Elections 2024: The key players in Open VLD

With the June elections on the horizon, Belga looks at the key political figures from each party.

Open VLD (Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten) is a centre-right liberal party that supports free-market economic policies, individual freedoms and limited government intervention. Its main campaign pledges include encouraging entrepreneurship, job creation and individual freedoms on issues such as euthanasia and abortion. Mouvement Réformateur (MR) is the party's francophone counterpart.

Alexander De Croo

One of Open VLD's prominent members is prime minister Alexander De Croo, who has garnered a mix of support and criticism both domestically and internationally. In Belgium, his leadership has been marked by efforts to address complex issues such as the EU's budget and funding mechanisms.

De Croo has advocated for more robust financial resources for the EU, highlighting the necessity for the bloc to rearrange its priorities and secure additional funding to tackle challenges collectively that individual countries cannot handle alone​. This stance has been controversial, with some member states opposing new EU-wide taxes, revealing a philosophical divide within the EU on financial autonomy and contributions.

Regarding nuclear energy, De Croo believes the next government should consider extending the lifespan of some of the nuclear reactors in Belgium. "An extension of 10 years is much more than anyone had expected beforehand, but an extension of 20 years is something we should certainly consider," he says. "That is something for the next federal government."

Internationally, De Croo has taken a firm stance on geopolitical issues, particularly concerning European security, in the face of potential shifts in US foreign policy. He has emphasised the need for Europe to become more self-reliant and sovereign, especially in light of uncertainties posed by the possible return of Donald Trump to the US presidency. His position reflects broader European concern about maintaining stability and security independently of US support​. Moreover, De Croo has been active in addressing Russian interference in European elections.

Tom Ongena

Party leader Tom Ongena was elected in September 2023. He secured 59 per cent of the votes, reflecting substantial support from after turbulence within the party about their policies at a federal level. He is seen as a stabilising force aiming to renew and strengthen the party by engaging with members and promoting fresh ideas​.

His proactive approach includes advocating for workers affected by economic downturns, such as his recent call for a taskforce to support employees of the bankrupt Flemish bus manufacturer Van Hool​. His emphasis on economic growth, affordable energy and individual freedom aligns with Open VLD's liberal values, solidifying his positive image among party members and liberal voters​.

Gwendolyn Rutten

The Flemish minister of Home Affairs, Public Governance, Civic Integration and Equal Opportunities, Gwendolyn Rutten, was Open VLD's chair until 2020. She is known for her proactive stance on various issues, including advocating for breaking taboos around menopause treatments, which sparked both support and criticism. Supporters appreciate her efforts to address women's health issues openly, while critics argue that her views on hormone treatments can be controversial and potentially misleading due to the medical risks associated with such therapies​.

Rutten says she does not advocate a one-size-fits-all solution. "I am not a doctor and will not tell anyone what to do... As a politician, I want the taboos to be broken, to be discussed and considered so that sufficient resources are deployed for scientific research."

She has called for a broader political initiative to break taboos around the topic of menopause: "Urgent action is needed at all policy levels, from training to practice, from prevention to healthcare, from the workplace to the living room."

Ahead of the elections for the federal, regional and European parliaments on 9 June, Belga English is publishing a series of articles about political parties and the issues they stand for.

#FlandersNewsService | Open VLD's Gwendolyn Rutten, Alexander De Croo and Tom Ongena © BELGA PHOTO JONAS ROOSENS

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