Karel De Gucht

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Karel De Gucht
Karel-de-gucht.jpg
European Commissioner for Trade
In office
9 February 2010 – 1 November 2014
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Trade and Neighbourhood Policy)
Succeeded by Cecilia Malmström
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
In office
17 July 2009 – 9 February 2010
President José Manuel Barroso
Preceded by Louis Michel
Succeeded by Andris Piebalgs (Development)
Kristalina Georgieva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response)
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
18 July 2004 – 17 July 2009
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Yves Leterme
Herman Van Rompuy
Preceded by Louis Michel
Succeeded by Yves Leterme
Personal details
Born (1954-01-27) 27 January 1954 (age 60)
Overmere, Belgium
Political party Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats
Spouse(s) Mireille Schreurs
Children Frédéric
Jean-Jacques
Alma mater Free University of Brussels, Dutch
Website www.kareldegucht.be

Karel Lodewijk De Gucht (Dutch: [ˈkarəl̪ d̪ə ˈɣ̟ʏx̟ t̪], born in Overmere, Belgium, 27 January 1954) is a Belgian politician who has been the European Commissioner for Trade since February 2010 until 31 October 2014.[1] Previously, he served as Belgium's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2004 to 2009 and as the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response from 2009 to 2010.[2]

Life and career[edit]

De Gucht entered politics at a young age. He became president of the Flemish Liberal Students while studying at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels. He graduated with a masters degree in Law and practised as a lawyer, mainly in commercial matters, at the bar of Ghent. He later taught European Law at his university.

He became a member of the European Parliament in 1980 and fulfilled this mandate until 1994. In 1989 he was the rapporteur of a landmark Parliamentary Declaration on the Fundamental Rights, leading eventually to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which was later integrated as an essential part of the Treaty of Lisbon.

He entered the Flemish Parliament after the elections of 1994 and moved to the Belgian Federal Parliament in 2003, where he remained until 2004. In 1999 he was elected party president of the Flemish liberal party (Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten). Although he was elected to the Federal Parliament in the general election on 18 May 2003 and to the European Parliament in the elections of June 2004, he occupied the first seat only very briefly and the second not at all.

He entered the Belgian government on 18 July 2004 as Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He served as deputy prime minister in 2008-2009. He was Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE in 2006.[3] He was a Member of the Security Council of the United Nations (2007–08) and Member of the European Council (2004–09).

European commissioner[edit]

In July 2009 he was appointed as the Belgian European Commissioner, in succession of Louis Michel. Like his predecessor, he was in charge of Development and Humanitarian Aid, but from February 2010 onwards, he became Commissioner of Trade in the Barroso II Commission, until 31 October 2014.

He prepared and launched free trade negotiations with the United States, the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He achieved important trade agreements, among others with South-Korea (2011), Colombia and Peru (2013), Central America, Singapore, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine (2014). In October 2014 he concluded CETA, the free trade agreement with Canada and the first ever agreement with a G7 member. He oversaw the start of trade negotiations with Japan and Vietnam, resumed talks with Mercosur and began investment agreement negotiations with China. He also concluded landmark economic partnership agreements with West Africa (ECOWAS), South Africa (SADC) and Eastern Africa (EAC), covering together 75% of African economy.

De Gucht performed his ultimate duty as a commissioner by signing in Nairobi on 31 October 2014 the agreement with the Eastern African Community (EAC), consisting of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

De Gucht played a key role in the conclusion of a comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which was a direct cause of the upheavals in Maidan Square and the 2013–14 Ukrainian Crisis.

At the end of his mandate he enjoyed a strong reputation within the European Commission because of the progression in the trade portfolio during his mandate and because of his strong views on European policy questions.[4] At the end of this mandate he decided to leave politics, except on the local level, where he will be the chairman of the local council.[5]

Controversies[edit]

Karel De Gucht is well known for his outspoken views on different political issues.

On a trip to Africa in late 2004, De Gucht sparked a diplomatic controversy when he said that "there is a problem with the political class in the Congo" and questioned its ability to tackle corruption.[6] De Gucht received a lot of informal support in diplomatic circles and media and refused to retract his statement. Subsequent news stories suggested his concerns were well-founded.[7]

In November 2008 he was accused by an anonymous person and by the president of the extreme-right party Vlaams Belang of insider trading.[8] The Ghent public prosecutor ultimately decided not to pursue an investigation in the matter stating that "from the investigations it appears that Mr. De Gucht has never abused his inside knowledge of the Fortis situation, more specifically the loss in the value of its shares", and closed the case.

In a September 2010 interview with the Belgian Flemish public radio VRT about the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, De Gucht expressed scepticism, "given the hardening across the spectrum of positions." [9] This brought him under attack in The Wall Street Journal.[10]

In response, he declared "I regret that the comments that I made have been interpreted in a sense that I did not intend. I did not mean in any possible way to cause offence or stigmatise the Jewish Community. I want to make clear that anti-Semitism has no place in today’s world and is fundamentally against the European values, which I have always upheld, particularly in view of my decisive participation in adopting the EU declaration on Fundamental Rights". European Commission President Barroso refused to take disciplinary measures against De Gucht and stood firmly behind him.

De Gucht is married with Mireille Schreurs, who is a judge. They live in Berlare and they have two sons, Frédéric and Jean-Jacques De Gucht.

Publications[edit]

  • Pluche – Over de banalisering van extreem rechts ["Pluche - On the banalisation of the extreme right"], Houtekiet, 2007.
  • De toekomst is vrij : over het liberalisme in de 21ste eeuw ["The future is free – On liberalism in the 21st century"], Houtekiet, 2002.
  • Het einde der pilaren : een Toscaans gesprek ["The end of religious and philosophical pillars in society – Tuscany conversations"]- with MEP Johan Van Hecke , Houtekiet, 2001.
  • Er zijn geen eilanden meer: over de democratie, vrijheid en de mensrechten ["No man is an island - On democracy, liberty and human rights"], with Dirk Sterckx MEP, Houtekiet, 1999.
  • Time and tide wait for no man: the changing European geopolitical landscape, Praeger Publishers, 1991.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Commissioners (2010–2014): Karel De Gucht", European Commission
  2. ^ European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
  3. ^ "OSCE's Belgian Chairmanship says helped start new chapter for Organization". Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 5 December 2006. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Exit interview De Gucht
  5. ^ De Guchts ends as European commissioner
  6. ^ "Belgium rounds on former colony". BBC News Online. 18 October 2004. Retrieved 6 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "DR Congo slams 'Tintin' minister". BBC News Online. 22 October 2004. 
  8. ^ "De Gucht: "Fortis-aandelen zijn pure privézaak"". De Morgen (in Dutch). 15 January 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  9. ^ De Gucht, Karel (2 September 2010). "Vredesgesprekken Midden-Oosten begonnen". Radio 1 (Brussels). 
  10. ^ Miller, John W. (3 September 2010). "EU Official in Trouble for Remarks on Jews". The Wall Street Journal. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Louis Michel
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2004–2009
Succeeded by
Yves Leterme
Belgian European Commissioner
2009–2014
Succeeded by
Marianne Thyssen
European Commissioner for
Development and Humanitarian Aid

2009–2010
Succeeded by
Andris Piebalgs
as European Commissioner for Development
Succeeded by
Kristalina Georgieva
as European Commissioner
for International Cooperation,
Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Preceded by
Peter Mandelson
Catherine Ashton
Benita Ferrero-Waldner
European Commissioner for Trade
2010–2014
Succeeded by
Cecilia Malmström