BRUSSELS, Belgium - Socialist Elio Di Rupo took the oath as Belgium's first Francophone prime minister in nearly 40 years Tuesday, formally ending a record 541-day government impasse.
In a ceremony at the royal palace, the son of Italian immigrants completed a journey that took him from an impoverished childhood in Belgium's rust-belt south to become the leader of Belgium.
Amid small talk and jokes with King Albert II, the 13 ministers and six state secretaries took their oath. It was a relief to the nation of 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4.5 million French-speakers who had been frustrated with lawmakers' inability to form a government because of linguistic differences.
The monarch said during the ceremonies that "there is a lot of work at hand."
One of Di Rupo's first tasks will be to attend the European Union summit of government leaders starting Thursday. Like several other eurozone nations, Belgium has been under pressure from financial markets, a situation that was compounded when Belgium's government negotiations dragged on.
"541 days of negotiations, 915 days to govern," read Het Nieuwsblad daily's headline, referring to the next election date.
Di Rupo will lead a coalition of Socialists, Christian Democrats, and Liberals, each split into Dutch- and French-speaking parties. Together, they have set out to make Belgium's high debt and worsening economic situation the government's main priority.
Among Di Rupo's leading ministers, the departing finance minister, Francophone liberal Didier Reynders, became foreign minister; Dutch-speaking Christian Democrat Steven Vanackere made the reverse move.
Dutch-speaking Socialist Johan Vande Lanotte, experienced in finance and budgetary issues, was named economics minister.
Belgium's credit rating was downgraded less than two weeks ago, which spurred the negotiating parties into agreeing on a budget almost overnight.
Belgium has had only a caretaker government since June 13, 2010, as a series of negotiators tried and failed to bridge the divide between the country's linguistic groups.