Belgium's seven-party coalition government sworn in after nearly 500 days of negotiations

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By David Walsh
Belgium's seven-party coalition government sworn in after nearly 500 days of negotiations
Copyright  Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Belgium's new government led by Flemish liberal Alexander De Croo was officially sworn in on Thursday, ending nearly 500 days of intense post-election coalition talks.

The country has been governed by caretaker governments since the federal election which took place on May 26, 2019, paralysing Belgium's political system.

The federal election was precipitated by the collapse of then-prime minister Charles Michel's government in December 2018 after a dispute with coalition partners the New Flemish Alliance (N-Va) over ratifying the UN's migration pact.

Seven parties, which bridge Belgium's linguistic and political divide, reached an agreement on a programme for government on Wednesday which was approved by King Philippe on Thursday, ending the country's latest political crisis.

The so-called "Vivaldi coalition" - named after the Italian composer's Four Seasons concerti - has brought together socialists, liberals and Greens from both Wallonia and Flanders as well as the Flemish Christian Democrats (CD&V).

De Croo, 44, the leader of the Flemish liberal Open VLD party and Minister of Finance in the previous government, was the favourite to take over as prime minister, partly to compensate for the government's heavily Francophone make-up.

"We flipped a coin and it came down to Alexander, and that's an excellent choice," Paul Magnette, leader of the French-speaking Socialist Party (PS) joked at a press conference on Wednesday after negotiations concluded.

He will succeed Sophie Wilmès, leader of the Francophone Reformist Movement (MR), as prime minister, the first woman to hold the post.

She led a caretaker government with limited powers from October 2019 which eventually became a minority government in March 2020 to better deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The government also made history with the appointment of a transgender woman as deputy prime minister.

Previously breaking ground as Belgium's first transgender woman on a parliamentary list for the European elections in 2014, the Green Party's Petra De Sutter is now Europe's highest-ranking transgender person.