Wouter Beke, president of the Flemish Christian Democratic party (CD&V), has moved in to replace party colleague Kris Peeters as federal minister for employment. Peeters this week resigned from the government to take up his seat in the European parliament.
Beke himself explained the choice on VRT Radio. The trigger, he said, was the failure of foreign minister Didier Reynders to be elected as secretary-general of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Peeters had already expressed his intention to move to the European Parliament. That left a vacancy on the Flemish side. Had Reynders won, the language balance would be even, but he did not. It was necessary, Beke explained, to restore language parity by finding a Flemish replacement for Peeters.
“Nominating a minister is no easy matter,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “It’s even less simple to change ministers during a government, and doing so in a caretaker government is the least simple of all.” His party was forced, he said, to find a solution, so he took the job himself.
Beke is mayor of the town of Leopoldsburg in Limburg province. He has never held a ministerial post at any level. Peeters, whose place he took over, was the director-general of Unizo, the organisation that represents the self-employed, until elected for CD&V and becoming minister-president of Flanders and then minister in the federal government.
His candidature as minister in the temporary government, he told the media, is based on the way he worked with Kris Peeters to work out the governing accords for the outgoing federal government, which came into office after a world record hiatus in 2015.
When a new federal government is formed, CD&V is likely to have a spot for a minister. Whether Beke will reserve that spot for himself is not yet known.