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Flemish Liberals and Democrats

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Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten
Leader Alexander De Croo
Founded 1846
Preceded by PVV and PL/LP
Headquarters national secretariat
Melsensstraat 34 Brussels
Ideology Liberalism
International affiliation Liberal International
European affiliation European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
European Parliament Group Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
Cartel Open VLD
Official colours Blue, Yellow
Walloon counterpart Reformist Movement
German-speaking counterpart Party for Freedom and Progress
Politics of Belgium
Political parties

The About this sound Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten or OpenVLD (Flemish Liberals and Democrats) is a Flemish liberal party, created in 1992 from the former Party for Freedom and Progress (PVV) and a few other politicians from other parties. The party has been part of the government continuously since 1999; it led the government for three cabinets under Guy Verhofstadt from 1999 until March 2008. It most recently formed the Federal Government from June 2003 through 2007 with the cartel SP.a-Spirit, the Walloon Socialist Party (PS) and the liberal Reformist Movement (MR). In the Flemish Parliament the VLD formed a coalition government with SP.a-Spirit and Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) after the 2004 regional election. Currently, VLD is a member of the Leterme I Government formed on 22 March 2008.

Ideologically, the VLD started as a right-wing, somewhat Thatcherite party under its founder, Guy Verhofstadt. On economic issues the VLD rapidly became more centrist and gave up much of its free-market approach, partly under the influence of Verhofstadt's political scientist brother Dirk Verhofstadt. Party chairman Bart Somers called in November 2006 for a "revolution" within the party, saying that "a liberal party," like the VLD, "can only be progressive and social."[1]

From 2000 to 2004, during the second period of its participation in the Belgian federal government and under Belgian prime-minister Guy Verhofstadt, the VLD allegedly lost most of its ideological appeal. Several of its thinkers such as (former member) Boudewijn Bouckaert, president of Nova Civitas, heavily criticised the party. Many others resent the priority it has placed on the 'Belgian compromise', enabling the Walloon Socialist Party to gain a dominant position in the formulation of Belgian government policy.

In 2004 the VLD teamed up with the minoritary liberal party Vivant for both the Flemish and European elections. VLD-Vivant lost the elections to arch rivals CD&V and Vlaams Blok. The VLD fell from second to third place among the Flemish political parties, slipping narrowly behind the SP.a-Spirit cartel. Internal feuds, the support for electoral rights for immigrants and an unsuccessful economic policy were seen as the main reasons for its election defeat.

On 19 June 2004 the VLD successfully negotiated a regional coalition government with CD&V/N-VA, the Christian democrats and moderate nationalists, and with the social democratic SP.a-Spirit. In a federal cabinet reshuffle in July 2004, VLD chairman Karel De Gucht replaced Louis Michel (MR) as minister for Foreign Affairs. Former Flemish Minister-President Bart Somers is the new party chairman.


2007 elections

For the 2007 elections, the VLD participated in a cartel with Vivant and Liberal Appeal, under the name Open Vld. In the 10 June 2007 general elections, Open VLD won 18 out of 150 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 5 out of 40 seats in the Senate.


As such the liberal party is the oldest political party of Belgium. In 1846, Walthère Frère-Orban succeeded in creating a political program which could unite several liberal groups into one party. Before 1960, the Liberal Party of Belgium was barely organised. The school pact of 1958, as a result of which the most important argument for the traditional anti-clericalism was removed, gave the necessary impetus for a thorough renewal. During the liberal party congress of 1961, the Liberal Party was reformed into the bilingual PVV-PLP Partij voor Vrijheid en Vooruitgang/Parti de la Liberté et du Progrés (Party for Freedom and Progress), and Omer Vanaudenhove became the chairman of the new party. The new liberal party, which struggled with an anti-clerical image, opened its doors for believers, but wasn't too concerned about the situation of the employees and primarily defended the interests of employers.

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the tensions between the different communities in Belgium rose and there were disagreements within the liberal movement as well. In 1972, the unitary PVV/PLP was split up in a Flemish and a Francophone party. On Flemish side, under the guidance of Frans Grootjans, Herman Vanderpoorten and Willy De Clercq, the PVV was created, on Walloon side Milou Jeunehomme became the head of the PLP and Brussels got its own but totally disintegrated liberal party landscape. Willy De Clercq became the first chairman of the independent Partij voor Vrijheid en Vooruitgang (PVV), which is Dutch for "Party of Freedom and Progress". He, together with Frans Grootjans and Herman Vanderpoorten, set out the lines for the new party. This reform was coupled an Ethical Congress, on which the PVV adopted very progressive and tolerant stances regarding abortion, euthanasia, adultery, homosexuality and gender equality.

In 1982, the 29-year-old reformer Guy Verhofstadt became the chairman of the party, and even was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Budget from 1986 to 1988. Annemie Neyts succeeded him as chairman, becoming the first female party chairman. In 1989, Verhofstadt once more became the chairman of the PVV, after his party had been condemned to the opposition by the CVP in 1987.

In 1992, the PVV was reformed into the Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten or VLD under the impulse of Verhofstadt. Although the VLD was the successor of the PVV, many politicians with democratic nationalist or socialist roots joined the new party. Notable examples are Jaak Gabriëls, then president of the Volksunie, and Hugo Coveliers. From the early 1990s, the VLD advanced in every election, only to get in government following the 1999 general election when the VLD became the largest party. Guy Verhofstadt became Prime Minister and Patrick Dewael became Minister-President of Flanders. They were both at the head of a coalition of liberals, socialists and greens.


The party is fairly pro-European, and holds three seats in the European Parliament, where it sits as a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group. Then-current VLD prime minister Guy Verhofstadt was rejected as a candidate for the presidency of the European Commission in June 2004.

Election results (1991-2007)

Belgian Chamber of Representatives
Election year # of total votes  % of overall vote # of seats won
1995 798,363 13.1% 21
1999 888,973 14.3% 23
2003 1,009,223 15.4% 25
2007 [1] 789,445 11.8% 18
Belgian Senate
Election year # of Dutch constituency votes  % of Dutch constituency vote # of seats won
1995 796,154 21.2% 6
1999 952,116 24.6% 6
2003 1,007,868 24.7% 7
2007 [2] 821,980 20.1% 5
European Parliament
Election year # of Dutch constituency votes  % of Dutch constituency vote # of seats won
1994 678,421 18.4% 3
1999 847,099 21.9% 3
2004 880,279 21.9% 3


The party is a member of the Liberal International, which is co-chaired by Annemie Neyts, member of the VLD.


Liberal Party




Notable members

Notable former members

This section also mentions members of the liberal political party before the foundation of the VLD:

  • Boudewijn Bouckaert, a former VLD board member who left the party subsequently to Dedecker's exclusion, believing the party turned "left-liberal". He and Dedecker are founders of a new political party, Lijst Dedecker.
  • Eugène Defacqz (1797-1871) one of the founders of the liberal party of the 19th century
  • Herman Teirlinck (1879-1967), a famous Belgian writer.
  • Hugo Coveliers, left the VLD to found his own political party VLOTT.
  • Jean-Marie Dedecker, was excluded from the VLD after several conflicts with the top of the party. He asked for an economic policy more in favour of free markets and limited government and believed that the party was too closely aligned with the Socialists. He founded the Lijst Dedecker party.
  • Julius Hoste Jr. (1884-1954), businessman and leading Flemish liberal politician.
  • Leo Govaerts, left the VLD to found his own political party Veilig Blauw (Safe Blue).
  • Louis Franck (1868-1937), a leading Flemish liberal politician.
  • Walthère Frère-Orban, (1812-1896), wrote the first charter of the liberal party.
  • Ward Beysen, left the VLD to found his own political party Liberaal Appèl.

See also


External links

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