Sophie Wilmès steps down as Belgium’s first female prime minister
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Sophie Wilmès steps down as Belgium’s first female prime minister

Credit: The Brussels Times

Sophie Wilmès has taken over Belgium’s foreign affairs, officially stepping down as the prime minister who saw Belgium through the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a transfer of powers ceremony on Thursday, Wilmès was welcomed into the ministry’s headquarters in Brussels’ Sablon neighbourhood by resigning minister Philippe Goffin.

Handing over the keys, Goffin lauded Wilmès time as caretaker premier, during which he said she “masterfully handled the coronavirus crisis.”

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Stepping down as Belgium’s first-ever female prime minister, Wilmès broke yet another glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to ever lead the country’s foreign affairs ministry.

“Belgium’s diplomatic weight is indirectly proportionate to the size of our country,” Goffin told Wilmès, noting that she could count on a team of “great diplomats” as she dove headfirst into the “difficult months to come.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Wilmès told reporters she was ready to “step into Goffin’s shoes,” in a short ceremony which saw both ministers exchange niceties, tongue-in-cheek jokes and gifts.

The outgoing prime minister presented Goffin with a personalised Standard FC jersey while Goffin left her with a traffic light pole, in a wink to the string of colour-coded systems put in place during the pandemic, including that concerning travel rules and recommendations.

Wilmès is taking over at a time riddled with instability, with uncertainty still floating around major issues such as travel regulations and border control amid the ongoing pandemic, Brexit and the reboot of US-EU relations.

Goffin also leaves her with thorny issues such as an unresolved investigation into the controversial police custody death of an EU national on Belgian soil.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times