Jan Peter Balkenende (legally, Jan Pieter Balkenende) was born on 7 May 1956 and became Prime Minister of the Netherlands on 22 July 2002, heading the first and second Balkenende cabinets. He began his career on the staff of the research institute of the Christen Democratisch Appèl (CDA) party and as a city councillor in Amstelveen. He later became a special professor of "Christian-Social Thinking" at the Free University of Amsterdam.
Balkenende first entered the Tweede Kamer (lower house) of the Netherlands Parliament on 19 May 1998, while the CDA was in opposition. He became the CDA's financial spokesman and was also involved with social affairs, justice, and internal affairs. In this role he advocated a substational reduction of the national debt and sound public finances.
He was elected chairman of the parliamentary CDA on 1 October 2001 in succession to Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. On 3 November 2001 he was appointed lijsttrekker (head of the list of candidates) for the CDA in the May 2002 parliamentary elections. These elections became historic when rightwing populist Pim Fortuyn was shot dead and the election campaign was halted. The result of the election restored the CDA former position as the largest political party in the Dutch parliament.
On 4 July 2002 Queen Beatrix asked Balkenende to form a new government, in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Wim Kok. Balkenende's first government (including the LPF party of slain politician Pim Fortuyn) fell after just 86 days in office because of infighting in the LPF which destabilised the government. After early elections in 2003 Balkenende formed his second cabinet with the conservative liberal VVD and the progressive liberal D66. Again a center-right coalition. Balkenende's policies centered around reform of the Dutch public services, reducing crime, a tough immigration policy and historicaly large cuts in public spending. The measures gave rise to large public anger and bad results in opinion polls for his CDA party. Nonetheless, his party remained the largest Dutch delegation in the European Parliament after the European Elections, beating the general expectation of a huge loss in parliamentary seats.
Balkenende currently resides with his wife and his daughter Amelie in Capelle aan den IJssel. He rented an apartment in The Hague, which caused a political row since it cost the Dutch government 9,000 euro a month, whilst his prime ministerial residence was renovated. Only a few months after Balkenende took residence a fire destroyed the first floor of the house. Forcing Balkenende to again look for alternative housing.
Internationally, he is perhaps most famous for his strong resemblance to Harry Potter. Which makes him especially popular with young kids, but is also the source of some derision. On the first of July 2004 he took up the rotating presidency of the European Union.