Federal International Relations Committee – the unofficial official report…

A little while ago, I described FIRC as being “the Cinderella committee of the Party, erratically mentioned in the Constitution, in need of rapid evolution in terms of its relationships with other Federal Committees and generally overlooked by the Federal Board, who haven’t yet commented on our work, engaged with our reports or provided any guidance as to its desired strategy”.

I stand by that, and there is a sense that there are elements on the Committee whose skills and talents are not best utilised by a structure which doesn’t exactly reach out to include them, let alone our wider membership base. But I digress…

All of that said, yesterday’s meeting was, in many ways, rather interesting. We started with Ros Scott welcoming two of her fellow ALDE Party Vice Presidents, Timmy Dooley from Fianna Fáil, and Henrik Bach Mortensen from Venstre, one of the governing parties in Denmark. Discussion revolved around Brexit, what their countries thought about our future relationship, the impact that Brexit would have on their domestic economies and on what the ALDE Party could do to help us make the case for remaining within the European Union.

We then moved on to discuss preparations for the ALDE Party Congress in Amsterdam in early December. We have established a delegation, all of whom have been informed of their success in obtaining a place – we had far more applications than there were places available. There is, increasingly, an expectation that our delegates will play an active role at Congress – participating in policy debates, attending fringe meetings -especially as there is so much latent demand for involvement.

The future of the Party’s non-UK organisation also came up for discussion. The past year has seen a rapid increase in the membership of Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats – there are now more than 2,000 members – and with that has come a realisation that restructuring is essential. Complicating matters is the need to ensure that compliance issues are properly dealt with, especially those related to finances, and it appears that a solution has been arrived at, thanks to the work of the Party President, the Compliance team in Great George Street, and Harriet, our International Officer.

We then had the pleasure of a presentation from Bart Somers, the Mayor of Mechelen, in Belgium, who won the World Mayor Award for 2016, in part for his work on inclusion within his community. He told of how he had broken down segregation in the community by ensuring that schools did not become monocultures, and that youth facilities became more welcoming to the wider population. Despite major problems in some parts of Belgium, radicalisation within the Muslim community in his town has been avoided, and the community as a whole has been strengthened tremendously.

Finally, we discussed policy issues. I have been concerned for some time that the way FIRC handles policy is ad hoc and inefficient in nature. For example, we had earlier discussed possible policy motions to submit to the ALDE Party Congress. No detail, just some themes which could be written up. Given that there is a Congress every year, you might think that work would start on that well in advance, and that, perhaps, a member of the Committee might be encouraged to lead on this. So, I proposed that we set up a sub-committee to take this work on, as there is never time at full FIRC meetings to do anything meaningful.

In truth, the response was lukewarm, and it was decided that we would drift along as we always have. I am disappointed, but will look into less formal means of improving things.

So, a meeting that was in parts inspiring, in others challenging, but still somewhat frustrating. FIRC could be better, and hopefully it will be. But it does require some prodding from the outside, and for members of the Committee to be held to account rather more than they currently are.

* Mark Valladares is a directly elected member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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