It was almost two years ago that De Gucht was first suggested as a commissioner - but for a full five-year term - as part of the new team taking office this November. But Michel's election to the European Parliament means De Gucht will make the move early.
It is assumed he will take over Michel's portfolio, at least until the new Commission takes office. De Gucht's successor as foreign minister is expected to be former prime minister Yves Leterme.
De Gucht told the Flemish daily De Standaard that he had hesitated over whether to take the job and that leaving his ministerial position was "the most difficult decision" of his entire career. But the move represents a return to European politics for De Gucht. Although he follows Michel as commissioner (and before that, as foreign minister) De Gucht was an MEP himself, as long ago as 1980, serving for 14 years. He was also appointed professor of European law at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) in 1991.
De Gucht is seen as a political bruiser, rarely afraid to speak his mind even if it breaches diplomatic protocol. As foreign minister, he picked fights with many African leaders over corruption and human rights, including Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a former Belgian colony. But at the same time, he is also described as a pragmatist in the tradition of the classic Belgian "fixer".
A young liberal
Born in Berlare, East Flanders, De Gucht graduated in law from VUB in 1976 and was called to the bar in Dendermonde the following year. However, he maintained his political interests, becoming the president of the Young Liberals in 1977, three years before being elected MEP. At the same time, he rose to become Vice-President of the PVV (the predecessor of Open-VLD) in 1985 and also became a local alderman in Berlare. He would become its mayor in 2007.
He left the European Parliament in 1994 but was elected to the Flemish Parliament in 1995, later becoming president of the VLD when his long-time ally Verhofstadt became prime minister.
Elected as a national MP in 2003, De Gucht soon became embroiled in an argument over government plans to give immigrants the right to vote in local elections. Despite challenging the government position, Verhofstadt brought him in as foreign minister in 2004 to replace the departing Michel.
His blunt, direct style quickly raised hackles in central Africa, where Belgium still has strong ties. Just three months after becoming foreign minister, De Gucht said he had doubts whether politicians in the DRC could bring about a transition to democracy. Speaking after a tour of the country, he also questioned their ability to end corruption.
In turn, Congolese information minister Henri Mova Sakanyi said De Gucht's comments smacked of "racism and nostalgia for colonialism". Sakanyi added that the Belgian politician was acting like Tintin, whose 1929 adventures in Congo have been criticised for using racist stereotypes.
De Gucht has been outspoken in other areas, too. In 2005, he caused a minor diplomatic crisis when he described Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende as "a mix between Harry Potter and a rigid bourgeois without charisma". He is a vocal critic of former UK prime minister Tony Blair's bid to become the EU's first full-time president, arguing that the new post could only go to someone "from a country that participates in all policies the European Union carries out."
Last year, De Gucht was named (anonymously) in a complaint to bank watchdog CBFA, which alleges that his wife, Mireille Schreurs, sold €500,000 worth of Fortis shares on 3 October, just before the sale of the bank's Dutch activities. He has denied the allegations, saying he personally lost €85,000 during the Fortis "farce". An investigation into the claim is due to reach a verdict in September.