Belgium has sworn in a new government and a gay prime minister, ending a record-breaking 541 days of political deadlock.
New Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo was sworn in by King Albert II at the royal palace along with his 12 cabinet ministers and six secretaries of state.
Di Rupo, a French-speaking Socialist, took the oath of office in French, Dutch and German – reflecting language sensitivities in the country.
Belgium had been run by a caretaker administration since the last government resigned in April 2010.
Di Rupo is also the first openly gay EU leader, having come out initially in 1997 when questioned by journalists. However the incoming prime minister remains very quiet about his private life.
The first Francophone premier in 32 years for the divided nation, Di Rupo will take office as a new Socialist leader among a group of European governments dominated by the center-right.
Di Rupo was due to meet King Albert II Monday evening to give him the names of Belgium’s new cabinet ministers, according to people familiar with the matter. According to local press reports, the cabinet will comprise 13 members including Di Rupo. Longstanding finance minister Didier Reynders will be moving to foreign affairs and Steven Vanackere, from the centrist Flemish liberal party, moving to finance.
“My first words are for the citizens, I want to thank them for their patience … together, we need to roll up our sleeves and get this country out of crisis,” Di Rupo said.
Di Rupo, 60, is head of the French-speaking Socialist Party of Belgium and mayor of the southern city of Mons. The former chemistry professor, who studied in Mons and Leeds, England, is known for a trademark red bow-tie.
Born in 1951 in Morlanwelz in the country’s southern region of Wallonia, di Rupo was one of seven children in a family of Italian immigrants. After his father was killed in an accident, his illiterate mother had to place some of them in an orphanage and would share sandwiches between them on celebration days, he said in a 2008 interview with journalist Francis de Woestyn in 2008, republished in book form this year.
Di Rupo will be the first French-speaking premier since 1979 and is often mocked for his shaky command of Dutch; he previously served as deputy Prime Minister in 1994. When he heads to the summit Friday, he’ll be one of the few left-wingers around the table in a Europe where center-right governments, led by neighboring France and Germany, are steering the continent’s course.
His distinctive look includes bow-tie, floppy black hair and trim figure maintained with a gym regimen including workouts before major speeches and plenty of abdominal crunches.