Sunday

17th Jan 2021

Wilmès becomes first female PM of Belgium

  • Sophie Wilmès succeeds Charles Michel as Belgium's prime minister (Photo: Charles Michel)

On Sunday (27 October) Sophie Wilmès was appointed as the new prime minister of Belgium, becoming the first female premier in the country's history.

Wilmès is a member of the Francophone liberal Reformist Movement (MR), the party of Charles Michel - who stepped down as prime minister to prepare for the presidency of the European Council, starting on 1 December.

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She now leads a caretaker government, with only 38 of the 150 seats in the Belgian parliament.

The government lost its majority after the Flemish nationalist party NVA left in a row on the UN migration compact, and suffered further losses in the elections of 26 May.

Wilmès, 44, was the minister of budget in the government of Michel and lives in Rhode-Saint-Genèse where she was once municipal councillor for the Francophone Union party.

Asked if she didn't fear critique from the Flemish side, she said she "will be prime minister of all Belgians."

She also said it was not the intention that this "would take long" and promised "for a full-fledged government to be formed soon."

Belgium's endless government formation

Since its elections of May, five months have passed without a new Belgian government.

Although there is no new federal government, the regional governments have already been formed.

Belgium is considered as a complicated country, politically.

The country is divided in three regions and three communities. The regions-based territory are Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels.

The three communities, based on language, are the Dutch-speaking Flemish community, the Francophone community and the German-speaking community.

As the Flemish community and region are one and the same, Flanders has one government.

In the southern part of Belgium, things are more complicated.

The German-speaking community and the Francophone community have their own community government, but together they form the Wallonia region.

This means that Belgium has five regional governments: the Flemish (regional and community) government, the Wallonia regional government, the Brussels regional government, the Francophone community government and the German-speaking community government.

As all these regional governments have been formed, with different coalitions, the federal Belgian level is the last one without government.

However, government talks have not even started yet.

The reason why the situation seems more difficult than previously (and Belgium is already famous for lengthy government coalition talks) is that the two biggest parties on each side of the language border refuse to talk to each other.

The Francophone socialists (PS) of former prime minister Elio Di Rupo will not talk to the Flemish nationalists of NVA, and vice-versa.

The king of Belgium, Philippe, has appointed two "informators" (for the second time) in order to talk with all parties individually, but no break-through has been found yet.

A new dawn with Wilmès?

Both prime minister Charles Michel and deputy prime minister Didier Reynders are from the MR, and both are now leaving to take up new functions at the European Union.

At 1 December Charles Michel succeeds Donald Tusk as president of the European Council while Didier Reynders becomes the new EU commissioner for justice.

The fact that Michel became prime minister of a government with the Flemish nationalists of NVA, made him unpopular with some other Francophone parties, notably the Francophone socialists of the PS.

The question is if the appointment of Wilmès as the new Belgian prime minister might ease these tensions and create an opening in the government talks.

The most probable scenario on the table is a so-called 'purple-yellow' coalition, which is a coalition of liberals, socialists (both Flemish and Francophone) and the NVA.

This government coalition would have a solid majority, if only they would decide to start talking.

If Wilmès succeeds in remaining prime minister of a future government is highly uncertain.

But one thing is already certain: Wilmès is and will remain the first female prime minister of Belgium.

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