Maggie De Block will no longer serve as Belgium’s health minister, as part of the new government formation.
De Block, who has been health minister since 2014, had already told Belgian media she was ready to quit, having led the country through numerous emergencies like Ebola in 2014 and the Brussels terrorist attacks in 2016.
The news followed the announcement that Belgium formed a new government with Flemish liberal Alexander De Croo as prime minister, ending a 16-month spell without permanent leadership.
“I will be a free woman from tomorrow,” she told reporters during a press conference at the European Health Forum Gastein.
It remains unclear who will take over. Belgian media have floated the names of Gwendolyn Rutten or newcomer Goedele Liekens — both from the same Open VLD party that De Block and De Croo belong to — as possible successors. But it looks unlikely that her party will hold on to the health portfolio.
Furthermore, the coalition government will propose a new coronavirus commissioner. De Block described this position as a “bridge” to connect the various parts of Belgium’s “very complicated political system.” Rather than a political figure, she explained, it’s more like “a crisis manager.”
One factor that made De Block’s job more difficult was that she was essentially one of at least nine executive-level health officials representing different Belgian regions and language communities. With the commissioner post, the new coalition aims to create a single face of the pandemic response.
De Block, for her part, will still be a member of the Belgian parliament.
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.
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