Belgium yesterday marked another parliamentary first, with the election by members of the first-ever female speaker, or presiding officer, since the nation’s parliament was established in 1830.
The nomination of Eliane Tilieux (PS) came as no surprise, however. Her name had already been listed when the two formateurs – Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) and Paul Magnette (PS) – first announced their slate of vice-premiers, ministers and junior ministers.
However ritual must be observed, and yesterday Tilieux was formally proposed, seconded and duly elected by members of the assembly, by 91 votes to 40 for her opponent, Valerie Van Peel (N-VA).
Born in 1966, Tilieux studied at the Free University of Brussels (ULB) and obtained a post-graduate diploma in translation-interpreting. Her first political post was as member of the provincial council of Namur province.
She then joined the government of Wallonia as minister for health and equal opportunities, and then (under minister-president Magnette) employment and training. She was elected to parliament in the election of 2019.
She replaces Patrick Dewael (Open VLD), coincidentally on his 65th birthday.
The De Croo government has already scored one major equality first, with the appointment of Sophie Wilmès as the country’s first-ever foreign minister, having been the first-ever woman prime minister.
Tilieux dedicated her historic election to all women, and also to all men who strive for female equality and emancipation.
Over in the Senate chamber, meanwhile, members elected Stephanie D’Hose (Open VLD) as their president – not the first woman president, but the youngest at only 39 years. She succeeds Sabine Ruelle (MR).
Her appointment, however, required a change of the rules. Her party, Open VLD, does not have a seat on the Senate’s governing committee, and the rules demand the president must come from the committee. So the rules were amended, on a motion from Bert Anciaux (sp.a), as previously agreed during the talks on creating a new government.