Obituary: Edmond Leburton

Edmond Leburton, Prime Minister of Belgium from January 1973 to January 1974, was the last native French speaker and also the last member of the Socialist Party to hold that office. His fall marked the polarisation of Belgian politics into their regional components, a process which proved fatal to his party.

Leburton was a true Walloon from Waremme, a small town west of Liege. He was educated at the University of Liege. During the Second World War he joined one of the paramilitary resistance units, the Armee Secrete. Wallonia was traditionally a socialist area, and Leburton joined the party. He was elected in 1946 to the House of Representatives, of which he remained a member until 1981 (becoming speaker in 1977-79). Before that he had been a controller of labour and a chef de cabinet at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

He was a specialist in welfare questions and, as Minister of Public Health (1954-58) in Achille Van Acker's Socialist government, and of Social Security (1961-65), he laid the foundations of the Belgian medical insurance system, which was the cornerstone of a generous welfare state.

The Socialists were forced into a coalition with the Roman Catholic Christian Socialists, and Leburton became a vice- premier in government, from 1969 until 1971. When the coalition government led by the Catholic Socialist Gaston Eyskens resigned in November 1972 over the Dutch/French linguistic disputes besetting the country, Leburton, who had become co-chairman of the Socialist Party the previous year, was approached by King Baudouin to form a new administration.

After protracted negotiations with other party leaders, he was able to present his government on 25 January 1973. It was a broad coalition drawn from the Christian Socialists, the Socialists, and the Liberals. Then aged 58, Leburton was the first Socialist prime minister since the fall of Van Acker in 1958. He was also to be the last.

From the start his government was beset by scandals. Allegations of corruption over telephone contracts for the state post office led to the resignation of a secretary of state, and the long drawn-out affair, with its commission of inquiry, eventually claimed another minister. A second, more significant, scandal, was the Ibramco affair. This arose out of an agreement between the Belgian Government and the National Iranian Oil Company to set up an oil refinery in the socialist heartlands near Liege. Too many decisions about the project had been made during the period of the caretaker administration before Leburton had taken office, and too many members of the Socialist Party had tentatively been approached to sit on the board of Ibramco, the jointly held company which was to exploit the refinery.

Leburton's response was to delay the signing of the contract. As a consequence the Iranians pulled out. He reshuffled his government in October, but by January 1974 he could no longer keep the coalition together. Several of his fellow Socialists resigned, and, even before the Iranians pulled out, the Christian Socialists and the Liberals had indicated their opposition to the scheme. Leburton resigned on 19 January.

His departure accelerated the pace of Belgian political life. The elections held two months later were a watershed, as the results showed a growing polarisation of politics along linguistic lines: most Christian Socialist representatives were now Dutch speakers, and most Socialists were French speakers. With the country moving inexorably towards a federal state of great complexity, the historic Socialist Party of Wallonia dwindled in size and influence and, in Liege itself, was absorbed by further scandals (including the murder of Andre Cools, Leburton's successor as co-chairman of his party).

Leburton was above these things. His political base had been Waremme, whose bourgmestre, or mayor, he remained from 1947 to 1987. He ensured that the town was linked up to the new motorway. He was greatly respected, and he was known in Waremme as the "Big White Chief", not least because of his shock of white hair.

John Rogister

Edmond Jules Isidore Leburton, politician: born Waremme, Belgium 18 April 1915; Mayor of Waremme 1947-87; Prime Minister of Belgium 1973-74; married 1947 Charolotte Joniaux (two sons); died Waremme 15 June 1997.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor