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Guy Verhofstadt

Guy Verhofstadt (born April 11, 1953) is the current Prime Minister of Belgium.

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 Clecq, 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 radical economical 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 Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten (VLD). This new party attracted many politicians from other parties, notably from the Volksunie (VU) and the Christelijke Volkspartij (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 Thatcherism, and became more of a centrist figure, an evolution which especially became clear during his first term as Prime Minister.

Verhofstadt I

Partly thanks to a food scandal that broke out just before the 1999 elections, the VLD became the largest party in the country, obtaining over 22% in Flanders. He quickly formed a coalition with the socialists and the green parties, and was appointed Prime Minister on July 12 1999. It was the first Belgian government without the christian-democrats since 1958, and the first one with the green parties.
Thanks to the economic situation in the beginning of his term, he managed to raise the lowest social alimonies and lowered taxations. After 2001, the economic situation began to get worse. The 'Ageing Fund' or 'Silver Fund' was set up, in order to ensure the maintenance of the retirement pays until 2030. But despite his efforts to boost the economy while in the same time maintaining the social benefits system (lowering of employer's contributions, encouragement of career interruptions,...), the unemployment began to rise, after having dropped 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 obtained a flexibilisation of the procedure for obtaining Belgian citizenship.
During the prelude to the Iraq crisis of 2003, Belgium joined France, Germany and Russia in their opposition against the invasion.

Verhofstadt II

Following the 2003 general elections, Verhofstadt formed his second cabinet without the green parties, who were practically annihilated. For various reasons, the formation of this government took much longer than the previous one: the economic situation was not as good as it was in 1999, and both political families (liberals and socialists) were approximately the same size. The American government pressured for the abolishment of the law of universal competence (also known as the "genocide law"), which gave Belgian judges the authority to sentence non-Belgians (including American citizens) accused of crimes against humanity. Unofficially there were threats to remove NATO headquarters from Brussels, which was widely seen as a vengeance for Belgium's opposition against the invasion of Iraq.
Nevertheless, Verhofstadt's second government was sworn in on July 12, 2003, with both coalition partners having agreed to abolish the so-called "genocide law" and replace it with a much weaker one.

Preceded by :
Jean-Luc Dehaene
Prime Minister of Belgium