The next in our profile series of the candidates for EU Commission President will be looking at Guy Verhofstadt, who was confirmed earlier this month as the nominee for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) at their party congress in Brussels on 1 February. Speaking to delegates, Mr Verhofstadt said his priorities for the campaign would be attacking euroscepticism and promoting a federal vision for Europe.
In theory, the Liberal Democrats nomination is more straightforward than the Greens, who put forward two candidates for the job in order to ensure gender balance. In practice, though, the ALDE party has also opted for what it calls a “joint ticket”, with Mr Verhofstadt being joined by Olli Rehn – the current European Commissioner for the Euro – as his “Vice-Presidential” running mate.
Rehn, who agreed not to run for the ALDE nomination against Mr Verhofstadt on condition he was offered a senior EU position, suggests he and Verhofstadt could be “the ‘Simon and Garfunkel’ of EU politics, building a bridge over troubled water”. Worryingly, Bridge Over Troubled Water was the final studio album recorded by Simon and Garfunkel before they split up.
Who is Guy Verhofstadt?
Guy Verhofstadt, born in 1953 in Dendermonde, Belgium, served as the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 until 2008. A committed federalist, this is his third run at the top spot in the European Commission. His name was first put forward as a candidate in 2004 as a possible replacement to Romano Prodi – an idea torpedoed by some Member States (including the UK and Italy). His candidacy was likewise also vetoed in 2009 on the grounds that he was “too federalist”. But could third time be the charm?
He will certainly have his work cut out for him, as ALDE (which currently has 85 MEPs) are expected to lose seats in the next European Parliament, due to the unpopularity of liberal parties in Germany and Britain. In response, they hope to compensate by picking up votes in newer Member States such as Poland.
Mr Verhofstadt rose through the political ranks quickly, becoming the president of his party in 1982 at the age of just 29. By 1985 he was Deputy Prime Minister, and was known as “Baby Thatcher” because of his youth and free market ideology. His views moderated over the course of his career, and by the 1990s he was seen as a centrist.
He may be a centrist economically, but politically he is seen as a radical federalist, having long been the most high-profile champion for the creation of a federal United States of Europe. Mr Verhofstadt argues that only by uniting politically will the nations of Europe be able to remain relevant in the face of a rapidly globalising world.
If you want you can vote for the Liberal Democrats in our Debating Europe Vote 2014. If not, stay tuned as we’ll be publishing profiles of their rival candidates over the coming weeks.