Sophie Wilmès becomes first Jewish and first woman Prime Minister of Belgium

October 27, 2019

Sophie Wilmès, then Prime Minister of Belgium, on the floor of the Belgian House of Representatives. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

On October 27, 2019, Sophie Wilmès became the first woman and first Jewish Prime Minister of Belgium. A member of the center-left Reformist Movement Party, Wilmès was appointed Prime Minister of a caretaker government, which ran the country while parties were in talks to form a coalition government.

Wilmès was born on January 15, 1975, in Ixelles and grew up in Grez-Doiceau and Brussels. Her mother was an Ashkenazi Jew and her father was not Jewish; Wilmès did not grow up connected to Judaism. She earned a degree in applied communication–advertising from the Institute for Higher Study of Social Communication and a financial management degree from the Institut Superieur de Commerce Saint-Louis.

After working at the European Commission and at a law firm, Wilmès joined local government as an Alderwoman on the Sint-Genesius-Rode Municipal Council. She rose up the ranks of government, serving on the Flemish Brabant Provincial Council before joining the Chamber of Representatives (Brussels’s Lower House of Parliament) as a member of the MR Party. On September 21, 2015, Wilmès was appointed Minister of Budget and Civil Service, in charge of the National Lottery and Science Policy.

After the 2019 elections left no clear majority in the government, talks began between all of the parties to form a coalition. In the meantime, Wilmès was appointed as caretaker Prime Minister with limited responsibilities and powers. When the Coronavirus pandemic broke out, Wilmès was granted special powers to fight the virus.

Wilmès served as Prime Minister until October of 2020, when she became the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Foreign Trade, and Federal Cultural Institutions of the new government. On April 21, 2022, Wilmès stepped down as Foreign Minister to spend more time with her family, when her husband, Christopher Stone, was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

 

Sources:

Liphshiz, Cnaan. “Belgium’s first female prime minister is Jewish.” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 28, 2019. “https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/belgiums-first-female-prime-minister-is-a-jewish-mother-of-4.”

“Who Am I?” Sophie Wilmès, accessed August 22, 2022. https://www.sophiewilmes.be/en/who-am-i/

Rankin, Jennifer. “Belgium hands powers to caretaker PM to fight Covid-19 after 15-month stalemate.” The Guardian, March 16, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/16/belgium-hands-powers-to-caretaker-pm-sophie-wilmes-to-fight-covid-19

 

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Sophie Wilmès becomes first Jewish and first woman Prime Minister of Belgium." (Viewed on May 20, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/oct/27/2019/sophie-wilmes-becomes-first-jewish-and-first-woman-prime-minister-belgium>.