BRUSSELS, Belgium—On Nov. 25, in the early afternoon, the new Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme was sworn in by King Albert II at the king’s palace in Laken. Though he’s not really new—the swearing in made Leterme the prime minister of Belgium for the second time in less than a year, because he is being brought back after resigning in December 2008.
Leterme, who was previously the minister of Foreign Affairs, will keep largely the same cabinet as his predecessor Herman van Rompuy, but will have Steven Vanackere (Flemish Christian Democrat) replace him as minister of Foreign Affairs. Inge Vervotte (Flemish Christian Democrat) will replace Vanackere as minister of Publicly Owned Businesses.
Earlier that day van Rompuy offered his resignation to the king as prime minister. He will soon become the first president of the EU, a position that came about after the recent passing of the Treaty of Lisbon.
Not only Leterme but all ministers were sworn in by the king. For Minister of Development Cooperation Charles Michel, this meant he had to come back from Morocco where he assisted crown Prince Filip on an economical mission. After he attended the ceremony, he immediately returned to Morocco.
Later in the afternoon, Leterme received the key to the prime minister’s residence, the Lambermont in central Brussels, from former Prime Minister van Rompuy. Afterwards, Leterme spoke at the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate to introduce the government’s declaration of policy.
The first sign of conflict occurred when Patrick Dewael criticized the government allowing the policy declaration to be leaked on the Internet on Wednesday. “It’s the first time in 160 years this has happened,” he said.
Those in Belgium appear to have mixed feelings concerning Leterme as the new head of the federal government. He proved popular in 2007, gathering over 800,000 votes, the most ever for a prime minister in Belgium at that time. However, on Facebook, a group has formed saying “we don’t want Leterme as prime minister,” with over 26,000 members.
The task that awaits him will not be easy. Leterme and his party C D & V arranged Jean Luc Dehaene, also a former prime minister, to accompany him in solving the everlasting problem of the split of the electoral constituency Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV). This complicated matter, together with state reform, will be two of the major problems he will have to solve.
“Taking up the task is a matter of taking responsibilities and we’re going to do our best to solve the difficult [issues] that are coming our way,” said Leterme during an interview with Flemish national television VRT.