Feel the force
Uniting Europe’s Liberals will make them a force to be reckoned with, says Hans van Baalen, the new ALDE Party President.
The parliamentary group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) currently holds 70 seats in the European Parliament. However, being the fourth group is simply not good enough.
Liberals all across Europe must unite. We must strengthen national parties, enhance party-to-party cooperation and increase contacts between all levels of the European liberal family, from our Prime Ministers down to our grassroots. We will embrace as many successful, liberal-minded parties into our political family as we can. ALDE must become a force to be reckoned with; not liked by them, but rather feared. Politics is not tennis - it is rugby.
I will be a British-style ALDE Party President, or better, Chair. I will make things happen; improving contacts between Brussels and the national capitals, sharing expertise in the field of campaigning, fundraising and branding, and unleashing the energy at every level that will get our policies implemented.
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It is essential for member parties to learn from each other. I was trained by the UK Lib Dems and by the American Democrats on campaigning strategies and campaign management. Such exchanges of best practices are crucial for both established and new parties. This is hands-on work that begins at a grassroots level.
I intend to use my political network for the benefit of the ALDE Party, the ALDE Group and the member parties. We need to write an election manifesto for the 2019 European elections that will unite all Liberals. To do this, I will use the experience I gained when I chaired the manifesto committee 2004 – 2009.
The political leadership is shared between the ALDE group in the European Parliament - chaired by Guy Verhofstadt - and the political leaders in the member states; Mark Rutte, Charles Michel, Xavier Bettel, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Juha Sipilä, Taavi Rõivas and Miro Cerar. My role is not to compete with them, but rather to bring them together. As a member of European Parliament, I can act as the link between the ALDE group in the European Parliament and the ALDE Party and its members.
Poland offers an excellent example of an opportunity for how the liberals can grow. Last November, Ryszard Petru’s new liberal party, Modern Poland, obtained 7.6 per cent of the votes in the general elections. They achieved this by surprise, now they have to organise themselves. Ryszard Petru knows that and we share a vision on campaigning, organisation, coalition-building and how to mobilise voters. Liberal parties in many other countries share a similar history and therefore can help Nowoczesna in becoming a major political force. In the end, it is the Poles have to do it, but we can help.
In Georgia, a country I visited recently, there are two Liberal parties that are delivering excellent work both inside and outside the coalition. The ALDE Party, the British Lib Dems, VVD and D66 are advising both of them in their run-up towards the elections in October 2016.
One of the greatest challenges that lies ahead of us is the Brexit referendum. Preventing the UK leaving the EU is vital. However, it is up to the British Lib Dems to decide whether they need external help and if so, what kind of help they need. The national member parties are the cornerstones of the European Liberal movement, and wherever necessary, the ALDE Party stands ready to act to meet the needs of its member parties.