Guy Verhofstadt

Guy Maurice Marie Louise Verhofstadt[1] (Dutch: [ˈɣiː vərˈɦɔfstɑt] (listen); French: [ɡi vəʁɔfstad]; born 11 April 1953) is a Belgian politician who was the Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe from 2009 to 2019, and has been a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Belgium since 2009. He was the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008, Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium from 1985 to 1992 and Minister of Budget from 1985 to 1992. He was a Member of the Chamber of Representatives from 1985 to 2009.

Guy Verhofstadt

47th Prime Minister of Belgium
In office
12 July 1999  20 March 2008
MonarchAlbert II
DeputyLaurette Onkelinx
Didier Reynders
Preceded byJean-Luc Dehaene
Succeeded byYves Leterme
Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group
In office
1 July 2009  1 July 2019
PresidentAnnemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck
Sir Graham Watson
Hans van Baalen
Preceded bySir Graham Watson
Succeeded byDacian Cioloș (Renew Europe)
Member of the European Parliament
for Belgium
Assumed office
14 July 2009
Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium
In office
14 May 1985  7 March 1992
Prime MinisterWilfried Martens
Preceded byAlan Vanackere
Succeeded byPedro Manns
Minister of Budget
In office
14 May 1985  7 March 1992
Prime MinisterWilfried Martens
Preceded byLeo Uberman
Succeeded byPedro Manns
Member of the Chamber of Representatives
In office
13 October 1985  14 June 2009
Personal details
Guy Maurice Marie Louise Verhofstadt

(1953-04-11) 11 April 1953
Dendermonde, Belgium
Political partyParty for Freedom and Progress (Before 1992)
Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (1992–present)
Other political
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Before 2019)
Renew Europe (2019–present)
Spouse(s)Dominique Verkinderen (1992–present)
EducationGhent University
WebsiteOfficial website

Since 2009 he has been a Member of the European Parliament where he is a former leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (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, and is the European Parliament's Brexit Coordinator in the Brexit negotiations. He advocates for Federalisation of the European Union.

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".[2][3]

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).[4]

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.[3]

Prime Minister (1999–2008)

Verhofstadt I

Partly because of a food scandal that broke out just before the 1999 elections,[5] 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 liberalise 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 of Iraq.[6]

Verhofstadt II

Following the 2003 general elections,[7] 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's 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 other leaders who had disagreed with Verhofstadt's uncompromising criticisms of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq the previous year.[8]

After this Verhofstadt was faced with a succession of internal crises. The first, 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.[9] 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.[10]

Following the DHL crisis, Verhofstadt faced a crisis over the allocation of constitutional and administrative powers and responsibilities for the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde district (commonly abbreviated as BHV). Division of the powers had been written into the government coalition agreement by the parties controlling the Flemish regional government. This triggered a veto from the Walloon parties.[11][12] The crisis dragged on until spring 2005 when the matter was shelved till after the federal elections of 2007.[13] By 2005 the Flemish parties participating in the government did not want the government to collapse, given their poor ratings in the opinion polls.

Verhofstadt voiced concern over the 2006 Lebanon War. Verhofstadt said that Israel has the right to defend itself, but has now responded with excessive violence.[14][15]

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.[16]

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.[16]

A "permanent government" under leadership of Yves Leterme assumed office on 20 March 2008.[17]

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.[18][19]

After his premiership Verhofstadt took up the seat of Senator to which he had been elected in 2007.

Roles in the European Union

In the 2009 European Parliament election, Verhofstadt was elected a member of the European Parliament for the term 2009–2014. He has since been appointed to the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

On 1 July 2009 Verhofstadt was elected President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament.[20] In this capacity, he was also a member of the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament until July 2019.

Verhofstadt was 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.[21] On 15 September 2010, he supported the new Spinelli Group, which was founded to reinvigorate the drive for federalisation of the European Union.[22]

In September 2016, Verhofstadt was named the European Parliament's representative on matters relating to Brexit.[23] In his public statements, Verhofstadt has focused on the rights of EU citizens within the UK and British citizens in the EU.[24] In November 2016 Verhofstadt warned the European Parliament of a coming "ring of autocrats", citing the increasing assertiveness of Russia and Turkey, and contemplating the (at that time widely discounted) possibility of a Trump presidency.[25][26]

He is a member of the Working Group on the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Other activities

Corporate boards

  • APG Asset Management, Member of the Board of Directors[27]
  • Sofina, Independent Member of the Board of Directors (since 2012)[28][29]
  • Exmar Group, Independent Member of the Board of Directors (2010-2016)[30]

Non-profit organizations

Since 2011, Verhofstadt has written monthly commentaries on strategic spotlights for Project Syndicate, an international media organization.[34]

Political positions

Iraq War

Verhofstadt opposed the American invasion of Iraq. In 2005, during a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, Verhofstadt said: "The time has come to draw a line under the tensions of the recent past. It makes little sense to continue arguing about who was right and who was wrong."[6]

Bahraini uprising

Verhofstadt condemned the killings of protesters during Bahrain's pro-democracy uprising in 2011. He said: "Protestors were killed, tortured and imprisoned. These incidents need to be properly investigated and brought to justice - not swept under the carpet. Until this has happened, I fully agree that the Formula One Grand Prix should not return to Bahrain."[35]

Catalan independence

In 2017, Verhofstadt opposed the Catalan independence referendum, but also denounced Spain's use of violence. Verhofstadt said that "referendum lacked basic democratic legitimacy."[36] According to Verhofstadt, the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont "left Catalonia in chaos and devastation."[37]

Relations with Russia

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".[38]

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.[39][40]

In June 2018, Verhofstadt said there was a "circle of evil around our continent": Putin's Russia, Erdoğan's Turkey and Trump's United States. Verhofstadt added: "But our problem runs deeper than that, deeper than only foreign policy or external security. Europe has a fifth column in its ranks. ... I call them the cheerleaders of Putin: Le Pen, Wilders, Farage. ... Together with government leaders like Orbán, Kaczyński, Salvini: these people have only one goal and that is to destroy Europe, to kill our liberal democracy."[41]


In August 2015, Verhofstadt called for a reform of the EU's asylum and migration system, in reaction to the European migrant crisis. He also criticised UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French president François 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.[42] This humanitarian assistance includes asking the dysfunctional countries that source migrants to address their own dysfunction.[43]


Verhofstadt said that Brexit is a "tragedy for Europe" but had the effect "that the European idea is more popular than ever."[44] In February 2019, Verhofstadt said that Brexit leaders such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg would suffer a similar fate to the leaders of the French Revolution and "end up on the guillotine".[45]

Honours and awards

Belgian honours

Foreign honours

Other honors and awards

See also


  1. "Guy Verhofstadt" (in German). Munzinger-Archiv GmbH. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  2. Alex Barker (27 September 2016). "Verhofstadt warns Britain about European Parliament's Brexit power: Assembly's chief negotiator says relationship must avoid 'love-hate' of past 40 years". Financial Times, London. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  3. Maya Oppenheim (14 September 2016). "Guy Verhofstadt: Who is the diehard Europhile who has been appointed as EU's chief Brexit negotiator? From describing David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as 'rats fleeing a sinking ship' to reportedly being banned from entering Russia, he has often found himself in the spotlight". The Independent, London. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  4. "Biografie Guy Verhofstadt". Het Laatste Nieuws, Brussels. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  5. Bernard, Alfred; Broeckaert, Fabrice; De Poorter, Geert; De Cock, A; Hermans, Cédric; Saegerman, Claude; Houins, Gilbert (2002). "The Belgian PCB/Dioxin Incident: Analysis of the Food Chain Contamination and Health Risk Evaluation". Environmental Research. 88 (1): 1–18. doi:10.1006/enrs.2001.4274. PMID 11896663.
  6. "Bush calls on EU to 'draw line under' recent tensions". The Irish Times. 22 February 2005.
  7. Corinne Deloy (18 May 2013). "The socialists and liberals in power win the belgian general elections ... Results ... Victory for the two main parties of the outgoing government : liberals and socialists". Robert Schuman Foundation. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  8. Jamie Smyth (6 October 2009). "Blair's rebirth as a player in European politics not a done deal .... Everyone in Brussels remembers the failed campaign to get former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt installed as president of the European Commission in 2004..." The Irish Times. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  9. "DHL scraps Brussels growth plan". BBC News Channel. BBC, London. 21 October 2004. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  10. "Leipzig Hopes to Gain DHL Hub: Courier service DHL is expected to set up an intercontinental hub either in Vatry, France, or Leipzig, Germany. For the eastern German city, a lot is at stake". DW Akademie. 22 October 2004. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  11. "BHV spat keeps PM from Moscow celebrations". Expatica newsletter. 9 May 2005. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  12. Wouter Bax (12 May 2005). "B-H-V-storm waait over, Verhofstadt blijft". Persgroep Nederland B.V. (de Verdieping Trouw). Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  13. Bart Dirks (12 May 2005). "Verhofstadt overleeft 'BHV'-crisis". Persgroep Nederland B.V. (De Volkskrant). Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  14. Journal télévisé (19h30), La Une, 14 July 2006
  15. (in Dutch) Betoging in Brussel tegen Israëlisch militair optreden, Het Laatste Nieuws
  16. "Belgium's Interim Government Wins Parliamentary Confidence Vote". Bloomberg. 23 December 2007. Archived from the original on 13 March 2010. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  17. "Belgium Finally Gets a Government". TIME. 21 December 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  18. "Belgium Arrests 14 in Plot to Free Inmate Linked to Al-Qaeda". Washington Post. 22 December 2007.
  19. "14 held amid high terrorism alert in Belgium". Los Angeles Times. 22 December 2007.
  20. "Duff-Verhofstadt drive to federal Europe sees its first Liberal casualty". Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2009.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  21. "Support growing for Verhofstadt to replace Barroso". 10 June 2009. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  22. "Trans European Policy Studies Association". Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  23. "Parliament appoints Guy Verhofstadt as representative on Brexit matters". European Parliament. 8 September 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  24. Verhofstadt, Guy (9 July 2017). "Improve the Brexit offer to EU citizens, or we'll veto the deal". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 September 2017.
  25. Markus Becker (25 November 2016). "Das neue Selbstbewusstsein der EU: Ist der Dreifach-Schock von Brexit, Türkei-Putschversuch und Trump-Wahl heilsam für Europa? Die EU zeigt erste Anzeichen einer Rückbesinnung auf ihre Werte - und den Willen, sie offensiv zu vertreten". Kampf gegen Populismus. Der Spiegel (online). Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  26. Shehab Khan (22 November 2016). "Trump, Putin and Erdogan a 'ring of autocrats' trying to destroy Europe, says EU's chief Brexit negotiator: 'Not only do they like each other, they also have one thing in common. Bashing and destroying our way of thinking, our values, our European liberal democracy,' Guy Verhofstadt says". The Independent, London. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  27. Cooper, Harry (1 November 2016). "Parliamentarians can keep the (other) day job". POLITICO.
  28. "Moniteur Belge" on-line, 21 May 2012
  29. Board of Directors Sofina.
  30. Laurens Cerulus (21 November 2017), Guy Verhofstadt linked to Paradise Papers company Politico Europe.
  31. Council for the Future of Europe Berggruen Institute.
  32. "Guy Verhofstadt". Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  33. Honorary Council European Movement International.
  34. "Guy Verhofstadt - Project Syndicate". Project Syndicate. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  35. "EU voices mixed emotions about Yemen revolution". EUobserver. 6 June 2011.
  36. "Catalan vote was 'FIXED': Verhofstadt condemns 'deception and manipulation' of referendum". 5 October 2017.
  37. "Puigdemont is 'chaos' Tintin, says influential EU figure Guy Verhofstadt". The Local. 1 November 2017.
  38. Herszenhorn, David, and Liz Alderman, "Putin Meets With Alexis Tsipras of Greece, Raising Eyebrows in Europe", New York Times, 8 April 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-08.
  39. Laurence Norman (30 May 2015), Russia Produces Blacklist of EU People Banned From Entering Country Wall Street Journal.
  40. European Union anger at Russian travel blacklist BBC News, 31 May 2015.
  41. "Brexit: Nigel Farage is a 'fifth columnist' Putin cheerleader, says Guy Verhofstadt". The Independent. 13 June 2018.
  42. Verhofstadt, Guy (20 August 2015). "Face à la situation des migrants, l'UE a besoin de leadership, pas d'ériger des murs". Le Huffington Post.
  43. Verhofstadt, Guy (20 August 2015). "Migration in the EU: We Need Leadership, Not Walls". Huffington Post.
  44. "EU's Verhofstadt says Brexit is a 'tragedy for Europe', but unified it". The Daily Telegraph. 23 May 2019.
  45. "Guy Verhofstadt warns Brexiteers could end up on the guillotine like the leaders of the French Revolution". The Daily Telegraph. 12 February 2019.
  46. Italian Presidency website, S.E. Guy VERHOFSTADT – Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana
  47. "Postanowienie Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 18 października 2004 r. o nadaniu orderów". Retrieved 7 August 2019.
  48. Hutchinson, Lorna (21 March 2019). "MEP Awards 2019: Heartfelt reactions from our winners". The Parliament Magazine. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
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
Succeeded by
Dacian Cioloș
as Leader of Renew Europe
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