Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht will take Louis Michel's seat as EU development commissioner after the latter was recently elected to the European Parliament, the country's authorities have announced. De Gucht was widely expected to be Belgium's next commissioner, but the EU elections appear to have accelerated his appointment.
The decision to appoint De Gucht as Belgian commissioner is long-standing as it was taken during the formation of the Yves Leterme cabinet in early 2008. The appointment was confirmed by the present cabinet of Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian press reports.
In the meantime, Louis Michel took part in the EU elections, heading the list of the Liberal-affiliated MR party (see EurActiv LinksDossier on the EU elections in Belgium), and was elected as an MEP. Michel has written to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, informing him that he will stand down as of 13 July to take up his new functions and attend the inaugural session of the newly-elected Parliament in Stasbourg on 14-16 July.
De Gucht, 55, will therefore take over the EU executive's development and humanitarian aid portfolio, awaiting the redistribution of assignments in the new college of commissioners.
De Gucht is from Guy Verhofstadt's Liberal-affiliated Open VLD party, the poor showing of which in the Belgian elections fuelled rumours that he might not be given the post of commissioner.
Foreign minister since 2004, De Gucht recently denounced the functioning of the Union, which he said is increasingly governed by an "executive board of big countries" (EurActiv 21/04/09). He said that Belgium would make full use of its presidency in the second half of 2010 to re-establish the EU's institutional balance, which he said was in "danger".
According to Belgian radio reports, Yves Leterme is poised to succeed Karel de Gucht in Van Rompuy's government.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament has gained an additional Belgian heavyweight to sit in its hemicycle. Guy Verhofstadt and Jean-Luc Dehaene, both former prime ministers, Isabelle Durant, formerly minister of transport and deputy prime minister, and now Louis Michel, formerly foreign minister and deputy prime minister, will all seek a prominent role in the new EU assembly.