HISTORY - LEADERSHIP - POLICY - PROSPECTS
A SERIES ON PARTY GROUPS IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
PART II: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
By Denis Anwar
A Liberal History in the European Parliament
Since its foundation in 1976, Alde is together with its youth organisation LYMEC (nowadays: European Liberal Youth) the liberal voice in Europe. Initially, it was a merger between nine parties from Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium (3). After changing its party name several times, it finally adopted “Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe” as its official name in 2012. In 2004, the Liberals wanted to strengthen their position in the European Parliament and subsequently merged with the Centrists from the European Democratic Party, with whom they entered into the European parliament for the first time after the elections in the same year. They are the 4thlargest party, currently holding 69 seats in the parliament.
In the upcoming elections, ALDE may be the biggest hope in playing a significant counterpart against the Eurosceptics and right-wing populist parties, who are currently grouped in the “European Conservatives and Reformists” and Salvini’s “European Alliance of People and Nations” (formerly: “Europe of Nations and Freedom”). According to recent projections, if both, moderate sceptical and right-wing extremists, worked together, they could become the second biggest party group in the EP. However, these projections from Politico and others also suggest that ALDE will gain about 30 seats compared to the last elections. One major reason is the possible amalgamation with “La République en Marche” (LREM), which could bring them about 20 seats, and which would push the party more towards the political left. Furthermore, the entry of LREM would considerably alter ALDE’s structure. As ALDE consists of many national sub-parties and since none of them has more than seven MEPs, LREM would take a leading position within the party group, contributing 20 MEPs. In this light, ALDE’s parliamentary party leader Guy Verhofstadt, who advocates for common European solutions, already offered to replace “liberal” from the party’s name with “progressive” or “centrist”, as the former is frowned upon in France. Besides LREM, newly founded, centrist and pro-European parties from Romania could win seats in their country. At first, these parties hesitated to join ALDE because the Romanian liberal party that is the junior partner in the ruling coalition and co-responsible for undermining EU rule of law standards was also a member. In April, however, the parliamentary group finally decided to exclude the Romanian ALDE party and therefore opened the door for the new Romanian parties to enter.
Election Prospects: 13,1% (+4,2%) = 104 seats (+37)
As the informal great coalition between Social Democrats and Conservatives likely won’t have a majority for the first time in the parliament's history, they will need to engage with other parties to make arrangements. Due to its central position on the political spectrum, ALDE is flexible to opt for several alliances to enforce its proposals. It could either be part of a mid-left alliance with the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left, or of a mid-right alliance with the Conservatives and Reformists. A centre-right constellation, however, is becoming increasingly unlikely, as the LREM’s entry would push ALDE leftwards while the Tories’s departure after Brexit would push the Reformists (ECR) rightwards.
Figureheads - Statesmen - Leaders
Instead of selecting a top candidate as the Spitzenkandidatenprocedure (first introduced in the 2014 European elections) would have it, ALDE came up with a “Team Europe” that is leading and representing the party group in the upcoming 2019 elections. The ALDE team consists of five women and two men, which underscores the genuineness of Verhofstadt’s pledge to have as many women as men in the incoming EU Commission. ALDE’s lead candidates for the 2019 European Elections are:
● Guy Verhofstadt (Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats, Belgium)
● Margrethe Vestager (Danish Social Liberal Party, Denmark)
● Nicola Beer (Free Democrats, Germany)
● Emma Bonino (More Europe, Italy)
● Violeta Bulc (Modern Centre Party, Slovenia)
● Luis Garicano (Citizens Party, Spain)
● Katalin Cseh (Momentum Movement, Hungary)
Although LREM as well as many ALDE members favoured a lead candidate, the party leadership came up with eight different representatives to strengthen the role of women and position them in the race for important posts.
There are a total of 28 Commissioners, each coming from a different member state. In the current set-up, ALDE has five commissioners. The Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager is probably the most famous among them for preventing the Siemens-Alstom merger and imposing a €1.5 Billion fine on Google for breaching EU antitrust rules. Next to her, Cecilia Malström is a prominent voice and advocate for free trade. Under her leadership two of the most important free trade agreements were realised: CETA (EU-Canada), and lately, JEFTA (EU-Japan). Moreover, Malström plays a significant role next to Juncker when it comes to dealing with the US President’s trade policies. Lately, she underlined this by her action to levy penalty duty on Jeans, Motorcycles, Whiskey and agricultural products from the US – things that hurt Trump-favoured rural districts – as a reaction to the US duties on European aluminium and steel. Hence, the so-called “Mallström-Strategy” decisively helped Juncker to strike a trade deal with Trump.
Current ALDE Commissioners under the Juncker Administration (5/28)
● Andrus Ansip, Vice-President, Digital Single Market (Gerard de Graaf)
● Margrethe Vestager, Competition (Johannes Laitenberger)
● Vera Jourová, Justice, Consumers, Gender Equality (Tiina Astola)
● Cecilia Malmström, Trade (Jean-Luc Demarty)
● Violeta Bulc, Transport (Henrik Hololei)
Current ALDE Government Leaders (7/28)
● Charles Michel (Reformist Movement, Belgium)
● Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Liberal Party, Denmark)
● Jüri Ratas (Estonian Centre Party, Estonia)
● Juha Sipilä (Centre Party of Finland, Finland)
● Xavier Bettel (Democratic Party, Luxembourg)
● Mark Rutte (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, Netherlands)
● Andrej Babiš (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, Czech Republic)
Following the appointment of Andrej Babiš as Czech Prime Minister in December 2017, ALDE was the strongest political force in the European Council - a remarkable feat for a liberal party group. For a short period of time, eight national prime ministers came from parties of the ALDE family. Although the Council does not have the power to draft and pass laws, it practically wields enormous influence on the political agenda of the European Union, as it consists of the Member States’ national government leaders, the Council’s President as well as the Commission President.
ALDE’s Policy Platform - Freedom, Opportunity, Prosperity
● Rule of Law, Independency of Justice
● Fair migration policy
● Accelerating and designing Digitalization
● Streamlining the EU and strengthening its parliament
One of ALDE’s most important demands is to penalize Member States, in which corruption undermines the EU’s rule of law standard, by cutting transfer payments. Considering migration, ALDE suggests to forge deals with countries from the Middle East and Africa that are considered ‘safe’ in order to build reception centres outside the EU. Another of ALDE’s goals is to build legal migration routes to Europe. With respect to digitalisation, ALDE promotes building the legal conditions that enable research and implementation of artificial intelligence in industries. Besides this, they want to digitize public services. In terms of a restructuring of the EU, ALDE supports the idea that Brussels becomes the sole seat of the European Parliament, abandoning the current practice of moving between Strasbourg and the Belgian capital. They also aim to strengthen the Parliament’s power by granting them a shared right of legislative initiative that is currently held exclusively by the Commission. Lastly, liberal ALDE family seeks to create an effective mechanism to preserve European values. Liberals are likely going to be a decisive political force in the rearranged power structures and altered party distribution of the 2019-2024 European Parliament and be in a formidable position to push their own agenda and put pressure on both, Social Democrats and Conservatives.