Liberalism is one of the most prominent political ideas of the past centuries. A profile of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party by Liam Fitzgerald
Liberalism as political idea has influenced most movements in Europe and to this day remains a strong force, albeit with sometimes quite far-reaching alterations to the original model. Despite some liberal parties losing much of their former influence in Europe, most national parliaments as well as the European Parliament are host to numerous liberal members. On the eve of the first European elections, in 1976, liberal parties from across the European Union gathered in Stuttgart, Germany, and created one of the very early cross-European political groups. In the European Parliament, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party are part of the ALDE Group. ALDE Group’s second member is the European Democratic Party. Most EU member-states have MEPs in ALDE Group, with only few exceptions such as Austria or the Czech Republic. The group finds most of its support in Scandinavia, the Baltic states and the Balkans outside of Greece. 11% of MEPs, 85, are members of the ALDE Group. With weak liberal parties, for instance Germany’s FDP, ALDE Group is set to lose many of its seats in the upcoming elections, as recent polls have consistently been showing. The Group is expected to win around 62 seats, down more than twenty from the 2009 elections.
ALDE is acknowledged as being pro-European with neo-liberal political views. In the past, the party has been known for supporting several further integrational steps, such as the Lisbon Treaty. In 2009, ALDE called for common European action on areas such as climate change and migration policy. It regularly criticized Russia and the People’s Republic of China on perceived breaches of international law or basic human rights. In terms of global governance, ALDE would like to push through a parliamentary assembly for the United Nations in order to strengthen global democracy. The current leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament is Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and ALDE party nominee for President of the European Commission.
ALDE promotes free trade and a fully functioning European Single Market. Its economic and market policies are based on the liberal belief that individual economic and political freedoms are the best insurance for the future economic well-being of the European Union and its citizens. Free trade and better conditions for global trade are among the hallmarks of the party’s goals. The recent EP decision to end roaming fees is perceived also as a success for ALDE. Along with the focus on competitiveness and full economic integration, the party calls for fiscal discipline by the state to tackle the ongoing economic crisis and strengthen the European Union for the future.
Concerning issues of European democracy, the party has remained true to its Stuttgart declaration of 1976, calling for a democratic constitution along with empowerment of the European Parliament. In accordance with this, the ALDE party wants to make the European Commission to be accountable to the European Parliament. Regional cultures and minorities are to be protected to ensure that European diversity is secured for the future. Human rights and liberal democratic ideals are also at the centre of ALDE party foreign policy views. Therefore, concerning for instance arms trade, the ALDE party calls for high standards of human rights in any state that wishes to buy arms. EU member-states should insist on the protection of individual rights when talking about arms deals and in case high standards are not met, weapons should not be sold. China, Russia and Iran often feature prominently in the party’s foreign policy agenda. They are repeatedly criticised for bad human rights records, and in the case of Iran, European liberals have in the past called for tougher sanctions due to faltering nuclear talks.
In recent years, liberal parties across Europe have lost much of their influence. The case is especially dramatic in Germany, where the liberal FDP lost its seats in the federal elections last September for the very first time. The belief in the capabilities of the free market has been damaged due to the economic crisis of the past years and liberals in the European Union have struggled to make a positive case and adapt policies to new circumstances. Also, where liberal ideals have been pushed through, this has often happened within coalition governments where the larger partners have tended to successfully claim responsibility for some of the more positive results. It remains to be seen whether or not the ALDE party will manage to combine its pro-European integration and democracy outlook with policies for successful sustainable economic development.
Image ALDE Logo courtesy to Alberto Novi via flickr.com, released under Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike. The image has not been altered.