The new Belgian government made a great fanfare at its installation about how gender-neutral its composition is: as many male as female ministers, including the country’s first ever foreign minister.
When it comes to senior civil servants, however, the balance is overwhelmingly masculine.
Of the one prime minister and seven deputies, one has chosen a woman as chief of staff, and one has yet to announce his choice. The rest have gone for men.
Vincent Van Quickenborne has yet to announce his choice for the most important post in his justice ministry. The chef de cabinet or chief of staff is in many ways the minister’s surrogate, representing the minister in meetings, and running a network of connections to other ministries and other chiefs that help keep the wheels of government running smoothly.
Alexander De Croo himself has decided to retain the services of Ruben Lecok, who held the post when De Croo was vice-premier under Sophie Wilmès. Lecok left in April to work for head-hunters Egon Zehnder, before being head-hunted himself by his former boss to take over at 16 rue de la Loi.
Aged only 39, Lecok has a formidable CV. A graduate in political sciences, he worked for Flemish minister Fientje Moerman when her chief of staff was Gweldolyn Rutten who went on to be president of Open VLD. He then joined the staffs of prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and deputies Patrick Dewael, Karel De Gucht and Guy Vanhengel.
After a brief spell at the National Bank, he was tapped by De Croo to head the party’s research department, and then made chief of staff.
Open VLD’s vice-premier is Vincent Van Quickenborne, who has already announced his deputy chief – Paul Van Tigchelt, head of the government’s risk analysis agency Ocad.
Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V) at finance has chosen Eddy Peeters, aged 60, whose CV is even more impressive, having been chief of staff for outgoing economy minister Nathalie Muylle, Koen Geens (justice), Wouter Beke (labour), Kris Peeters (economy), Pieter De Crem (defence) and, further back in time, Flemish minister Theo Kelchtermans (environment).
Sophie Wilmès (MR), first woman prime minister, also chooses a man: Gérald Duffy,aged 44. He was her chef as prime minister, prior to which he was secretary to the council of ministers.
Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PS), the new labour minister, brings in Christophe Soil (43), formerly director-general of the Brussels planning bureau Perspective.
Veteran politician and former minister Frank Vandenbroucke (sp.a) has opted for 40-year-old Inti Ghysels, director of the party’s research department and an expert in matters of taxation.
At the ministry of mobility, Georges Gilkinet (Ecolo), has engaged the services of Grégory Van Lint, aged 43, a former law lecturer and political secretary for Ecolo/Groen in the parliament.
Civil service minister Petra De Sutter (Groen), by contrast, is the only one of her peers (so far) to employ a woman. She is Els Van Weert (52), herself a former junior minister for sustainable development when the party was known as Spirit.
She was a member of parliament from 1999 to 2004, and party president from 2001 to 2004, when she was appointed secretary of state by prime minister Guy Verhofstadt.