Wilfried Martens, political leader in Belgium and Europe, dies at 77

October 10, 2013

Wilfried Martens, who led nine Belgian governments and the European Union’s Christian Democrat group, died Oct. 9 at his home in Lokeren, in the Belgian province of East Flanders. He was 77.

The family confirmed the death. Mr. Martens had heart problems.

As prime minister, Mr. Martens led governments with socialists, liberal and grand coalitions in the 1980s and early 1990s and proved capable of keeping the volatile factions in the nation together.

He also helped found the European People’s Party and led the E.U.’s Christian Democrat group for almost two decades before asking last week to be relieved from the job.

As a leader of a small nation of 10 million, he worked for more European integration among nations based on consensus politics.

The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called him “a great statesman of Belgium, Europe and an outstanding leader in the European Parliament.”

E.U. President Herman Van Rompuy, also a Dutch-speaking Belgian Christian Democrat, remembered how Mr. Martens imposed austerity measures to counter runaway spending in Belgium during the 1980s to turn the nation around. “He lifted our country out of a morass,” he said.

As much as for his political ambition, he was also renowned for a stormy amorous life, which included three marriages and five children.

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