The 64-year old socialist Frank Vandenbroucke was tapped today to become Belgium’s deputy prime minister and health minister, marking a surprise comeback into politics.
The announcement comes as the new government, led by the Flemish liberal Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, is set to be sworn into office today by Belgian King Philippe. Vandenbroucke will succeed Health Minister Maggie De Block, who announced Wednesday she’s stepping down.
Underscoring the sense of shock in political circles, socialist party president Conner Rousseau called the news “a bomb.”
Vandenbroucke got his start in Belgian politics in the 1980s, when he served as deputy prime minister, interior and social minister, and, later on, Flemish education minister. In 2009, his party declined to nominate him for any ministerial posts, prompting him to leave politics in 2011 to pursue his academic career.
On Belgian radio this morning,he conceded he had some doubts about coming back into government.
“In scientific work, it’s very important to do things thoroughly. In politics, you sometimes have to decide very quickly. It’s an entire different world,” he said. “But if you’re asked to contribute to the public cause at a time that’s so difficult for so many people, you have to jump.”
Vandenbroucke didn’t elaborate how he’ll handle the coronavirus pandemic. But he said that “we have now experienced how vulnerable we sometimes are as humans, and how vulnerable we are as a society, how such a virus can cripple society.”
He won’t be alone in that task. According to the new coalition agreement, the new government will appoint a “corona commissioner” to oversee the nation’s pandemic response.