08 октября 2014 13:57

Charles Michel, Belgium's youngest PM for 174 years


 Belgium's Charles Michel, who became prime minister on Tuesday, is a 38-year-old French-speaking liberal who is now one of the youngest leaders in Europe, AFP reports.

 Belgium's Charles Michel, who became prime minister on Tuesday, is a 38-year-old French-speaking liberal who is now one of the youngest leaders in Europe, AFP reports.

Bald-headed, bespectacled and goateed, he began his rapid rise to power in the shadow of his father Louis Michel, a former minister and European commissioner.

At the head of a centre-right coalition government that took nearly five months to form after May 25 parliamentary elections, Michel is also Belgium's youngest premier since 1840.

"He is a very determined person, ready to assume his responsibilities, even shake up the established order," one of his colleagues said on condition of anonymity.

He also described the younger Michel as a "pure intellectual" who is passionate about literature and poetry as well as someone who loves French and Italian cuisine.

Michel, the successor to French-speaking socialist Elio Di Rupo, has been part of the Belgian political landscape for more than 15 years.

His involvement in politics began as a boy, putting up posters for his father. He was 16 when he joined the party's youth group in Jodoigne, the Michel family stronghold that lies along the frontier between French-speaking Wallonia in the south and Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north.

At 18, he was elected councillor from the Brabant Wallon province.

A good Flemish speaker -- a rare trait for a French-speaking politician in Belgium -- he became a lawyer in 1995 aged 20 after studying law in Brussels and Amsterdam.

Four years later, he was elected a member of the federal parliament. In October 2000, he snagged the portfolio of Wallonia's regional minister for internal affairs and public services, becoming at 25 the youngest minister in the kingdom's history.

From 2007 to early 2011, Michel served as minister for cooperation, considered a secondary position, but he rose to national prominence in early 2011 when he became head of the Liberals.


  Rise to prominence 


With backing from his father and the party's social liberal wing which formed the heart of a group dubbed "Renewal", he led a revolt that pushed aside longstanding party leader and stalwart Didier Reynders, the finance minister who had just suffered an election defeat.

He is a skilled debater, a smiling presence on television screens but who is sometimes given to pure stonewalling.

During May 25 federal elections, Michel saw his Liberals gain two extra seats in the French-speaking part of the kingdom than they had in the previous parliament, though they were still short of the number held by the rival Socialist Party.

Named in July by King Philippe to lead negotiations on forming a national government, Michel stole the march on other French-speaking parties by forging a coalition with three Dutch-speaking parties, including the N-VA Flemish nationalists.

With 20 out of the 63 French-speaking seats in parliament, the liberals represent only a quarter of the Francophone electorate.

But Michel now has the chance to implement economic reforms and end the political instability the kingdom has endured for a decade.

Belgium is bitterly divided between the Flemish-speaking north, which tends to be more conservative, and the French-speaking, more liberal south. After elections in 2010, it took the politicians 18 months to form a national government, a world record.

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