Hans van Baalen – A great European

Hans van Baalen
Hans van Baalen © picture alliance / ANP | Koen van Weel

With Hans van Baalen’s passing, we have not only lost a great liberal, but a great European. But even this characterisation of him falls short: Hans van Baalen was a citizen of the world who not only cared deeply about the unity of Europe, but who also fought for promoting the mutual understanding of all people around the world.

As President of the international federation of liberal parties "Liberal International" (2009-2014), Hans van Baalen passionately advocated that liberals on all continents join forces to courageously fight for freedom together where civil liberties have come increasingly under pressure. Due to his defining role and accomplishments within Liberal International, Hans van Baalen was appointed Honorary President at the end of his tenure. Like every office he accepted, he took this honorary presidency seriously and helped shape the activities of Liberal International until his passing.

Hans van Baalen began his political career in the Dutch "Tweede Kamer" for the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) in 1999. Even then, it was clear how important intercultural understanding and peaceful coexistence across borders were to him: while many newly elected politicians try to increase their chances of re-election by taking on domestic issues, Hans van Baalen decided to follow his heart and became a member of the Dutch Foreign and European Affairs Committees and the Defence Committee. Following his passion, it was only logical that he changed from the national to the European Parliament in 2009, where he henceforth led the VVD delegation.

As an MEP, Hans van Baalen passionately advocated for a European foreign policy that actively shapes world politics. Driven by the instability at Europe's external borders, the annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine, Hans van Baalen took the lead in the European Parliament to send a strong message to the Kremlin and worked effectively with the EU Commission and European Council to impose sanctions on Russia. He was not afraid to speak out against injustices and stood up for those whose voices were not heard. Unshakably, Hans van Baalen stood on the side of Ukrainians, Georgians, Moldovans and other citizens threatened by Putin's Russia. In 2015, Russia imposed an entry ban on him.

In order to strengthen Liberals in an increasingly polarized Europe, Hans van Baalen took over the presidency of the European liberal ALDE party in 2014. By that time, he was already a mentor for many, a steady compass in stormy weather, one of the great liberals of our time. Following his ambitious goal of becoming the second-largest force in the 2019 European elections, he guided European Liberals on new paths and led his ALDE Party to unimagined heights. Even if the European Liberals narrowly missed the goal of becoming the second biggest group in the European Parliament, Hans van Baalen made his vision of establishing liberalism as a strong force in Europe a reality: Under his leadership, the ALDE party grew even stronger with new members from Spain, France, Poland and many other EU member states. Also, the number of liberal prime ministers and decision-makers increased under his leadership.

In 2017, it was our great honor that he decided to run for our Board of Trustees. His expertise in international relations, his openness to the world and his understanding of the need to make an impact internationally enriched the work of our foundation profoundly. Even though being a member of our Board of Trustees was certainly not the only office he held, he filled it with great passion and commitment. Due to his immense experience on the international stage, he was a guiding figure for many of our staff members.

One of Hans van Baalen's defining trademarks was that he ended each of his major public speeches with the phrase, "Let's move forward together!". Our joint journey ends today, and it ends far too soon. We, as the liberal family, will have to continue on our own from now on the path that you have laid out for us. It will be a more difficult path without you, that much is clear. But our motivation to achieve your vision for a freer and fairer world could not be greater.

Hans van Baalen passed away tonight in his hometown Rotterdam at the age of only sixty after a serious illness.

Het ga je goed, beste vriend.