Wilfried Martens’s work and perspective on the importance of empowering civil society echoed the core values of AWEPA. Mr. Wilfried Martens has been a long standing supporter of AWEPA as a member and later also as husband of AWEPA’s President Minister of State Ms. Miet Smet.
A memorial on 19 October brought together Flemish, Belgian and European politicians. Tributes were paid from across the political spectrum. Joseph Daul, the leader of the EPP group in the Parliament said that “we will always be indebted to him for his leadership and the role he played in making the Europe of today.”
President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, a fellow party member of Martens at the Flemish Christian Democrat CD&V, said: “In Belgium he was the father of the federal system; of the economic recovery at the beginning of the eighties. In the European Council he played an important role in his years as prime minister – he is a record holder of [the number of years of] being a PM in our country.”
Sir Graham Watson MEP, the president of the European Liberal Democrats, said: “Wilfried Martens was the leading architect of the biggest pan-European political party. He struggled against the shackles of history and won. For Europe to become a true community, his successors must build on his legacy.”
The liberal ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt, who had worked with Martens both in Belgian and EU politics, said: “Martens was a convinced European, an eloquent politician and prime minister with whom I have been happy to work. Together we initiated the economic recovery of our country in the eighties. […] He was a versatile, cultured man who had the political fire in him from his youth, a passion that he never lost in his career.
Jean-Luc Dehaene, Member of the European parliament from Martens’ party CD&V and former Belgian Prime Minister, said: “Martens has always shown a strong commitment, both in Belgian and European politics. He was someone who worked hard to improve society and has made this his life’s goal, until the very end.”
Former Polish prime minister and MEP of the EPP group Jerzy Buzek said: “A great Belgian and a great European passed away. He led his party to greatness – to the largest political force in Europe. Anyone who knew him, also got to know the strength of his character as well as his sensitivity and solidarity in difficult times. Contrary to what is often said, certain people are irreplaceable.”
President of the European socialist party PES Sergei Stanishev said: “Martens remained a strong defender of democracy and the EU until the end of his life. His many years of dedication to the European project are testament to the conviction of his beliefs and the courage of his actions. He will be rightfully remembered as a significant figure in the democratic history of Europe.
Belgian prime minister Elio di Rupo said that Martens was “a statesman who had made his mark on history.” He had also shown that it was possible to be a committed “Fleming, Belgian and European”.
Flanders’ minister-president Kris Peeters, who spoke after Martens’ death of the profound influence Martens had on him as a young politician in the CD&V. “Without his work, I wouldn’t be sitting here as minister-president,”
Mr. Martens was a man who rose to challenges facing him along his path, unrelenting, always looking for solutions to any problem. As legacy he leaves behind a stronger and more united Europe than 77 years ago. This vision still has many challenges to face by those who currently carry it forward, but his contribution is sewn into the fabric of its united vision, and his belief therefore holds strong.