ALDE gather in Lisbon: setting sail for a new, more liberal world?

Sailing in Lisbon by Pedro Ribeiro SimõesOnce again, liberals from across the European Union and beyond gather this week for the Annual Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE). And whilst Portugal might not be the most obvious place, given the absence of a liberal party in Portuguese politics for some years now, the emergence of the Earth Party as a serious contender – it won two seats (out of twenty-one) in this year’s European Parliament election – makes Portugal an interesting place to be.

The mood is likely to be a reflective one. Whilst liberal parties did well in Benelux and the Nordic countries, results were little short of catastrophic in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, and the defection of Romania’s National Liberal Party (PNL) to the European People’s Party was a further blow to morale. In short, ALDE is in transition, and talk is of challenging populist forces across the continent by offering a positive vision for Europe, one of reform and focus on creating a smarter, more effective Europe.

So, instead of a theme resolution on a core subject, there will be a theme debate on ‘Reclaiming Liberalism’, with an opportunity for delegates to influence the future direction of European liberalism. What will a European liberal party look like when the British and Germans, key players for so long, are less influential than ever? Will the emerging liberal parties of Eastern and Central Europe point the way towards a more social liberal or economic liberal platform?

Elsewhere, there will be debates on a common defence policy (unlikely to be agreed), on how to deal with the ‘Russia problem’ (delicately, I suspect), on regulation of the digital economy and on tax havens and possible strategies for developing greater transparency amongst multinationals. One of the more interesting resolutions is one concerning the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which came into force on 1 August this year.

What else is on the agenda? There are elections for two Vice-Presidents, with candidates from Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands, as well as the unopposed election of Roman Jakic, the former Slovene Minister of Defence, as Treasurer for his third and final term (if successful). The fringe sees opportunities to discuss the digital economy, the future of environmentally sustainable industry, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the interaction between freedom and data protection, the latter interestingly sponsored by Microsoft.

I’ll be reporting from Lisbon as time permits, and hopefully keeping you up to date with events there.

Photo of sailing on the Tagus river, Lisbon by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

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