Former journalist replaces Sophie Wilmès as Belgian foreign minister

Former journalist Hadja Lahbib is Belgium’s new foreign minister, replacing Sophie Wilmès, the Francophone liberal party Mouvement réformiste (MR) announced Friday.

Lahbib’s appointment by MR president Georges-Louis Bouchez came as a surprise given that she has virtually no political experience. She worked for 20 years as the news anchor of the Francophone public broadcaster RTBF. Over the past year, she was working on Brussels’ bid to become the European capital of culture in 2030.

“As of today, I have the honor of being the face of Belgium abroad,” Lahbib said. “Not only is there war at the gates of the European Union, the war also has repercussions all over the world.”

While she admitted she was surprised to be asked, Lahbib said: “I have no political experience, but I know the area. I was in the field [as a journalist]. Maybe now is the time to change something in politics.” Lahbib is Belgium’s first foreign minister of North African descent. She was born in Hainaut to an Algerian family.

Lahbib took the oath at the royal palace on Friday morning.

After taking a temporary break in April, Wilmès announced on Thursday that she was officially resigning to care of her husband, who is fighting brain cancer. In a statement, the former minister said that “her current duties in the government” would not allow her to fight her “husband’s illness” alongside him.

Bouchez said that Wilmès will stay on as an MP in the next parliamentary session, and that she will be leading the list for the MR party at the 2024 parliamentary elections.

Lahbib is not taking on Wilmès’ deputy prime minister role, which goes to David Clarinval, the minister currently in charge of SMEs and agriculture.