Bitter sweet: ALDE Congress in Amsterdam

I have mixed feelings as I come back from my third ALDE Congress (Alliance of Liberal and Democratic parties across Europe), this time in Amsterdam, one of the most liberal cities in the world. It’s energising to spend time with liberals from across Europe, and the largest Congress yet of 1500 people, knowing that we share values of openness, internationalism and environmentalism. Some countries are so liberal like the Netherlands and Finland, that they even have two liberal parties!

There was sad news that the UK representative on the ALDE party bureau, Baroness Ros Scott was not reelected to her position as Vice Chair. Colleagues from other parties like the FDP (Free Democratic Party) in Germany commiserated and said ALDE should look for ways to continue to collaborate with the UK. This is wise considering a sizeable proportion of the resolutions for voting and discussion by the congress were well-informed and well-drafted by the UK delegation on a range of issues from Iran and Myanmar to LGBT rights, and the Balfour Declaration.

The reoccurring theme in the conference debates focused on how we, as liberals, can combat populism and illiberal voices. Xavier Bettel, PM of Luxembourg (one of 5 liberal PMs in the EU and my favourite) said that we need to fight for our values every day. We should speak to the majority, engage with people who hold different views from us, talking about real issues that matter to people and think in dreams not fear.

However, the irony is that the fight against populism wasn’t really helped when the Congress voted through (albeit with a relatively narrow majority) wording supporting an EU army – even though they hadn’t worked out a means of actually deploying such an army; such details could be worked out over time through this ‘long term aim’. I couldn’t think of better populist fuel for Brexit! (This doesn’t stop the fact that we currently have a veto on this happening anyway, something which got lost in the Brexit debate). All the talk of enhanced security collaboration was slightly ironic too when the building security was a bit hap hazard – no bag checks with two European PMs and other big wigs in the congress – bizarre.

Despite the imperfections of the EU, I’d rather be part of a liberal group of countries that starts sanctions against the actions of illiberal members such as the current regimes in Poland and Hungary. And just to remind us of how lucky we are to live in a liberal country there was an inspiring yet depressing documentary about Boris Nemtsov a liberal in Russia who worked hard for his local region and later tipped for the presidency was assassinated by the Russian regime. Bettel rightly said that we shouldn’t take peace in Europe for granted.

I had a pang of sadness to realise that the rest of Europe is gearing up for the European Parliament elections in 2019 elections and the aim for ALDE is to be in top two parties. Nick Clegg is helping draft the manifesto. A ‘Europe for the people’ as one of the speakers said, sounds good to me, smaller, reaching out. I’d love Britain to be part of that. Unfortunately, the other parties were squabbling over how to divvy up our 70+ seats on the European Parliament… More bitter than sweet.

* Rosina Robson is Vice Chair of Richmond Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Wish I could have gone. The cost and time constraints could not be overcome. However maybe someday.

  • Simon McGrath 7th Dec '17 - 12:00pm

    Very interesting , thanks. How did the UK delegation vote on the EU army ( which of course makes our staying in even more difficult)?

  • Rosina Robson

    You call it an ‘irony’ that ALDE Congress voted for an EU Army. Don’t you, on reflection, think that the word irony is frankly a tad too ‘liberal’ when you consider that we were told by Clegg in a national TV debate against Farage that there would never be an EU army?

    If Clegg was such the expert on all things EU, he surely must have known that EU Commissioner, Federica Mogherini had already produced a draft plan for an EU Army?
    So Clegg must have known very well, that there were ‘Mogherini plans’ for an EU Army, but he decided, [pre referendum], to blatantly lie to British voters, on the national TV debates.

    Having now seen through this ‘EU Army’ lie, and the myriad of other pre-referendum remainer lies, I’m utterly convinced that one day leavers will be vindicated, and furthermore, that hoodwinked remainers will look in the ‘rear view mirror’, and thank the actions and common sense of leavers, who recognized from the very beginning that these unelected EU ‘spivs’ were naught but unprincipled money grubbing gangsters.

  • Ivan Prandzhev 10th Dec '17 - 1:56pm

    It’s such a shame we didn’t reelect Ros Scott. I was member of the NEOS delegation at the Congress in Budapest where she ran for her first tenure. Many candidates came to us for an interview and she impressed me the most….by far!

  • If we can’t even support good ideas like an EU army out of fear of what the populists will say, then they’ve already won.

  • Clive Sneddon 11th Dec '17 - 11:22pm

    The more bitter than sweet conclusion is right. The failure of Ros to be re-elected is probably part of the other members states divvying up the jobs among themselves. We need European internationalism, which means Europeans working together to devise and implement real solutions to current European problems. Until European states can agree on a common foreign policy-stance, any talk of a European army is premature and smacks of devotees of a United States of Europe trying to get one by the back door. Let all those who want a USE put that question to their own electorates first.

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