The former Belgian prime minister and long-serving president of the centre-right European People’s Party Wilfried Martens has died at the age of 77. The news has triggered reactions across Europe, praising his statesmanship at Belgian level and contributions to the EU project.

Wilfried Martens was one of Belgium’s most renowned politicians and a frontman for the Christian Democrats in Europe since he co-founded the EPP in 1976.

Martens led nine Belgian coalition governments between 1979 and 1992, with only a short interruption in 1981, a record number of years as prime minister for the country. During this period, Martens furthered the reform of Belgium into a federal state and tackled the 1981-1982 economic crisis by introducing reforms and devaluation.

With his passing, a big chapter of the EPP's history comes to a close. He co-founded the EPP in 1976 and took on the role of president in 1990, which he held until his decease on Thursday (10 October).

Under his leadership, the EPP has grown into the largest political group in the European Parliament and has enormously influenced EU politics. Amongst others, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and Commission president José Manuel Barroso make part of the EPP political party.  

Martens’ deteriorating health had become obvious in recent months. He was hospitalised at the end of August for blood coagulation problems and released on 9 September. Martens then resumed his presidential duties - albeit with additional support from EPP vice-presidents.

On 8 October, he transferred his functions as EPP president to Joseph Daul, the political group's chairman in the European Parliament. Daul explained that “Wilfried called me last Friday (4 October) to ask me if I could take over from him”. He added that Martens was suffering from “serious health problems”.

Martens died last night (9-10 October) at his home in Lokeren, Belgium. He will receive a state funeral on Saturday 19 October in the Saint Bavo cathedral in Ghent.