Meet the EU’s first lady

The EU officially has a first lady: Amélie Derbaudrenghien Michel.

For weeks, European Council President Charles Michel has declined to say if he and his longtime partner had finally married.

Even asked directly, during his visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly high-level debate last month, Michel flatly refused to disclose his marital status, saying it was a private matter. He was not wearing a wedding ring.

But Derbaudrenghien Michel has now answered the question — and made her official debut — by inviting other European Council spouses to a “partner event” during this week’s leaders’ summit.

“In the side-lines of the forthcoming European Council, Mrs. Amélie Derbaudrenghien Michel is kindly inviting the partner of the Head of State/Government participating in the European Council, to participate in a partner programme on Thursday 21st October,” according to the invitation, which was sent by an official in the Council’s protocol office, Ragnheidur Roubineau.

The partners are being offered a guided visit to a David Hockney exhibition at the Bozar Center for Fine Arts, followed by a dinner at the center’s restaurant of the same name, which boasts a Michelin star.

The couple, who have two children, had planned to wed last year, including with a party in France, but were forced to postpone because of coronavirus restrictions. Michel, who is a former Belgian prime minister, also has a son from a previous relationship.

A spokesman for Michel confirmed that they had married “discreetly” over the summer, and held a small celebration for close family and friends but said the president did not wish to disclose further details.

Events for partners or spouses are not customarily held in conjunction with the regular European Council summits in Brussels, which often involve marathon working sessions for the heads of state and government — and sometimes even all-nighters. But such social events are occasionally a feature of informal European Council summits held outside the EU capital, and are often organized during other international gatherings such as the G7 or G20.

Derbaudrenghien Michel is a career public servant in the Belgian government, and currently works in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She accompanied Michel to this year’s G7 summit in Falmouth, England. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s husband, Heiko, also attended the G7, allowing for a rare double-date of sorts for the EU’s two first-couples.

In Brussels, von der Leyen lives in a small sleeping cubby in her office on the 13th floor of the Commission headquarters, and it was not immediately clear if Heiko von der Leyen would visit Brussels for the exhibition and dinner.

This week’s summit is also potentially the last European Council meeting to be attended by outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and some farewell festivities are expected. Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, occasionally joins her on international trips but not typically to Brussels.

One diplomat suggested that the addition of a partner event reflected Michel’s ambition to elevate his job. But the Council president has always shown a bit of a social streak, even if he is a liberal by (political) party affiliation. As Belgian prime minister, Michel once drew some raised eyebrows by using his role as head of government in the host country of the EU’s institutions to organize an invitation-only pre-summit dinner.

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