Taoiseach pays tribute to Wilfried Martens, who died at age 77

Former Belgian prime minister was long-time leading figure in European Parliament

Wilfried Martens who was Belgium’s prime minister from April 1979 to April 1981 and from December 1981 to March 1992, leading a total of nine governments during a turbulent period when Belgian politicians argued about the make-up of the country. Photograph:  Reuters

Wilfried Martens who was Belgium’s prime minister from April 1979 to April 1981 and from December 1981 to March 1992, leading a total of nine governments during a turbulent period when Belgian politicians argued about the make-up of the country. Photograph: Reuters

Thu, Oct 10, 2013, 21:53

Former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens, one of the architects of Belgium’s federal division and a long-time leading figure in the European Parliament, has died at the age of 77.

Mr Martens was prime minister from April 1979 to April 1981 and from December 1981 to March 1992, leading a total of nine governments during a turbulent period when Belgian politicians argued about the make-up of the country.

His centre-right Christian People’s Party, now the Flemish Christian Democrats, led governing coalitions confronted by economic crisis in the early 1980s and that legalised abortion in 1990.

Mr Martens co-founded the European People’s Party, the main centre-right body in the European Parliament, in 1976 and has been its president since 1990.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night expressed his sadness at the death of Mr Martens and extended his sympathies to his wife and family. “Mr Martens was a committed European and during his lengthy tenure as Belgian prime minister he was one of the key architects of European integration,” the Taoiseach said. “Wilfried Martens was also a great friend to Ireland and visited here several times. In recent months, he was instrumental in the decision of the European People’s Party to hold its next Congress in Dublin in March 2014.”

Former taoiseach John Bruton also spoke of his sorrow at Mr Martens’s death. “He was master of creative compromise, immensely patient but with a clear and unshakeable value system,” he said.