The new Flemish coalition government is a cooperation between the Flemish nationalists (N-VA), Christian democrats (CD&V) and liberals (Open VLD), who joined the formation talks at a late stage but who eventually made it into the government. Open VLD President Gwendolyn Rutten was given a big round of applause late on Thursday, when the party congress approved the decision to join the government. The liberals replace the socialists of SP.A compared to the previous term.
The new team is headed by Geert Bourgeois (N-VA, small photo) and has 8 ministers, 4 men and 4 women. It's the first time the N-VA heads the Flemish government. The word "historic" could be heard at yesterday's party congress in Antwerp. Geert Bourgeois (63) has been with the N-VA from the start, and is now being rewarded for his experience and expertise. He was the only one who also took oath at the royal palace with King Filip, later this morning.
The two Deputy PM's are women: Hilde Crevits and Annemie Turtelboom. The N-VA has 3 ministers, CD&V also 3 and Open VLD 2 (see our "read also" section for a complete list with photos and responsibilities).
While the N-VA and CD&V ministers had been announced earlier, we had to wait until yesterday evening to find out who would represent the liberals of Open VLD in the Flemish government.
Heavy basket for Annemie Turtelboom
Annemie Turtelboom (46, photo below) makes the switch from the federal to the regional level. The former Justice and Interior Minister will have to work hard for her money, as she will be responsible for the budget and the Finance Department, among other things. A former economics student, Ms Turtelboom seems the right person for the important job. As she is leaving federal politics straight away, she will be replaced by Maggie De Block as the outgoing Justice Minister.
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in"
Sven Gatz (47) of Open VLD is probably the biggest surprise. Mr Gatz quit national politics in 2011 to head the Belgian Brewers' Organisation. Gatz announced the news of his political comeback on Twitter, using his "favourite Godfather quote: Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." Sven Gatz is a former liberal fraction leader in Flemish Parliament. Tasting beer was always one of his passions, which is why he made the switch to the Brewers' Organisation. Sven Gatz is from Brussels. Under present regulations, at least one Flemish minister should hail from the capital.
There was controversy when he decided to claim a financial benefit when leaving Flemish parliament in 2011. Every MP had a right to claim the benefit, but his decision was not taken well by the public in hard economic times and as he decided to quit himself. Under pressure, Gatz eventually decided to let go of his golden parachute, which was said to be worth 300,000 euros. His case was not the only one, and conditions later became stricter.
Two new faces for the N-VA
The other two new faces in the government are Liesbeth Homans (41) and Ben Weyts of the N-VA. Homans was said to be in contention for the post of PM, but eventually gave up the battle as it would be hard to combine with life as a single mother, it could be heard. She heads Antwerp's social service department at present, and will get a similar responsibility now with the Fight against Poverty among other things.
Ben Weyts (43) is the N-VA Deputy Chairman. He was named as a possible successor of N-VA President Bart De Wever at various occasions. Ben Weyts built a strong reputation as a politician defending the Flemish interests in and around Brussels. It is not a coincidence he will be responsible for the "Vlaamse Rand" (Flemish area around Brussels) to defend the Flemish demands.
Jo Vandeurzen, Hilde Crevits and Joke Schauvliege (CD&V) already held a minister post in the previous government, just like Philippe Muyters (N-VA).