Belgian politician, prime minister 1999–2008. A Flemish Liberal, Verhofstadt headed a ‘rainbow’ coalition after his centre-right party made substantial gains in general elections held in June 1999. An experienced politician and power broker, who was a senator from 1995 and president of his party during the 1980s and 1990s, Verhofstadt had long been known for his admiration of the policies of US President Reagan and British Prime Minister Thatcher. He is also known to hold in high regard British Prime Minister Blair's business-friendly policies. Under Verhofstadt's leadership, the Belgium government adopted a pro-business, pro-environment stance, aimed at boosting economic activity and cutting social security contributions to create jobs.
Verhofstadt was asked by King Albert to form a new coalition government following the resignation of out-going Prime Minister Dehaene of the Christian Democrats after his centre-left coalition was defeated in June 1999 general elections. Verhofstadt's coalition comprised six parties – Flemish Liberals, Socialists and Greens, and their French-speaking counterparts. For the first time in 41 years, the Christian Democrats were out of power. The electoral victory of the coalition also marked the first time that the Greens were to participate in the federal government, and only the second time in the 20th century that the country was to have a Liberal prime minister. Verhofstadt said that his first task would be to deal with the impact of the dioxin contamination of food – a scandal which had helped bring down the previous Christian Democratic Socialist coalition.
In 1982, aged 28, Verhofstadt became the youngest party president in Belgium's history. He resigned as leader of the Freedom and Progress Party (PVV) in 1985 to join Wilfried Martens's government, where for three years he served as deputy prime minister and budget minister. When the government collapsed, he resumed leadership of his centre-right party, renamed the Flemish Liberal Party (VLD) in 1992. Born in Dendermonde, Verhofstadt studied law at the University of Ghent before entering politics and holding key positions in the PVV.