La délégation devant le bâtiment du centre UMEM

The Brussels-Capital Region visits Istanbul and Ankara

In October 2021, Rudi Vervoort, the Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region, and Pascal Smet, State Secretary for European and International Relations, travelled to Istanbul and Ankara. The working visit marked a new stage in the relations between the Brussels-Capital Region (BCR) and these two metropolitan areas.

The busy schedule included political meetings, with the Mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, among others, as well as field visits, a business forum, networking opportunities and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding. The Brussels delegation also met with representatives of the business and LGBTQI+ communities, as well as with the managers of a vocational training centre for refugees that is coordinated by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and financed, among others, by the European Union (EU).


Meeting with the Mayor of the Metropolitan Area of Istanbul

In February 2021, the Minister-President of the BCR and the Brussels State Secretary had already electronically signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ekrem İmamoğlu, the Mayor of Istanbul. The mission to Istanbul provided an opportunity for the signatories to meet face to face for the first time.

Rudi Vervoort, Ekrem İmamoğlu and Pascal Smet, seated in a meeting
First face-to-face meeting with Ekrem İmamoğlu, the Mayor of Istanbul, following the signing, in February 2021, of the MoU between the Brussels-Capital Region and Istanbul.

Exchange of good urban renewal practices

The Mayor of Istanbul presented the Gazhane Museum to his Brussels guests. The new art and cultural institution is situated in a former gasworks, which was recently renovated. The renovation made it possible to safeguard and reuse a historical heritage building that is a symbol of Ottoman industry at the end of the 19th century. The site is intended to become a meeting place that promotes social interaction among the neighbourhood population. It also has the ambition to be an urban project that reflects contemporary issues, such as climate change.

External view of the building of the Gazhane Museum
The Gazhane Museum in Istanbul, a fantastic example of urban renewal and a source of inspiration for Brussels.

Meeting with LGBTQI+ organisations

The Brussels delegation also met with several LGBTQI+ organisations. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the daily challenges that people in this community face, in particular the isolation they experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

The protagonists pose standing in a reception venue
Meeting with representatives of the LGBTQI+ community and human rights organisations.

Collaboration to provide coaching and training

Besides government representatives, the delegation also included 10 Brussels-based companies and their 17 representatives, among which the Management Center Europe (MCE). The MCE is a leading player in the sectors of learning and development and has had a presence in the Brussels-Capital Region for over 60 years. The organisation signed an agreement with Istanbul Technical University (ITU). The collaboration between the two institutions will focus among others on the coaching and training of ITU alumni.

The representatives of both institutions, seated at a table, sign the agreement in the presence of Rudi Vervoort and Pascal Smet
Signing of an agreement between Management Centre Europe (MCE) and Istanbul Technical University.

20 years of Brussels economic and trade aid to Istanbul

The delegation’s visit also coincided with the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Brussels economic and trade office in Istanbul. The office provides support to Brussels and Turkish companies, setting up trade meetings, providing support for prospection and informing economic players (about tariffs, growth markets, etc.).

The delegation in the garden of the Ambassador’s residence standing in front of a reproduction of the Atomium
The Brussels delegation at the residence of the Belgian Ambassador: left to right, Jo De Witte, Diplomatic Advisor to the Minister-President’s office; Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President; Pascal Smet, State Secretary responsible for European and International Relations and Foreign Trade; Ben Vandoren, Diplomatic Advisor to the State Secretary’s office; Roxane Liénart, Bilateral Relations Officer at Brussels International, H.E. Mr Paul Huynen, Ambassador of Belgium to Turkey; and Stefano Missir di Lusignano, Economic and Commercial Attaché of the Brussels-Capital Region in Istanbul.

Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Metropolitan Area of Greater Ankara

On 26 October 2021, Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the RBC and Pascal Smet, State Secretary responsible for International Relations, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Mansur Yavaş, the Mayor of Ankara.

The MoU is the first step in the collaboration between the two metropolitan areas, which intend to work together and tackle common challenges such as urban development, green space, soft mobility and the inclusion and participation of all citizens. In this context, Brussels and Ankara will analyse how best to collaborate within the international and European networks of major cities and metropolitan areas and increase inclusion and sustainability in urban centres.

Rudi Vervoort, Mansur Yavaş and Pascal Smet, seated in a meeting, with the other protagonists
Meeting with Mansur Yavaş, the Mayor of Ankara, and signing of an MoU between the Brussels-Capital Region and the City of Ankara.

Trade relations

The BCR explored new opportunities for Brussels-based companies in the Turkish market. Representatives of accompanied the companies that joined the delegation during their different meetings with potential clients and networking opportunities.

The Chamber of Commerce of Ankara also hosted a business forum. Ankara’s mayor Mansur Yavaş presented the trade environment of Greater Ankara during the meeting, while State Secretary Pascal Smet highlighted investment opportunities with Belgium. Turkey is a large market for Belgium but the two countries have also forged strong ties because of the large Turkish diaspora in Brussels, among others.

Pascal Smet, standing behind a lectern
Speech of State Secretary Pascal Smet, during the business forum at the Chamber of Commerce of Ankara.
The delegation meets with women who are training to become chefs.
Visit of the international vocational training centre for refugees in Ankara.

Inclusion of refugees

Also in Ankara, the Brussels delegation visited the UMEM Centre, a socio-economic inclusion and vocational training centre for refugees, that received grants from the EU and the UNHCR. The centre, which was set up in 2018, has already trained several refugees, mainly women, to become (pastry) chefs or specialise in industrial technology.


Sharing expertise: even more crucial during the pandemic

Diplomacy is more crucial than ever in these difficult times, given all the different tensions on the world stage. Around the world, metropolitan areas must strengthen their collaboration and share their knowledge to increase the quality of life of their populations. The pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges that cities and regions face. That is why the BCR initiates and maintains qualitative partnerships with other metropolitan areas around the world.

The delegation poses in front of the Mausoleum
Laying of a wreath on behalf of the Brussels-Capital Region at the Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.