The race for the ALDE Presidency – and why it might matter

Four years of an ALDE Party led by Sir Graham Watson is nearly at an end and, following his announcement in Oslo in May that he would not be seeking a third term, one might not be surprised to hear that the campaign started almost before he sat down. I for one was lobbied by a potential candidate at the reception that followed and, since then, two candidates have emerged to contest the succession. So, who will the Liberal Democrat delegation, which represents 12% of the votes to be cast, have to decide between?

Siim KallasSiim Kallas is a former, well, just about everything, really. A signals officer for the Soviet Army in the 1960’s, a member of the Communist Party until 1990, he emerged into the democratic era as a key player in the Reform Party, going on to be President of the new Estonian Central Bank, Minister of Foreign Affairs and then Minister of Finance, before a stint as Prime Minister (2002-03). His next stop was as the first Estonian member of the European Commission from May 2004, responsible at first for economic and monetary affairs before becoming a Vice President with the portfolio for administration, audit and anti-fraud, then transport, until last year.

Hans van BaalenHis opponent, Hans van Baalen, is also a familiar face in international liberal circles. A VVD MP from 1999 to 2002, and then
2003 to 2009, he switched to the European Parliament and currently heads his party’s group there. He has also served three terms as President of Liberal International (2009-14), seguing neatly onto the Bureau of ALDE last year in Lisbon. In what spare time he has left, he serves as a Colonel in the National Reserve Corps of the Dutch Army.

Politically, they don’t appear to be too far apart, both coming from political parties seen to be more economically liberal than socially liberal, and each has a perceived block vote to count upon, Scandinavian/Baltic for Siim, Benelux/Germany for Hans, but both camps are campaigning hard, with each candidate criss-crossing the continent in search of votes.

How are the Liberal Democrats likely to lean? Impossible to tell at this stage, although I suspect that they’ll want to look both men squarely in the eye before making their minds up.

So, why does this matter? Well, it would be fair to say that, in some quarters, Guy Verhofstadt, the Leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, is a bit ‘marmite’. Federalists love him, Eurosceptics loathe him, and pragmatic pro-Europeans worry whether his outspoken views on the future of the European Union might not ‘scare the horses’. An ALDE President as sympathetic to the needs of Liberal Democrat campaigners as Graham Watson has been would be a helpful contributor in the fight to keep the United Kingdom in Europe, especially as, perhaps, a counterbalance to Verhofstadt.

The vote takes place on 21 November, in Budapest, and I’ll be covering the results of this vote, and the one for five, possibly six, Vice Presidents, live(ish) from them, wi-fi permitting.

* Mark Valladares is a Liberal Democrat member of the ALDE Party Council, and hopes to be nominated for a third and final term as a member of its Financial Advisory Committee in a fortnight’s time.

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5 Comments

  • Vive Verhofstadt!

  • I think it would be a good idea to have much more information about both. On what is supplied here, neither look particularly attractive. Surely both will have some kind of manifesto with a version in English.

    Has Graham Watson explained why he is not seeking a second term? – It would be important if the reasons were political, however, whatever the reason it is a pity.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Nov '15 - 7:11pm

    Sir Graham Watson spoke at conference in Bournemouth. Wild speculation might suggest:
    1) elections results in 2014, he is not now an MEP;
    2) there will be a referendum on the EU soon, so he is needed here.
    3) 20 years service.

  • Would also be nice to have some information on who exactly are the electorate and what is the system?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 7th Nov '15 - 10:32pm

    Martin,

    If you click on the link attached to Siim Kallas’s name in the article, you’ll find his website. There doesn’t appear to be one for Hans van Baalen yet, but if there is, at any point, I’ll add a link to it. Graham Watson is, in fact, not seeking a third term, but has said that he wants to focus on the campaign to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union.

    Roland,

    The electorate consists of the delegates of the member parties. Each member party’s entitlement to vote is linked to the number of votes received in the most recent national election, although any changes only come into effect in the calendar year following the election, so the Liberal Democrats will have voting rights based on the 2010 result. ALDE uses a first past the post system, although for the Presidency, and with only two candidates, that’s more a technical point than a relevant one.

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