Sophie Wilmès will step down as prime minister: “These have been very difficult months”
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Sophie Wilmès will step down as prime minister: “These have been very difficult months”

Former prime minister Sophie Wilmès © Belga

Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s first-ever woman prime minister, has her eye on the exit of the PM’s office at 16, rue de la Loi, she has revealed.

These are my last days here,” she told VRT reporter Michäel Van Droogenbroeck in a breakfast interview from her office, broadcast this morning. “Probably, that is, because in Belgium you never know.”

Wilmès (MR) came into office in October 2019, on the departure of her party colleague Charles Michel to become president of the European Council. Just short of her 45th birthday, and with only one ministerial post on her CV, she became the first woman prime minister Belgium has had of the 52 there have been since independence in 1830.

The government she took over was a minority coalition, following the departure a year earlier of the Flemish nationalist party N-VA. Wilmès’ MR governed together with two other Flemish parties, Christian democrats CD&V and liberal Open VLD.

But Belgium has gone for more than a year before with a minority government restricted only to ongoing and day-to-day matters. No-one could have foreseen then the far greater crisis that was about to befall the world.

The interview also broadly covered the issue of the coronavirus and the government’s handling.

But for now, the attention is on the seven parties busy talking their way into a so-called Vivaldi coalition able to take the country forward with a majority government. MR is one of those parties, but Wilmès is not expecting to continue as PM.

You are not really allowed to be a candidate for prime minister, you have to wait to be asked,” she said. “I want to contribute positively to society in my life, but you can do that without being prime minister.”

Her successor is likely to become known in the next few days, if Vivaldi becomes a reality by 1 October. Right now, it’s even money on either Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) or Paul Magnette (PS).

Would she accept a post as one of the four deputy prime ministers, Van Droogenbroeck asked.

Yes, probably,” she replied. “I’ve been politically involved all my life, and I have no plans to stop now. These have been very difficult months indeed. It won’t be a bad thing to create some distance from the whole situation, and think about what needs to be done in the future.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times