Lees op Brussels Express

By now, we hopefully are all aware that non-Belgians can vote in the communal elections in Belgium, especially since the next one will be on October 14 and the deadline for registration is on July 31. But do you know that non-Belgian EU citizens can also run for office in the communes?


Yes, you got that right. In fact, while many non-Belgians in Brussels may have been forgetting the local elections and neglecting their precious democratic right to vote, other non-Belgians have gone far beyond just voting. They ran for councillor, got elected, and dedicated themselves to serving the city. 

Today, we introduce you to some of your fellow non-Belgians in Brussels who currently occupy a position in their respective communes.


Rik Jellema 

  • Country of Origin: The Netherlands
  • Commune: Etterbeek
  • Position: Alderman for public works and roads, public buildings, development of green spaces, and sustainable neighborhood contracts
  • Party: Ecolo-Groen

Rik Jellema is quite the historic figure in Brussels local politics.  In 2000, when non-Belgians were allowed to participate in the communal elections and EU citizens were allowed to run for communal office for the first time, he was the very first non-Belgian to be elected councillor in the Brussels region. And then, when elected non-Belgians secured the right to become aldermen and alderwomen in 2006,  he again became the very first non-Belgian in Brussels to be appointed alderman in 2012.

Originally from Leeuwarden in the northern side of the Netherlands, Jellema moved to Brussels in 1987 to work as a translator for the Council of the European Union. In 1991, he joined Flemish political party Agalev which later became known as Groen. After two legi

slative terms as councillor, he became a member of the Collège échevinal or the Board of Mayor and Aldermen of Etterbeek.

Under his leadership, Etterbeek was granted its first sustainable neighborhood contract by the Brussels regional government in 2013. The project, which is now in its final phase, aims to produce more affordable housing and nurseries, and develop more green spaces in Etterbeek.

As a non-Belgian public servant in Brussels, Jellema considers himself an advocate for all Bruxellois – whether Belgian or non-Belgian, European or non-European. He says, regardless of background, residents of Brussels all have the same human needs: a good school for our children, clean streets, good air quality, security, etc.

So what is it like working with Belgian politicians? Jellema admits clashes are inevitable at times. As a Dutchman, he says he is wont to “say what he does and do what he says.” And this straightforward style of politics doesn’t always sit well with Belgian diplomacy and sensitivity. But he says, he always does his best not to provoke the Belgians while still maintaining his ground.

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