Willy De Clercq dies at 84
Willy De Clercq, one of the most distinguished Flemish politicians of the second half of the 20th century, died last week. De Clercq not only changed the fortunes of his liberal party, he also played an important role on the European stage.
Willy Clarisse Elvire Hector De Clercq was born in Ghent in 1927. He studied and then lectured in law at the university before starting a career in politics that saw him occupy almost all of the posts available to a politician: city council, member of parliament, minister, vice-premier, member of the European parliament and EU commissioner. In an interview in 2004 he regretted never having been mayor of Ghent, for which he would have been prepared to give up his ministerial post. Though his party had enough votes to put him in the post, other parties formed a cartel to keep him out.
The other post that escaped him was prime minister, though he was to pave the way for the first liberal in a generation to move into Wetstraat 16: fellow Gentenaar Guy Verhofstadt, who last week described the elder statesman as “my political father”. De Clercq’s legacy also continues in his grandson Matthias, who is an alderman in Ghent and a member of the federal parliament.
In 1985 De Clercq was named Minister of State. He retired from politics “with pain in my heart” in 2004, and in 2006 he was ennobled by the King as burggraaf, or viscount. In 2007 De Clercq suffered a head injury in a fall, which led to memory loss. He spent his last years in a rest home and died last Friday after a long illness.
“Willy De Clercq was in a class of his own as a man and as a politician,” said Alexander De Croo, president of the Flemish liberal party Open VLD. “He had the gift of words like no other. His charisma enabled him to inspire others to dream of the impossible, and to achieve the possible.”
“I’m especially grateful to him,” said Verhofstadt, “for his courage, his conviction, his tirelessness, his statesmanship, his role as a builder of bridges and the fact that he put liberalism on the map in this country.”
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU commission, said that De Clercq was “a brilliant politician who played an important role in the public life of Belgium and Europe.” And he paid personal tribute to De Clercq’s role in helping bring about his homeland Portugal’s entry in 1986 into the then European Economic Community.