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Wilfried Martens

Wilfried Martens Belgian politician (1936-2013)

Belgian politician (1936-2013)
Wilfried Martens
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Belgian politician (1936-2013)
A.K.A. Wilfried Achiel Emma Martens
Was Politician Lawyer
From Belgium
Type Law Politics
Gender male
Birth 19 April 1936, Sleidinge, Evergem, East Flanders, Flemish Region
Death 9 October 2013, Lokeren, East Flanders, Flemish Region, Belgium (aged 77 years)
Politics Christian Democratic and Flemish
Spouse: Miet Smet
The details


Wilfried Achiel Emma Martens (Dutch: [ˈʋɪlfrit ˈmɑrtə(n)s]; 19 April 1936 – 9 October 2013) was a Flemish Belgian politician. He was born in Sleidinge (East Flanders). During his political career, Martens served as the Prime Minister of Belgium from 3 April 1979 to 6 April 1981 and 17 December 1981 to 7 March 1992.

Political career

Martens was a Chair of the Belgian Christian People's Party (now renamed Christian Democratic and Flemish party, CD&V) from 1972 to 1979, sitting as a Deputy in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives (federal parliament) from 1974 to 1991, and serving as a Senator from 1991 to 1994.

Wilfried Martens served as Prime Minister in nine coalition governments (Martens I-IX) from 3 April 1979 to 6 April 1981 and 17 December 1981 to 7 March 1992. His period in office was dominated by the economic crisis of the 1980s and the state reforms of 1980 and 1988 which set Belgium on a path to federalism.

He co-founded the European People's Party (EPP) in 1976 and was EPP President from 1992 until his death.

Poster calling for civil disobedience against the Martens government

From 1993 he was President of the European Union of Christian Democrats (EUCD), until its merger with the EPP in 1996. Martens also negotiated with Finnish conservative politician Sauli Niinistö the merger of the European Democrat Union (EDU) into the EPP (formally concluded in 2002). The successful fusion of all centre-right European organisations into the EPP – currently the largest transnational European political party with 75 member-parties from 40 countries – is widely recognised as an important achievement of his European political legacy.

From 1994 to 1998, he was a Member of the European Parliament, chairing the EPP Group.

From October 2000 to November 2001 he was also the President of the Christian Democrat International (CDI).

He re-appeared on the Belgian political stage on 22 December 2008 to help in the 2007–2011 Belgian political crisis.

Martens held a doctorate in law, a degree in notarial studies, as well as a baccalaureate in Thomistic philosophy from the Catholic University of Louvain. He also studied international political science at Harvard University. He has practised law at the Ghent Court of Appeal.

Among numerous national and international distinctions, he was honoured in 1998 with the Charles V European Award for his contribution to European Union.

Private life

Martens had five children: two from his first marriage with Lieve Verschroeven (Kris and Anne) and three with Ilse Schouteden (Sarah, Sophie and Simon). After the birth of their twins in 1997 they married on 13 November 1998. Ilse Schouteden has a son from her previous marriage. In 2007 he divorced his second wife. On 27 September 2008 he married Miet Smet, a former Belgian minister. It was his third marriage and her first. After the death of his first wife, Martens was able to celebrate the marriage to Miet Smet in the Catholic Church, on 27 April 2013.

Death and tributes

Wilfried Martens (center) with Jean-Luc Dehaene (left) at a European People's Party (EPP) meeting in 2005

Martens died of cancer on 9 October 2013, at his home in Lokeren; he was 77. Elio Di Rupo, the Belgian prime minister, described him as a "true statesman and one of the fathers of federal Belgium". Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, paid tribute to him as a "statesman of Belgium, Europe and an outstanding leader of European Parliament". Jerzy Buzek, EPP MEP and former prime minister of Poland, described him as "irreplaceable".

The EPP think tank Centre for European Studies has been renamed after him, now being the "Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies", a decision taken during the EPP Congress in Dublin held on 9 March 2014.

He received an Official State funeral, which was attended by a Royal Aide-de-Camp of King Philippe, he was buried in the Cemetery of Campo Santo.


  •  Belgium: Minister of State, by Royal Decree.
  •  Belgium: Grand officer in the Order of Leopold
  •  Belgium: Grand Cross in the Order of Leopold II
  •  Belgium: Grand Cross in the Order of the Crown

Foreign honours

  •  Iceland : Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Falcon (16 October 1979)
  •  Italy: Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (20 February 1986)
  •  Portugal: Grand Cross of the Order of Christ (10 December 1982)
  •  Portugal:Grand Cross in the Order of Prince Henry (31 October 1987)
  •  France: Grand Officer in the Legion of Honour.
  •  Netherlands:Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
  •  Luxemburg: Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Oak Crown.
  • Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Falcon
  • Knight Grand Cross in the Order of the Phoenix


On 10 September 2009, Wilfried Martens presented his book Europe: I Struggle, I Overcome in a public event organized by the Centre for European Studies (CES), the official think-tank of the European People's Party.
  • Een gegeven woord, Lannoo, Tielt, 1985.
  • Europa voorbij Oost en West, Lannoo, Tielt, 1995.
  • De Memoires, Luctor et Emergo, Lannoo, Tielt, 2006.
  • Europe: I Struggle, I Overcome, Springer Science+Business Media, 2009.
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