At a rally to launch the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party's campaign for the EU elections last night (15 April), former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt attacked EU leaders for failing to agree on a common recovery plan to tackle the global crisis and called on fellow liberals to seek to "move Europe forward".

"Confronted with the most devastating crisis in 80 years, the EU did not provide the European leadership so badly needed to deal with the current crisis," Verhofstadt told hundreds of Liberal democrats gathered in Brussels. 

"We don't need 27 national recovery plans, we need one European recovery plan as ambitious as the one of [US] President [Barack] Obama's," he added, arguing that it was only thanks to the euro and the strict management of the European Central Bank that the Union was able to navigate the economic storm . 

Verhofstadt, who is running in the June European elections as head of the Flemish Open VLD list, explained his decision to stand thus: "In the nine years I spent in the European Council, I never once heard the words 'European interest'." 

The crucial question in these upcoming elections, Verhofstadt told other liberal candidates, will be whether member states come closer to one another "in a single EU" or whether they stand apart. 

"Since the previous EU elections, the Union has gone into a dark forest of institutional standstill and political defeat. We have lost five years, and we cannot afford to wait any longer," he said, referring to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and deadlocked reform of the EU institutions. 

"We could even abandon the Treaty if we approve the one single article to abolish the unanimity rule in the European Union," the former Belgian PM stated. 

Verhofstadt is considered to be the frontrunner to succeed Graham Watson as the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) group in the European Parliament. Watson, who has announced his intention to step down from the post after the June elections, has launched his own campaign to become president of the EU assembly, saying he will return to the backbenches. 

"For the next five years, I want to push Europe forward for the sake of freedom and democracy," announced a bold Verhofstadt to an appreciative crowd of liberal candidates.

The former prime minister said he will campaign to defeat Euroscepticism. Not just conventional Eurosceptics, but also those who sit in the Socialist and conservative ranks, whom he dubbed "silent Eurosceptics". 

Verhofstadt told his audience that "these are the times for the European Union to move forward, mobilising its financial, economic and commercial powers into a single effort to save our destiny, to rally our most creative forces and certainly not to disperse them, to unite and not to divide".