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Guy Verhofstadt


In office
12 July 1999 – 20 March 2008
Monarch Albert II
Deputy Didier Reynders
Yves Leterme
Preceded by Jean-Luc Dehaene
Succeeded by Yves Leterme

Incumbent
Assumed office 
1 July 2009
Preceded by Graham Watson

Born 11 April 1953 (1953-04-11) (age 56)
Dendermonde, Belgium
Political party Flemish Liberals and Democrats (1992–present)
Other political
affiliations
Party for Freedom and Progress (Before 1992)
Spouse(s) Dominique Verkinderen

Guy Verhofstadt (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɣiː vəɾˈɦɔfstɑt]  ( listen); born Guy Maurice Marie Louise Verhofstadt, 11 April 1953) is a Belgian politician who was Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. He is currently a Member of the European Parliament and leader of the liberal group in Parliament

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Early career

Born in 1953 in Dendermonde, he became president of the Flemish Liberal Student's Union (1972-1974) while studying law in Ghent. He quickly became the secretary of Willy De Clercq, who was at that time the president of the Flemish liberal party (Party for Freedom and Progress, 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". Another nickname from that era is "da joenk", a Brabantian dialect expression meaning "that kid" (in a pejorative sense, referring to his rather iconoclastic and immature style).

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 socialist and the green party in Flanders, and with the French speaking counterparts of these parties (a symmetric coalition) in Brussels and Wallonia. He was appointed Prime Minister on 12 July 1999. It was the first Belgian government without the Christian-democrats since 1958, and the first one which included the 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 in raising 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 procedure for obtaining Belgian citizenship.

During the prelude to the Iraq crisis of 2003, Belgium joined France, Germany and Russia in their 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. Additionally, the various world 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.

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, didn't have the nerve to collapse the government. The constitutional court of Belgium ruled that all elections held after 10 June 2007 are invalid with the constitution 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 a new government has been formed. 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. Yet, certain policy matters became politically urgent. The King therefore asked Verhofstadt to mediate an "interim government" would be in office for three months and could propose a 2008 budget among others. A deal was struck in December, and the "interim government" was set for inauguration on 21 December 2007. On 23 December 2007 this interim government won a vote of confidence in parliament, with 97 votes in favor, 46 opposed, and one abstention, assuring it legitimacy for three months.[1]

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

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

After his premiership

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.[4]

On July 1, 2009 he was elected President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament.[5] On July 14, 2009 he took up his seat in the newly sworn-in European Parliament to which he had been elected in June 2009.

See also

References

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Jean-Luc Dehaene
Prime Minister of Belgium
1999–2008
Succeeded by
Yves Leterme
Party political offices
Preceded by
Graham Watson
Chair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
2009–present
Incumbent
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