Elio Di Rupo has been named the new, openly gay, Prime Minister of Belgium, after the country went a year and a half without a government.

King Albert II named Di Rupo yesterday, and he will become the second openly gay head of government in Europe following Belgium’s 541-day period without a federal administration.

Di Rupo will lead a complicated coalition in Brussels which represents a population divided into the French-speaking south and Dutch-speaking north.

The 60-year-old has become the first French-speaking leader in four decades.

Leader of the country’s Socialist Party, he will work with Christian Democrats and Liberals and three other parties after forming a coalition at the weekend.

Di Rupo was the youngest of seven children born to Italian immigrants. His father died when he was one and several of his older siblings were brought up at a nearby orphanage.

A proficient student, he gained a doctorate in chemistry from Mons, Belgium before working at the University of Leeds, in the UK in the late 1970s.

In the 1980s he worked as an attaché for the Minister-President of Belgium’s Wallonia region, before becoming mayor Mons and later a delegate to the European Parliament.

After becoming leader of the country’s Socialist Party in 1999, he himself became Minister-President of Wallonia, before being sworn in as the country’s Prime Minister yesterday.

Belgium’s long period without government was caused in large part by language tensions within the country and a wide variety of political parties, making it difficult for any one group to gain a majority.

Belgium’s layers of regional government meant it was able to continue functioning without federal direction.

Di Rupo has said he will take lessons to improve his Dutch at Parliament after frequently being criticised for his ability to speak the native language of 60% of the population.

He was sworn in yesterday after six parties agreed on a 177-page coalition document and becomes Europe’s first openly gay male leader.

In 2008, he described himself in an interview as an “atheist, rationalist and free mason”, and said his life had been “a fairy tale”.

He came out in 1996 when he was accused, wrongly, of having had sex with a male minor. A journalist said: “They say you are a homosexual.”

He replied, “Yes, so what?”

In the interview with Van de Woestyne, Di Rupo described the journalists as being “so surprised they stopped jostling each other”.

Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir became the first gay female leader of a European country in 2009.