Guy Verhofstadt

Guy Verhofstadt
Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
Assumed office
1 July 2009
Preceded by Graham Watson
Prime Minister of Belgium
In office
12 July 1999  20 March 2008
Monarch Albert II
Deputy Laurette Onkelinx
Didier Reynders
Preceded by Jean-Luc Dehaene
Succeeded by Yves Leterme
Personal details
Born Guy Maurice Marie Louise Verhofstadt
(1953-04-11) 11 April 1953
Dendermonde, Belgium
Political party Party for Freedom and Progress (Before 1992)
Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (1992–present)
Spouse(s) Dominique Verkinderen
Children 2
Alma mater Ghent University

Guy Maurice Marie Louise Verhofstadt (Dutch: [ˈɣiː vərˈɦɔfstɑt]; born 11 April 1953) is a Flemish Belgian politician, who served as the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. Defeating the Socialists and Christian Democrats in the aftermath of the Agusta scandal and Dioxin Affair, he was the first liberal Prime Minister in Belgium since 1884.

Since 2009 he has served as a Member of the European Parliament where he is the leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and founded the inter-parliamentarian federalist Spinelli Group. He was the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party nominee for President of the European Commission in the 2014 European Parliament election.

Early career

Born in 1953 in Dendermonde, he became president of the Liberal Flemish Student's union (1972–1974) while studying law at the University of Ghent. He quickly became the secretary of Willy De Clercq, who was at that time the president of the Flemish liberal party (PVV). In 1982, at age 29, he became president of the party. In 1985 he was elected into the Chamber of Deputies, and became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Budget under Prime Minister Wilfried Martens. Because of his economic views and his young age, he became known as "Baby Thatcher".

After being ousted from government he became leader of the opposition. After a failed attempt to form a government in November 1991, he changed the PVV into the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD). This new party attracted many politicians from other parties, notably from the Volksunie (VU) and the Christian People's Party (CVP).

However, despite the fact that many had high expectations, the party did not manage to outstrip the CVP. Verhofstadt resigned and disappeared from the political scene, only to return to the party's presidency in 1997 with a less radical image. He gradually moved away from neoliberalism (partly under the influence of his brother Dirk, a social liberal political philosopher), and became more of a centrist figure, a change which especially became clear during his first term as Prime Minister.

Verhofstadt I

Partly because of a food scandal that broke out just before the 1999 elections, the VLD became the largest party in the country, obtaining over 22% of the vote in Flanders. He quickly formed a coalition with the Flemish socialists and greens and the French-speaking counterparts of these parties (a symmetric coalition) in Brussels and Wallonia. He was appointed Prime Minister on 12 July 1999, the first liberal to hold that office since 1938. It was the first Belgian government without a Christian Democratic party since 1958, and the first one to include green parties.

Verhofstadt was awarded the Vision for Europe Award in 2002 for his work toward a more unified Europe. The economic situation gave him leeway to raise the lowest social alimonies and lowering taxation. After 2001, the economic situation worsened. The 'Aging Fund' or 'Silver Fund' was set up, in order to ensure the maintenance of pensions until 2030. But despite his efforts to boost the economy while attempting to maintain the social benefits system, unemployment rose, after previously falling during the second Dehaene cabinet.

Much to the disapproval of his coalition partners, Verhofstadt and his VLD opposed granting the right to vote to non-EU residents. Instead, they proposed and were able to liberalize the procedure for obtaining Belgian citizenship. During the prelude to the Iraq crisis of 2003, Belgium joined France, Germany and Russia in opposition to the invasion.

Verhofstadt II

Following the 2003 general elections, Verhofstadt formed his second cabinet without the green parties, who were virtually annihilated in the election. For various reasons, the formation of the second government was delayed well beyond normal: the economic situation worsened to 1999 levels, both politically similar parties (liberals and socialists) gained approximately the same seats.

Various governments were pressing for the abolition of the law of universal competence (also known as the "genocide law"), which gave Belgian judges the authority to accuse and sentence non-Belgians with crimes against humanity. Accusations that were made had rarely been followed up, and were often dismissed as being little more than politically motivated international insults. Verhofstadt's second government was sworn in on 12 July 2003, with both coalition partners having agreed to abolish the so-called "genocide law" and replace it with a much weaker one.

Guy Verhofstadt second Government consisted of his liberal Open VLD their sister liberal MR, the Flemish social democratic SP.a and their sister social democratic party PS to form another Purple coalition.

In the Flemish regional elections of 13 June 2004, his party lost votes, slipping into third place in Flanders. Though this has had no direct impact upon his position as Prime Minister, there were rumours that the Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) party that won the elections, would participate in federal government. Verhofstadt was suggested as a candidate to replace Romano Prodi as the next President of the European Commission, but his candidacy was opposed and rejected by a coalition led by Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi.

Since then, Verhofstadt has been faced with internal crisis after crisis. The first crisis coming to a head in the autumn of 2004 was the question whether DHL would invest in Brussels Airport, located in the Flemish municipality of Zaventem. The question which nearly caused the collapse of the cabinet was whether to grant DHL extra landing rights during the night, this being a hot topic of public debate and various court cases. In the end the split between employment and night rest was for nought as DHL had only used the Zaventem option in order to get better conditions from Leipzig.

After the DHL crisis, Verhofstadt was faced with a communautary crisis with regard to dividing the administrative arrondissement Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde commonly abbreviated to BHV. The dividing was an issue that the parties forming the Flemish regional government had written in their government agreement. This caused a veto to be posed by the Walloon parties. The crisis dragged on until spring 2005 when the matter was shelved until after the federal elections of 2007 as the Flemish parties forming the government, given the for them disastrous opinion polls, did not want the government to collapse.

The constitutional court of Belgium ruled that all elections held after 10 June 2007 would be constitutionally invalid because of the non-separation of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde. In the autumn of 2005, Verhofstadt managed to score a success when he was able to negotiate a "Generation Pact" with regard to employment and social reforms, regardless of the opposition and actions of the unions.

Verhofstadt was sworn in as municipal councilor in Ghent in January 2007, as a result of the 2006 municipal elections. In the council, he is seated next to another cabinet minister, Freya Van den Bossche, who was elected a municipal councillor as well. He even postponed a visit to the Russian President Vladimir Putin to be able to go to the first session of the newly elected council.

Verhofstadt III

Verhofstadt led the VLD into the 2007 general election. Already with the 2006 municipal elections, the VLD showed signs of fatigue with the Flemish voter, who seem to have had enough of eight years of Verhofstadt, and the purple coalition governments. In an evening speech on election day, Verhofstadt conceded defeat and asked for a new generation to lead the VLD; he was to step down as prime minister after formation of a new government. However, the formation of a new government was complicated, and in the end, CD&V politician Yves Leterme failed to bring about a new government.[1]

Yet certain policy matters became politically urgent. The King therefore asked Verhofstadt to mediate an "interim government" that would be in office for three months and could propose a 2008 budget. A deal was struck in December, and the "interim government" was set for inauguration on 21 December 2007. Two days later, this interim government won a vote of confidence in parliament, with 97 votes in favor, 46 opposed, and one abstention, assuring its legitimacy for three months.[1]

A "permanent government" under leadership of Yves Leterme assumed office on 20 March 2008.[2]

One of the first decisions of the new government, on 21 December 2007, was to raise the security level after foiling an attempted jail break of an Al Qaeda operative.[3][4]


After his premiership he took up the seat of Senator to which he had been elected in 2007. In the 2009 European Parliament election, Verhofstadt was elected a member of the European Parliament for the term 2009–2014. He also has been put forward as the possible candidate for replacing José Manuel Barroso as the president of the European Commission by a coalition of greens, socialists and liberals.[5]

On 1 July 2009 he was elected President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament.[6]

On 14 July 2009 he took up his seat in the newly sworn-in European Parliament to which he had been elected in June 2009. On 15 September 2010, Verhofstadt supported the new initiative Spinelli Group, which was founded to reinvigorate the drive for federalisation of the European Union (EU). He is also a member of the Club de Madrid, an independent organization of more than 80 former democratic statesmen. The group works to promote democratic governance and leadership worldwide.[7]

Since 2012, Verhofstadt has been an independent Board Member of the Brussels-based, Brussels-quoted Sofina holding.[8] and an independent director of Exmar, a global transporter of gas and oil.

In April 2015, Verhofstadt criticized Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras over his meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis and difficult negotiations between the EU/ECB/IMF and Tsipras's recently elected Syriza-led government. Via Twitter according to the New York Times, Verhofstadt said Tsipras "should stop trying to play #Putin against the EU" and that Tsipras "should play according to the common rules and conduct serious reforms".[9]

In August 2015, he called for a reform of the EU's asylum and migration system, in reaction to the European migrant crisis. He also criticized UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French president Francois Hollande for opposing the European Commission's proposal to distribute asylum requests for migrants over all countries of the European Union. He also called on governments of France, the UK, and Hungary to stop building up walls and border security measures, and to shift their effort on humanitarian assistance.[10]

In May 2015, news media reported that Verhofstadt was included in a Russian blacklist of prominent people from the European Union who are not allowed to enter the country.[11][12]

Other activities

Honours and awards

Belgian honours

Foreign honours

See also


  1. 1 2 "Belgium's Interim Government Wins Parliamentary Confidence Vote". Bloomberg. 23 December 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  2. "Belgium Finally Gets a Government". TIME. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  3. "Belgium Arrests 14 in Plot to Free Inmate Linked to Al-Qaeda". Washington Post. December 22, 2007.
  4. "14 held amid high terrorism alert in Belgium". Los Angeles Times. December 22, 2007.
  5. "Support growing for Verhofstadt to replace Barroso". 10 June 2009. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  6. Duff-Verhofstadt drive to federal Europe sees its first Liberal casualty at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 June 2009)
  7. "Guy Verhofstadt". Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  8. "Moniteur Belge" on-line, 21 May 2012
  9. Herszenhorn, David, and Liz Alderman, "Putin Meets With Alexis Tsipras of Greece, Raising Eyebrows in Europe", New York Times, April 8, 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-08.
  10. Verhofstadt, Guy (2015-08-20). "Face à la situation des migrants, l'UE a besoin de leadership, pas d'ériger des murs". Le Huffington Post.
  11. Laurence Norman (May 30, 2015), Russia Produces Blacklist of EU People Banned From Entering Country Wall Street Journal.
  12. European Union anger at Russian travel blacklist BBC News, May 31, 2015.
  13. Italian Presidency website, S.E. Guy VERHOFSTADT – Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Guy Verhofstadt.
Political offices
Preceded by
Jean-Luc Dehaene
Prime Minister of Belgium
Succeeded by
Yves Leterme
Party political offices
Preceded by
Graham Watson
Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament
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