Elio Di Rupo

Elio Di Rupo is a Belgian socialist politician of Italian heritage.

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Elio Di Rupo (French: [eljo di ʁypo];[1] born 18 July 1951) is a Belgian socialist politician of Italian heritage. He is the Prime Minister of Belgium, and leader of the Socialist Party (PS). He became Prime Minister on 6 December 2011 and heads the Di Rupo I Government. Elio Di Rupo is the first francophone to hold the office since Paul Vanden Boeynants in 1979, as well as the country's first socialist Prime Minister since Edmond Leburton left office in 1974. He is also the first Belgian Prime Minister of non-Walloon or Flemish descent as well as the only openly gay leader of a European Union country.

Background and early life

Di Rupo is the son of two Italian immigrants. His father was born in San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore in the region of Abruzzo. Elio is the only child who was born in Belgium; his brothers and sisters were all born in Italy. When he was one year old, his father died in a car crash and his illiterate Roman Catholic mother was unable to raise all seven children. Because of financial reasons, three children were raised in the orphanage nearby.[2]

Political career

Di Rupo came in contact with the socialist movement for the first time during his studies in Mons, where he first obtained a master's degree and afterwards a doctorate in chemistry. He went to the University of Leeds (United Kingdom), where he worked in 1977–1978.

He started his political career as an attache at the cabinet of Jean-Maurice Dehousse in 1980–81.

His first political mandate came in 1982, when he was Councillor of Mons (until 1985, and again from 1988 until 2000). In 1986, he was mayor of health, urban renewal and social affairs. Professionally, Di Rupo was at the same time cabinet member and then Deputy Head of Cabinet of the minister of finance of that time of the Walloon region and consequently Deputy Head of Cabinet of the minister of finance and energy of the Walloon region at that time Philippe Busquin (1981–85) and superintendent of the energy-inspection of the ministry of the Walloon region.

He is a deputy (MP) for the Arrondissement of Mons in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. He once described François Mitterrand as being "a character from a novel".[3]

He became mayor of Mons, which is the capital of the province of Hainaut, in 2000.

In 1987, he got his national political breakthrough. He was chosen as member of the Chamber of Deputies and went two years later for a short time to the European Parliament.

In 1991, Di Rupo was chosen as a senator, but shortly afterwards (1992), he took in the French-speaking community his first ministerial function in Education and later also Media. These were his responsibilities until Guy Coëme, who was mentioned in the Agusta-scandal, resigned and Di Rupo went to the federal government in 1994 as vice-prime-minister and minister of Traffic and Governmental companies. Following the elections in 1995, he remained vice-prime-minister of Belgium and was appointed minister of Economics and Telecommunications.

In 1996, at the time of the Dutroux affair, Olivier Trusgnach, a prostitute, alleged that Di Rupo paid him for sex while Trusgnach was still a minor.[4] This accusation could have meant the end of his political career. Di Rupo denied the accusations and a close investigation showed that he was completely innocent. From that moment he has never hidden his homosexuality.

After the federal and regional elections of June 1999 in which, due to the Dioxin Affair, the Christian-Democrats lost many of their votes, Di Rupo negotiated with the Flemish socialists of sp.a, the Liberals and Green Party to form a "pink-green" government. Di Rupo himself was in charge of the function of minister-president of the Walloon region, but already in October of the same year the members of the party chose him as president and in April 2000, he was succeeded in his function of minister-president by Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe.

As new president of the party, Di Rupo was forced to do a generation change within the PS and also forced to go a new way. During the regional and federal elections of 1995 and 1999, the PS lost many of its votes, partly because of corruption scandals in the 1990s (named Agusta-scandal and UNIOP-affair), in which the most prominent PS-politicians were involved. PS had been in the government subsequently since 1988 (in the regional government and in the federal government), but the liberal PRL (now MR) became in the 1999-elections as strong as the PS. Apart from those two, Ecolo also became an important political party. Di Rupo realised that drastic action was required to regain the position of the PS. By several measures, such as "Contrat d'avenir pour la Wallonie" (Contract for the Future of Wallonia) and a new generation of party leaders, by which Marie Arena was important, he tried to reassemble the left wing-forces around him. Successfully, because in the elections of 2003, PS regained the electoral score of 1991 and was by far the most important political party before MR. During the regional elections of 2004, it also became the most important party in the Brussels capital region.

Di Rupo in 2007

Di Rupo changed 2004 the liberal coalition partner for the Christian-democratic party, in the Walloon Government and in the Brussels capital Government (in the last also the green party Ecolo was part of the government). By this, coalitions were made which differed from the federal coalition at-that-time.

In October 2005, he became Minister-President of the Walloon Region after Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe resigned amid a corruption scandal, involving several members of Di Rupo's party. Di Rupo continued as party leader though and has had to deal with the PS's ICDI affair that emerged in May 2006.

In 2006 and 2007, Di Rupo and his party appeared unsuccessful in trying to clean out corruption. This was probably instrumental in the party's losing its first place amongst French community parties 2007 federal election.[5] Di Rupo then decided to take a firmer stance against corruption in Charleroi: he virtually took control of the city's Socialist Party and ordered the Socialist mayor and aldermen to resign.[6]

After former PS president Guy Spitaels urged him to choose between the presidency of the party and of the Walloon Region, Di Rupo decided to organize internal elections for party president in July 2007 rather than in October of that year and announced that he would resign from his mandate as Minister-President if re-elected. On 11 July 2007, Di Rupo was re-elected president of the Socialist Party with 89.5% of the votes.[7]

Following the 2010 Belgian general election, in which the PS emerged as the largest of the Francophone parties and the second largest political party in Belgium, speculation emerged as to whether Di Rupo could be the Prime Minister in a new government. The RTBF raised questions, however, about whether Di Rupo's limited fluency in Dutch would be a stumbling block in seeking that office; every prime minister since 1979 had been a Fleming. In May 2011, he was appointed Formateur by the Belgian king, which gave Di Rupo the task of forming a government. Traditionally, the Formateur also becomes the Prime Minister of the government he forms. He became prime minister of the Di Rupo I Government on 6 December 2011.[8] With Di Rupo's appointment, Belgium ended 589 days without a government, believed to be the longest such streak ever for a country in the developed world. Yves Leterme had resigned on 26 April 2010 and had been serving as caretaker prime minister since then.[9]

Personal life

Di Rupo describes himself as an "atheist, rationalist, and Freemason."[2] He is fluent in three languages: Italian, French and English. He is taking classes to improve his Dutch due to it being Belgium's most widely spoken language.[citation needed]

Di Rupo came out as gay in 1996, and when confronted with the accusation that he was gay, he responded "Yes. So what?"[2] He is the first openly gay man to lead a country after Norway's Per-Kristian Foss briefly served as prime minister of his country in 2002.[10] This makes him one of two openly gay or lesbian heads of government, the other being Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. [11]