Jan Peter Balkenende was born 7 May 1956 in Kapelle. He attended the Free University in Amsterdam and received a doctorate in law in 1991, with a dissertation on state regulations and social organizations. For many years, he worked on the legal staff of the Scientific Institute of the CDA. From 1993 until 2002, he also taught economics part-time at the Free University. As a professor, he published a number of articles for the CDA's scientific bureau on what he perceived to be the two main currents in Dutch society: liberal individualism and a modern community spirit. In 1994, after spending several years as an alderman in his native Amstelveen, he was asked to lead the CDA in the city council.
In 1998, he was elected to national Parliament; in October 2001 he became leader of the CDA.
Upon becoming prime minister, the forty-seven-year-old Balkenende was described as bearing a remarkable resemblance to Harry Potter, the hero of the internationally popular series of children's books. Balkenende wears owlish glasses, sports a schoolboy haircut, and looks very young for his age.