Guy Verhofstadt

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Guy Verhofstadt (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈɣiː vəɾˈɦɔfstɑt]  ( listen); born Guy Maurice Marie Louise Verhofstadt, 11 April 1953) is a Belgian politician who was the 47th 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.

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