Guy Verhofstadt (1953) Belgian prime minister
Guy Verhofstadt was born on April 11, 1953 in Dendermonde, Belgium. Dad Verhofstadt was a jurist in the liberal trade union. At secondary school Guy was rather insubordinate, preferring to solve problems on his own. As a law student at the University of Ghent (1971-1975), he took an active part in the Flemish Liberal student union.
After Verhofstadt graduated, he entered the local political arena in 1976, being elected as a member of the town council. In 1977, he became political secretary of liberal PVV (Partij voor Vrijheid en Vooruitgang) chairman Willy De Clercq. This helped Verhofstadt to become the new chairman of the PVV youth in 1979. The liberal youth soon introduced a radical manifesto to thoroughly revitalize the party. (That year Guy Verhofstadt also married Dominique Verkinderen. In the 1990s they got two children, Charlotte and Louis.)
The energy of the young PVV'ers helped the liberals to become larger than ever in Belgium in 1981. De Clercq became Minister of Finance and 29-year-old Verhofstadt was elected the country's youngest party leader with 85 percent of the votes.
Three years later, Verhofstadt was asked for the Martens government as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Budget, for Scientific Research and for the Plan, as his own website (http://verhofstadt.fgov.be) calls it. Under his influence, the PVV reformed to become the VLD: Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten VLD - De partij van de burger' (Flemish Liberals and Democrats – the citizen's party). The formation of the VLD was more than a name adjustment. From the very start, it had to be another party, a party "without dogmas, without pressure groups, without prerogatives". Still, the liberals were in the opposition, which began to frustrate Verhofstadt. He left the political stage temporarily.
He returned a year later in 1996. His star began to rise again with his extremely active participation - as a rapporteur - in the Rwanda Committee to investigate the 1994 genocide in the African country. Another year later, Verhofstadt was back as front man of the VLD. In the 1999 elections, the victory of the liberal (and green parties) and the loss of the Christian democrats and the socialists was so tremendous that the next choice was obvious. Liberal leader Verhofstadt was able to form the first purple-green government. Verhofstadt became the first liberal Prime Minister in 61 years. As Belgium had the EU presidency at the time of 9-11 he was President of the Council of Ministers and de facto EU spokesman (alongside Italian Romano Prodi).
Thanks go out to Albert Herring for his remarks.