Wilfried Martens
Martens in 1989
Leader of the European People's Party-European Democrats
In office
20 July 1994 – 20 July 1999
Preceded byLeo Tindemans
Succeeded byHans-Gert Pöttering
President of the European People's Party
In office
16 July 1990 – 9 October 2013
Preceded byJacques Santer
Succeeded byJoseph Daul
Prime Minister of Belgium
In office
17 December 1981 – 7 March 1992
Preceded byMark Eyskens
Succeeded byJean-Luc Dehaene
In office
3 March 1979 – 6 April 1981
Preceded byPaul Vanden Boeynants
Succeeded byMark Eyskens
Personal details
Wilfried Achiel Emma Martens

(1936-04-19)19 April 1936
Sleidinge, Belgium
Died9 October 2013(2013-10-09) (aged 77)
Lokeren, Belgium
Political partyChristian People's Party
Lieve Verschroeven
(m. 1962; div. 1997)
Ilse Schouteden
(m. 1998; div. 2007)
(m. 2008⁠–⁠2013)
Alma materCatholic University of Leuven

Wilfried Achiel Emma Martens (Dutch: [ˈʋɪlfrit ˈmɑrtə(n)s] ; 19 April 1936 – 9 October 2013) was a Belgian politician who served as prime minister of Belgium from 1979 to 1981 and from 1981 to 1992. A member of the Flemish Christian People's Party, during his premiership he oversaw the transformation of Belgium into a federal state.[1] He was one of the founders of the European People's Party.

Early life

Martens was born on 19 April 1936 in the village of Sleidinge, East Flanders, the son of small farmers.[1] He studied law at the Catholic University of Leuven, graduating in 1960.[1] Martens became active in the Flemish Movement as a student.[1] He began to draw public attention in 1957 when, as president of the Flemish Youth Committee, he organized a march to protest the lack of Flemish presence in the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and was subsequently arrested while protesting the opening of the exposition.[1]

Political career

Martens in 1982

In 1965, Martens joined the Christian People's Party (now the Christian Democratic and Flemish party).[1] He served as the party's chairman from 1972 to 1979, sitting as a deputy in the Chamber of Representatives from 1974 to 1991,[1] 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.

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 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 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 integration.

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 suffered from pancreatic cancer and ended his life via euthanasia on the 9th of October, 2013[2] at his home in Lokeren; he was 77.[3][4] Elio Di Rupo, the Belgian prime minister, described him as a "true statesman and one of the fathers of federal Belgium".[4] Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, paid tribute to him as a "statesman of Belgium, Europe and an outstanding leader of European Parliament".[4] Jerzy Buzek, EPP MEP and former prime minister of Poland, described him as "irreplaceable".[4] He received a state funeral he was buried in the cemetery of Campo Santo.

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.[5]


Foreign honours

See also


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.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Robert L. Peterson (1995). "WILFRIED MARTENS". In David Wilsford (ed.). Political Leaders of Contemporary Western Europe: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 306–313.
  2. ^ InKe. "Wilfried Martens koos voor euthanasie: "Hij was op het einde van zijn leven"".
  3. ^ "Oud-premier Wilfried Martens is overleden". De Redactie. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d "Belgian statesman Wilfried Martens dies aged 77". BBC News. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Centre for European Studies renamed in honour of its founder Wilfried Martens". 10 March 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  6. ^ "Wilfried Martens. Deel 2". search.arch.be.
  7. ^ "Wilfried Martens. Deel 2". search.arch.be.
  8. ^ a b c "MARTENS". www.ars-moriendi.be.
  9. ^ "Wilfried Martens. Deel 2".
  10. ^ "Martens, Wilfried". Falkadb.forseti.is. 16 October 1979. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  11. ^ "Presidenza della Repubblica". Quirinale.it. 20 February 1986. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Wilfried Martens. Deel 2". search.arch.be.
  13. ^ a b "CIDADÃOS ESTRANGEIROS AGRACIADOS COM ORDENS PORTUGUESAS - Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas". Ordens.presidencia.pt. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  14. ^ "Wilfried Martens. Deel 2".
  15. ^ "Wilfried Martens. Deel 2".
  16. ^ Martens, Wilfried (28 August 2009). Europe: I Struggle, I Overcome: Wilfried Martens: 9783540892885: Amazon.com: Books. ISBN 978-3540892885.

Further reading

Political offices Preceded byPaul Vanden Boeynants Prime Minister of Belgium 1979–1981 Succeeded byMark Eyskens Preceded byMark Eyskens Prime Minister of Belgium 1981–1992 Succeeded byJean-Luc Dehaene Party political offices Preceded byRobert Vandekerckhove President of the Christian People's Party (CVP) 1972–1979 Succeeded byLeo Tindemans Preceded byJacques Santer President of the European People's Party 1992–2013 Succeeded byJoseph Daul Preceded byLeo Tindemans Leader of the European People's Party-European Democrats 1994–1999 Succeeded byHans-Gert Pöttering