Alexander De Croo reigns in turbulent times
The war in Ukraine has changed everything for Europe: If the EU wants to endure as a global player, we must invest in a European defence concept and rethink our approach to our eastern neighbourhood. Alexander De Croo will talk about Europe's changing times on Monday evening at our event "A Fight for Freedom - How Putin’s War Renews Europe".
With Alexander De Croo, Belgium has its third successive liberal prime minister at the helm. Continuing a tradition of pro-European and liberal politics, De Croo seemed fit for his position right from the start. However, his path to power was not always as straightforward as it seemed.
When Alexander De Croo entered politics, his surname was already a household name in the Belgian Parliament. De Croo’s father, Herman De Croo, is the longest serving member of parliament in Belgium (serving uninterrupted between 1968 and 2014), a former president of the Flemish liberals (Open Vld), and held a number of ministerial posts. But despite De Croo’s upbringing in a political household, a career in politics was not always the obvious route him.
De Croo’s career followed an unconventional path. After graduating from university with a degree in commercial engineering, he spent a decade in the private sector. Between 1999 and 2006 he worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group and he subsequently founded an intellectual property consultancy. Not exactly the typical trajectory for many in political office, also not in Belgium.
Nonetheless, the first signs of De Croo’s political ambitions started to appear in 2009. After a bid to get elected in the European Parliament (De Croo received 47.779 votes as the 10th candidate on the Open Vld list), De Croo later that year ran as a candidate in the elections for the Open Vld presidency. Despite having no previous political experience, party members elected De Croo as the successor of interim party president Guy Verhofstadt, another seasoned politician whose footsteps he was set to follow.
In 2012, De Croo enters the Belgian government for the first time, as he follows up fellow Liberal Vincent Van Quickenborne as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Pensions. After the following elections two years later, he gets another ministerial post in the new government of Prime Minister Charles Michel. With a diverse portfolio of telecoms, digital agenda, postal services and development cooperation, he built up his liberal profile with efforts to open up the telecom market and to reduce the state ownership of the postal services.
In this post, De Croo also built up a strong reputation as an advocate for women’s rights. He received international praise for his speech at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg, where he addressed 90.000 South Africans on gender equality alongside artists such as Beyoncé and Chris Martin. The following year, he published his book “The Age of Women”, in which he convincingly argued that feminism also liberates men.
After a government re-shuffle, De Croo became Belgium’s Finance Minister in 2018. He maintained this position in the caretaker government after the federal elections in 2019, in which De Croo achieved a strong personal result. As finance minister, he was responsible for the government’s financial response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a rescue package to keep Belgian icon Brussels Airlines in the air. This put him at the centre of the political decision-making and put him in pole position for a leadership role in the next cabinet.
After a complicated negotiation process that lasted 494 days, De Croo in 2020 became Prime Minister of Belgium. Nicknamed the “Vivaldi coalition”, De Croo’s government comprises seven different parties that represent all four political colours present in the coalition: the Liberals (Open VLD and MR), the Socialists (sp.a and PS), the Greens (Groen and Ecolo) and the Christian Democrats (CD&V). One could hardly think of a more fitting political tribute to the Venetian composer’s famous “Four Seasons”.
In his position as the head of government, De Croo has immediately taken on a more visible role in European discussions. Domestically, he has proven to be a staunch supporter of European integration. In his 2021 State of the Union address in the Belgian Federal Parliament, he stated, “Europe is not the problem, it is the solution”. And as a former consultant, working on solutions is close to De Croo’s heart.
Internationally, he has been vocal on issues such as the EU’s COVID-19 Recovery Fund, the Rule of Law and energy security. In the context of the war in Ukraine, De Croo also made a tour to Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Moldova in April to show support for these countries against possible Russian aggression. This constructive role seems to suit him well and it has already raised questions about his plans for future endeavours. If his predecessors are anything to go by, a European post could be in the cards. But for the coming years, managing the Vivaldi coalition will keep De Croo more than occupied.