Koen Van den Heuvel takes over as environment minister

Summary

Flemish Parliament’s top Christian-democrat fills gap left by resignation of Joke Schauvliege following climate conspiracy claims

Short-term assignment

Koen Van den Heuvel (CD&V) is the new minister for farming, nature and the environment in the government of Flanders, following the resignation this week of Joke Schauvliege. He will fill the post for just a short time, until the regional elections on 26 May.

“It is an honour to become a minister, although I would rather have done so under different circumstances,” said Van den Heuvel (pictured), following the announcement of his appointment. Like Schauvliege, he is a stalwart of the Christian-democrat CD&V party, leading the faction in the Flemish parliament. “Joke’s departure was hard,” he added, “and I want to make clear my thanks for all the work she has done.”

Schauvliege resigned on Tuesday following controversy over her statements about student-run climate marches that have taken place across Belgium over the last few weeks. Addressing a meeting of farmers last weekend, she suggested that the students were being manipulated in order to discredit government policy. She added that the security services had confirmed this.

National Bank alum

After a storm of criticism, Schauvliege apologised and conceded that there was no substance to back up this rumour. Announcing her resignation at an emotional press conference, she complained of exhaustion and stress, due in part to a targeted digital harassment campaign.

Van den Heuvel comes to the job with a good deal of political experience, but no significant past involvement with farming or environmental policy. An economist by training, he worked for 15 years in the research department of the National Bank of Belgium, where he wrote reports on the labour market and economy.

He was elected to the Flemish Parliament in 2004, becoming leader of its CD&V group in 2012. His interests in the chamber have centred on finance and the budget, domestic policy, innovation and labour. During recent reform negotiations, he was one of the architects of the new finance law.

There is no farmer, entrepreneur or nature enthusiast who does not think climate is important. I want to get all these people on the same page

- Koen Van den Heuvel

Taking over the farming and environment portfolio, he emphasised the importance of co-operation and consensus building. “There is no farmer who is not part of the environment. There is no entrepreneur who does not think climate is important. There is no nature lover who does not think jobs are important. I want to get all these people on the same page.”

Van den Heuvel has also been mayor of Puurs for more than 20 years, overseeing the municipality’s recent merger with neighbouring Sint-Amands. Until this new appointment, he was mayor of the combined district. In the forthcoming elections, he will lead the CD&V list for Antwerp province.

Photo: James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA