Hans van Baalen - Advisor and Bridge Builder
It was with great shock when the news reached us this morning: Hans van Baalen passed away. Our thoughts are with his family.
Hans van Baalen was one of those Dutch liberals who had a truly global impact. As a lawyer with a degree from Leiden University, he entered politics as a member of the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) after working in journalism and consultancy. Since 1999, he was a member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch States General and, from 2009 to 2019, a member of the European Parliament. In the European Parliament, he focused on foreign, security and defence policy – of course always as the leading representative of his delegation. From 2009 to 2014, he was President of Liberal International (LI), the international federation of liberal parties, and served as its Honorary President until his passing. Since 2015, Hans van Baalen has been President of the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Most recently, in March 2021, he had the honour of being appointed as a member of the Advisory Council on International Affairs of the Dutch government.
Since 2017, Hans van Baalen has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). By then, he had become one of the Foundation's most active advisors. He followed the work of FNF with the greatest commitment and interest – especially, of course, FNF’s international activities. In his capacities at ALDE and LI, he was an important contact for our offices abroad and their worldwide activities. During his years on the Board of Trustees, he was not only a friendly advisor, but also gave important impetus to modernize the Foundation’s work. He spared no effort in doing so. He was particularly concerned with the strategic question of how liberal political education could be provided in the new world of short-lived communication.
However, his interest was by no means limited to the Foundation's international activities. He also had a keen interest in the Foundation’s work in Germany. His German was perfect – coupled with that charming Dutch accent that turns every professional suggestion into a personal invitation. His knowledge of German history was impressive - as was his kind-hearted understanding of many dogmatisms that some of his German interlocutors revealed in ideological discussions. He was born to build bridges.
This skill was also of great value for the global liberal family. No one else was more aware that liberalism covers a wide spectrum of individual opinions that can only be reconciled with one another by skillfully uniting all forces. His very own Holland was a prime example of this: the two liberal Dutch parties, VVD and D66, were, in the best democratic tradition, never afraid to go at each other. It was mainly thanks to Hans van Baalen that these two parties worked together in such remarkable harmony. And this is not all: within ALDE and LI, it was Hans van Baalen who time and again brought together the most antagonistic positions - with a deep understanding for both sides, endless patience, skillful diplomacy, stoic reliability, but occasionally also with the necessary determination and rigour. Coupled with a pinch of humour and self-irony that allowed everyone to save face even in the most difficult situations in the search for compromise.
In short: Hans van Baalen was a political leader of international calibre. We ourselves have benefited massively from his warm-hearted leadership. In the various committees where we worked together, there was not a single issue that we could not discuss in confidence with Hans van Baalen. We will miss him forever.