ALDE’s New Euro-parliamentary Leader
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd July, 2009
The ALDE (Liberal) Group in the new European Parliament has chosen the Flemish Liberal and former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, to be its new leader. He takes over from the British (South West England) Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, who has meanwhile thrown his hat into the ring to try to be the new President of the parliament. Under Graham’s stewardship, ALDE grew to just over 100 members within the previous, larger, parliament. The British were the biggest national contingent in ALDE then, but they were overtaken by the Germans this time as a result of the FDP’s impressive surge in last month’s elections. As the Germans seem to be getting the leadership of the other major party groupings in the European Parliament, however, it is probably as well that they didn’t get handed ALDE as well.
Besides, Guy Verhofstadt is a sizeable and experienced political figure in his own right, even if his last attempts at forming a government in Belgium came to naught. In the 1980s, when he was a very young star in the Flemish political firmament, he became known as ‘Baby Thatcher’ for his economic liberalism, but he has softened since then, reportedly under the influence of his brother Dirk, who is a social liberal political philosopher. Guy Verhofstadt has spoken at Liberal Democrat Conference in the UK and even if he probably still would not figure in most Brits’ list of Ten Famous Belgians, his new role will undoubtedly raise his profile more even in this blinkered island nation. His commitment to the European project is without doubt. Following his election as ALDE group leader, he declared, ‘Europe is not the problem but the solution to the problems we are facing at the moment. We need more, not less Europe.’