Puneet Varma (Editor)

Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten

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President  Gwendolyn Rutten
Membership  (2014)  63,239
Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten
Founded  1992 (VLD) 2007 (Open VLD)
Preceded by  Party for Freedom and Progress
Headquarters  Melsensstraat 34 Brussels
Ideology  Liberalism Conservative liberalism Social liberalism Pro-Europeanism

Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats ( Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten), commonly known as Open Vld or simply as the VLD, is a liberal and conservative-liberal Flemish political party in Belgium. The party was created in 1992 from the former Party for Freedom and Progress (PVV) and politicians from other parties. The party led the government for three cabinets under Guy Verhofstadt from 1999 until March 2008. Open VLD most recently formed the Federal Government (the so-called "Swedish government") with N-VA, CD&V and the Francophone Reformist Movement (MR).


In the Flemish Parliament, the VLD formed a coalition government with sp.a-Spirit and Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) from after the 2004 regional election until the 2009 regional election. Open VLD has been a member of the Leterme I Government formed on 22 March 2008, the Van Rompuy I Government formed on 2 January 2009, the Leterme II Government formed on 24 November 2009 and the Di Rupo Government formed on 6 December 2011.

Ideologically, Open VLD started as an economically liberal, somewhat Thatcherite party under its founder, Guy Verhofstadt. 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 be only progressive and social."

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 resented the priority it placed on the 'Belgian compromise', which enabled the French Community's Socialist Party to gain a dominant position in the formulation of Belgian federal government policy.

In 2004 the VLD teamed up with the minority social-liberal party Vivant for both the Flemish and European elections. VLD-Vivant lost the elections to arch rivals CD&V and the Flemish Bloc. 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. From 2007 the party kept having electoral difficulties, first due to competition from split-off List Dedecker and after 2010 from the liberal-conservative Flemish-nationalist party N-VA.

Under the presidency of current chairwoman Gwendolyn Rutten the Open-Vld took on a more rightwing socio-economic course again.


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 Party for Freedom and Progress (PVV-PLP), 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 workers and primarily defended the interests of employers. It is a central principle of Classical Liberalism that employers and employees do NOT have opposed long term interests.

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 into separate a Flemish and a Francophone parties. 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 Party of Freedom and Progress (Dutch: Partij voor Vrijheid en Vooruitgang, PVV). De Clercq, 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 Christian People's Party (CVP) in 1987.

In 1992, the PVV was reformed into the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten, 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 Flemish People's Union, 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, social democrats and greens.

2007 elections

Before the 2007 general election, the VLD participated in a cartel with Vivant and Liberal Appeal. In February 2007, it decided to cease the cartel and start operating 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.

2010 elections

In the 2010 general election, Open VLD won 13 out of 150 seats in the Chamber of Representatives. After the long government formation process, on 6 December 2011 the Di Rupo Government was formed, with Open VLD one of the six constituent parties.


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.


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


  • 1992–1995 Guy Verhofstadt
  • 1995–1997 Herman De Croo
  • 1997–1999 Guy Verhofstadt
  • 1999–2004 Karel De Gucht
  • 2004 Dirk Sterckx
  • 2004–2009 Bart Somers
  • 2009 Guy Verhofstadt
  • 2009–2012 Alexander De Croo
  • 2012 Vincent Van Quickenborne
  • 2012– Gwendolyn Rutten
  • Notable members

  • Maggie De Block, Minister of Social Affairs and Health
  • Fons Borginon, former VLD floor leader in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives
  • Patricia Ceysens, former Flemish Minister of the Economy and former VLD floor leader in the Flemish Parliament
  • Karel De Gucht, former party leader and former Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Patrick Dewael, former minister-president of Flanders and former Minister of Internal Affairs
  • Margriet Hermans, former member of the Flemish Parliament and senator
  • Marino Keulen, former Flemish Minister of Integration
  • Fientje Moerman, former vice-minister-president of Flanders
  • Annemie Neyts, former party leader, former chairwoman of the Liberal International and former party leader of the ELDR Party.
  • Karel Poma, former minister and member of parliament
  • Bart Somers, former minister-president of Flanders and former party leader
  • Bart Tommelein, Flemish Deputy Minister-President and Flemish Minister of Budget, Finance and Energy
  • Jef Valkeniers, doctor and politician
  • Dirk Van Mechelen, former Flemish Minister of Finance and Budget and Town and Country Planning
  • Vincent Van Quickenborne, former minister of economy, also responsible for the simplification of the administration
  • Guy Vanhengel, Brussels Minister of Finance and Budget
  • Guy Verhofstadt, former party leader and former prime minister
  • Marc Verwilghen, former minister of the Economy, Trade, Science and Energy
  • Notable former members

  • 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, List Dedecker, later renamed Libertarian, Direct, Democratic.
  • 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 List Dedecker party, later Libertarian, Direct, Democratic.
  • Leo Govaerts, left the VLD to found his own political party Veilig Blauw (Safe Blue).
  • Ward Beysen, left the VLD to found his own political party Liberal Appeal.
  • References

    Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten Wikipedia

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