Federal justice minister Koen Geens (CD&V) will not take a ministerial post in the new government, currently being negotiated by co-formators Paul Magnette (PS) and Alexander De Croo (Open VLD).
Geens, aged 62, made the announcement today after the suggestion had been leaked to the press from inside the talks.
CD&V is a minority party in the new coalition, together with greens, socialists and liberals. And, as his party colleague and fellow minister Pieter De Crem pointed out recently, CD&V is numerically surplus to requirements, as the six other parties already have a narrow majority in parliament.
As the second day of talks occupies the parties involved, the attention of commentators is concentrated on who should be prime minister. The greens would seem to be excluded. The liberals delivered the last two PMs, Sophie Wilmès and before her Charles Michel. The last socialist PM was Elio Di Rupo in 2014. But Alexander De Croo could be favoured by the need to respond to the fact that the coalition has a minority of the votes in Flanders.
In any case, CD&V would come last in the line when the ministerial posts are being handed out, and Geens would seem to be ready to go out on a high.
Geens was first elected to parliament in the federal election of May 2014, although he had already been in office as minister of finance since March 2013: Belgian ministers do not have to be drawn from parliament, and appointments from other sectors are common.
Since then he has been finance minister for Di Rupo and justice minister for Michel and Wilmès.
If he is not to be a minister in the new government, then he will return to ‘civilian’ life, as he has given up his seat in the parliament to which he was re-elected in 2019. Then he will return to his first love: the law.
Before entering politics, Geens was a law lecturer, and legal expert enough to be asked to oversee the production of a new code of company law fit for the 21st century. Even as a minister he has continued to teach law at the university of Leuven.
He can expect, too, to be invited to take up any number of prestigious academic posts, some of which he held previously.
As to who stands next in line to be the CD&V minister in the new government, Geens has given the only clue, when he said his departure would allow the place to be made more feminine and younger.
Two names stand out: Sammy Mahdi, the former president of CD&V youth, is a rising star, son of an Iraqi refugee father and Flemish mother and ran against Joachim Coens for the post of party leader.
However he has only been in parliament since earlier this year, when as a reserve member he stepped in when Koen Geens was re-appointed minister.
The other main candidate outstrips him for experience, visibility and not least femininity,
Hilde Crevits is an electoral juggernaut in her home province of West Flanders, another lawyer, and a minister since 2007 in the Flemish government, covering dossiers including public works, environment, education, energy and most recently labour, economy and agriculture.
At the age of 53, she is also somewhat younger than Koen Geens.