Hans Van Baalen. A personal memoir

Denver, USA, Democratic Party Convention, August 2008. From left to right: Bart Somers (President Open VLD), Hans Van Baalen (Vice-President Liberal International), Annemie Neyts (Past President Liberal International), Lord John Alderdice (President Liberal International), Emil Kirjas (Secretary General Liberal International)

I’ve known Hans Van Baalen since the late eighties of the 20th century, when he was international Secretary of the Dutch VVD, and often accompanied Frits Bolkestein to the meetings of Liberal International.

Hans had studied Law at Leyden University and worked as public affairs consultant at Deloitte. Around that time we both became involved with Liberal International which was slowly evolving into a truly international organization. 

Hans was deeply and truly interested in European and world affairs, and became a trusted advisor on international political matters.

Ten years on, he was the director of the VVD campaign for the European Parliament, while he himself was a candidate for the Dutch Tweede Kamer, i.e. the Dutch House of Representatives. 

In the Dutch Parliament, Hans worked mainly on international, European and defense issues.

We remained very involved with Liberal International, even more so when Frits Bolkestein was elected to the Presidency and I as Deputy President. Frits told me drily that deputies seldom get the proper mandate… These were the years when LI grew more and more into a truly world organization, holding meetings in Canada, in Asia, Africa and Central America. It was an evolution to which Hans Van Baalen contributed with enthusiasm.

He was for instance instrumental in establishing and maintaining close ties with the Democratic Party in Taiwan, and the Democratic Party in Thailand.

He ran for the European Parliament in 2009 and was elected. There also, he concentrated his efforts on matters of external, security and defense policies. I was the coordinator of the Liberal group in the committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee of Security and Defense. Hans was my deputy and succeeded me in those capacities in 2015. In the meanwhile, he had married Ineke Sybesma in 2006 and they had a son, Robert. They formed a very closely knit family.

Hans ran for the Presidency of Liberal International in 2009 and chaired it till 2014. He wouldn’t shy from taking tough positions and so was declared persona non grata in Nicaragua by the Ortega regime and wasn’t exactly popular in Russia and China to say the least. 

In 2015 Hans Van Baalen was elected president of the European liberal Party, ALDE.

In that capacity, he was instrumental in establishing a working relationship with the French elected MEPs from Macron’s la République en Marche. He also greatly contributed to the strengthening of liberal forces throughout the EU. As of today, 8 out of 26 Prime ministers of the EU Member states are liberals. Of course, no one single person can claim this achievement, but the strengthening of close cooperation among Liberal parties and personalities has certainly helped to create a climate conducive to Liberal successes.

Beyond these achievements Hans has never lost sight of our main principles and ideals: democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom and dignity, non-discrimination.

Even more importantly, Hans Van Baalen has established strong and warm relations with many colleagues. He always tried to find solutions and encouraged cooperation, never stirring differences. He has been a true friend to many persons, in many countries and on many continents. His contribution to Liberalism is invaluable, but so is his contribution to mutual understanding. He was a kind and gentle man, and he will be dearly missed. Most of all, of course, by his wife and son. May the knowledge that their husband and father meant so much to so many people, and will continue to do so, bring them some comfort and consolation.

Goodbye dear friend, you remain in our hearts.

Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck
President of Honour of Liberal International