Belfast Telegraph

Ex-Belgian PM is a key player in Brussels

Most people in Northern Ireland have never heard of Guy Verhofstadt, but the 64-year-old former Belgian prime minister is a key player in Brussels.

He isn't directly involved in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. But, as the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator, he is the link man between EU negotiators and MEPs.

He has been an MEP for eight years and was Belgian Prime Minister from 1999 until 2008, and Deputy Prime Minister from 1985 to 1992.

Mr Verhofstadt is currently leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group.

His candidacy for president of the European Commission in 2004 was supported by France and Germany but was defeated by a coalition led by Tony Blair, who saw him as too great a federalist and integrationist.

A law graduate, Verhofstadt's strident neo-liberal views on entering politics led to him being known as 'Baby Thatcher'. He became a more centrist figure in the later years of his political career.

The Spectator reported in August that he was second out of 748 MEPs for his outside earnings which, the magazine claimed, amounted to £175,000 a year. He is a director of the Belgian investment firm Sofina.

Mr Verhofstadt was a leading critic of Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. He is also a fierce opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2015, it was reported that he was on a blacklist of prominent EU figures banned from entering Russia.

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