What did you personally learn from such an exchange with your Senegalese counterparts?

A.M.: I have a lot of inter-communal or cooperative projects in store – I am personally very focused on decentralised cooperation – but I don’t hope to have 250 partnerships either because unfortunately we couldn’t do everything (laughs)!

J.M.: As far as personal contributions are concerned, I would say a better knowledge of the political structure (of Senegal, editor’s note), of the way the local, political and administrative culture of the country works.

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