ALDE Congress in Warsaw: A Europe for everyone

Hotfoot from the Richmond Park by-election, I arrived at ALDE Congress in Warsaw on Friday. This was my second trip to this annual event, which sees the Alliance of Liberal and Democratic parties across Europe get together to discuss the hot topics of the day. I was part of a 40-strong Lib Dem UK delegation. I wondered how welcome the UK delegation would be in light of Brexit – but I was pleased to find a buzz around our recent by-election win.

The annual meeting showed the obvious benefits in the current climate of sharing campaign ideas and tactics on countering the rise of far right parties – a prevalent theme across Europe. Some good practice and tips included the need to have a positive vision (the Remain campaign struggled with this), to communicate in primary colours, and tap into feelings and identities which matter to the electorate.

A reoccurring topic for debate was the rise of technology and the associated rise in unemployment, an issue that Trump took advantage of, without putting forward any obvious solutions. Technology does not have a neutral impact, so how do we encourage politicians to debate and influence so that there are more winners than losers in the future? The same applies to distributing the benefits of free movement and markets more fairly. The response is in part a continual skills revolution, ensuring that young people are skilled as they move from education into employment, and that experienced workers have access to lifelong learning.

It was great to see the UK delegation leading the way, including putting forward a resolution on the conflict in Yemen to ensure that this shapes the position that ALDE takes in the European Parliament. It was clear during the working group discussions around the text that the UK still has friends amongst this family grouping of liberals, and they may provide support in the Parliament during Brexit negotiations. Equally, there were a number of voices keen for us to get on with it and leave.

My only disappointment was that an important resolution on the Future of the Union was put back for agreement until June, due to a plethora of diverging views around drafting changes. Despite a good debate, I felt this was a missed opportunity for the liberal grouping to communicate a clear vision as to how it wants to shape Europe in the future.

On Sunday I visited the Polish Uprising Museum, and it showed me the ability of history to repeat itself; the complete destruction of Warsaw in 1944 and the similarities in the present day destruction of Aleppo. Collaboration has ensured 60 years of peace in Europe. However Brexit works out, we need to continue to work together to create jobs, a better environment and security in the future – for a Europe that works for everyone.

* Rosina Robson is Vice Chair of Richmond Liberal Democrats

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  • Allan Brame 7th Dec '16 - 12:14pm

    “to communicate in primary colours”
    Hopefully not red, white and blue!

  • Bernard Aris 7th Dec '16 - 9:04pm

    Dear Mrs. Robson,

    first of all many congratulations about your Richmond stunner!
    In my own LDV posting of December 5th, I explicitly talked about the split between the two Dutch ALDE party members, which got emphasised by VVD party leader Mark Rutte in his ALDE conference speech.
    In comments on that posting, some people said it was an “obscure” difference, a Duch-only problem, not worthy of being discussed on a LibDem website in Britain.
    In response, I sketched the differences in Denmark between their two ALDE member parties: Venstre (collaborating with the monocultural DF) and Vestagers Radikale Venstre, just as opposed to DF as my party, D66, is against Geert Wilders, DF’s Dutch parrot.
    I also pointed out that in German an Italian history, there are traditions of two opposing Liberal parties in one parliament; and the pre-1940 Dutch tradition in that.

    We hear that our social-liberal, pro-EU ally Mr. Guy Verhofstadt is mentioned to succeed German SPD Europarliament President Schultz.
    Personally I think that is unlikely; since 1977 the Social- and Christian Democrats have stitched that presidency up (each taking half of each Europarliamentary term); the only time a Liberal, Pat Cox from Ireland, became president it was because the two big fractions EPP and ESP had a big falling out.

    But do you agree with me with ALDE being an ideologically heterogenerous federation and European parliamentary aggregation, there is a chance when Mr. Verhofstadt becomes EP President, that someone from a Venstre or VVD-like ALDE Party becomes ALDE party leader in the EP? That would change the tone of voice (and ideological and practical drift) of that parliamentary party instantly, to the disadvantage of Euro-enthusiasts like LibDems, D66 and Radikale Venstre.

    What dou you think, having experienced the ALDE conference?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Dec '16 - 10:49pm

    Rosina and Bernard

    It is good that we do not have one view prevail in a conference of members from two dozen countries !

    And this party does not have one view either . Otherwise , why , Social Liberal Forum, Liberal Reform, Social Democrat Group, Radical Association, Friends of Palestine , Friends of Israel , Liberal Democrats for Peace in the Middle east……………..?!

  • Bernard Aris 8th Dec '16 - 12:18am

    Dear Mr. Cherin,

    a two-part answer, first about internal political diversity and then about the concrete coalition politics of the Dutch VVD and Danish Venstre parties.

    Our party founder Hans van Mierlo (see Wikipedia) had a saying that still holds true today:
    *) “Socialists and Social Democrats often have defined factions with their own name, their own newspaper, etcetera, inside their one party; see the French and British parties.
    *) D66 also has an official register of all its different factions. It’s called our membership list/register….”
    and the advantage of Internet is that all those factions (=members) can self-publicise their opinions, individually, in group manifesto’s, or on weblogs like LDV.

    There’s ‘nothing wrong with wide ideological or practical diversity and (fundamental) debate within a political current (national or transnational) or political party; on the contrary.

    But one needs to be attentive what the power/influence relations between the subcurrents and different opinionmakers within a current and/or party could have by way of political consequences.
    That is my main point with pointing out the differences between D66 and VVD (and the Danish parties) , both as ALDE members and as national actors.

  • Bernard Aris 8th Dec '16 - 12:24am

    Answer to Mr. Cherin, part 2:

    My secondary point is about differences in choice between Right- and Social-Liberal parties in ALDE: Their practical, historical coalition partners.
    I freely admit that I don’t like parties like the Dutch VVD (Mark Rutte’s first coalition government, 2010-2012) and the Danish Venstre (coalitions in 2001-2011, and since 2015) letting rough-and-tumble parties like the Danish Peoples Party DF or Geert Wilders’ PVV (one of whose MP’s admitted to peeing through the letterbox of his neighbour in a garden fence dispute) deliver the practical majority to their minority governments. That while always proclaiming that they still objected to some of the extreme utterances and proposals of DF and PVV: “we’ll never agree to that”. But coalition ministers in Rutte I were remarkably discreet or docile about such utterances (a “Polish ruffian and labour alarm center” proposed by Wilders, 2011) while governing with them; and we heard the same about Venstre ministers from Radikale Venstre’s leader Vestager visiting a D66 party congress in 2009…
    The Dutch Christian Democrats (CDA, see English Wikipedia), who participated in that first Rutte government, once a party controlling 33% of our Commons seats, are still recovering from the deep splits and political wounds in their membership and electorate after the party leaders in 2010 decided to accept the support of the PVV. At a special Party conference after the collapse of that coalition in 2012, CDA refurbished its image and ideological profile to avoid such alliances in the future… I don’t want my party to go through such convulsions, a view shared by all 25.000(plus) D66 members.

  • David Evans 8th Dec '16 - 12:35am

    Bernard, beware! Caron may come along and cut off your second part! 🙁

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Dec '16 - 12:51am

    Bernard Aris

    Thank you for your contributing information in reply.

    I do understand what you are expressing but feel that as in some countries there is one Liberal party to the right of ours or two containing various strands , as our party has a broad range of opinions , probably two thirds centre left elements of D66 one third the more centrist elements of VVD, and as we , variously rub along rather than rub each other up the wrong way in this party now , and historically in the Liberal International, long may we continue to.

    I would be in D66 were I Dutch , probably , and in Radical Venstre in Denmark , maybe for sure, but , in many countries like Germany where does that mean we would be ? Th Free Democrats are to the right of the Liberal Democrats , but in Liberal International , while , the Social Democrats are to the left of us and not in it at all !

  • Amen to:

    “…the need to have a positive vision.. and tap into feelings and identities which matter to the electorate…how do we encourage politicians to debate and influence so that there are more winners than losers (from technology) in the future? The same applies to distributing the benefits of free movement and markets more fairly….”

    These are indeed the huge questions. I’d be delighted to hear what the answers or even the ideas towards ways of finding answers were.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Dec '16 - 2:51pm

    We need more, well informed commentary on neighbouring countries. For instance on Spain on This Week Miriam_González_Durántez showed that Michael Portillo does not have a monopoly of facts or of wisdom.ález_Durántez

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