ALDE Party Council meets in celebration in Zurich

There was a celebratory mood at the Council meeting of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in Zurich at the weekend. The May European elections sent a record 108 ALDE Party MEPs to the European Parliament, a cohort largely boosted by Emmanuel Macron’s MPs from France and Britain’s own Liberal Democrats plus Naomi Long from the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Under pressure from the French (who have a problem with the word “Liberal”, because of its economic neo-liberal resonance), the parliamentary group is renaming itself Renew Europe, but there was relief in Zurich that the ALDE Party is remaining ALDE.

There are ALDE member and affiliate parties and groups from right across Europe, from Portugal to Azerbaijan, including from non-EU countries like our hosts this time, Switzerland’s FDP. That is fairly firmly on the right aisle of ALDE’s broad church, but it was interesting at the Council to welcome as a new Swiss member party the Green Liberals, whose political platform argues that one can have both market economics and much greater environmental responsibility. Zurich is itself a clean and green city, with an integrated public transportation network to die for.

There was a fascinating and at times heated debate about Estonia (a bastion of Liberalism since quitting the disintegrating USSR). In national elections earlier this year, ALDE member Reform topped the poll but failed to put together a workable coalition, after which another ALDE member party, the Centre Party, seized the initiative by cobbling together an arrangement with the conservative Fatherland party and the far-right EKRE. A youthful-looking Minister had the unenviable task of trying to justify this move to us, given some of EKRE’s extreme pronouncements, so found himself under fire at the Council from Reform’s leader, Kaja Kallas, as well as from Austria’s NEOS, which reminded us of that country’s unhappy experience with bringing a far-right party into government.

The Swiss FDP put on an enjoyable and informative fringe meeting about lessons that should be learnt from the European elections, focussing especially on campaigning best practice. NEOS’s Claudia Gamon charmed everyone with her account of how a dummy European passport helped the party sell its message of full European integration, though some elements of that might be hard to sell on a UK doorstep.

* Jonathan Fryer is Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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