Mabuhay! Philippine Liberal Congressmen in Brussels

A delegation of six progressive liberal Congressmen of the ruling Liberal Party of the Philippines as well as the President of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines visited Brussels in October. On their agenda were meetings with Members of the European Parliament, European Commissioner Karel de Gucht, and European liberals whom they engaged in discussions on free trade, open markets and the relations of the EU and the Philippines in the context of ASEAN.

Day two of the Congressmen’s Brussels visit was dedicated to meetings at the European Parliament, where they discussed the concepts of liberalism and freedom and the possibility of ASEAN-members developing intergovernmental structures beyond economic integration with MEP Hans van Baalen. He said that ASEAN holds great potential and that it could look towards the EU for inspiration as well as caution. It might be too soon, however, to ask countries in Asia to give up sovereignty so shortly after they gained independence. MEP Wolf Klinz warned that the different levels of competitiveness, which prevents the Eurozone from being an optimum currency area, could also be problematic if ASEAN-members were to introduce a common currency. This is particularly relevant for the Philippines. In the two years since liberal President Aquino assumed power, the country has not only decreased its public debt significantly but also managed to jump to the 65th from the 85th place in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report”.

In a discussion with the delegates, MEP Chris Davies praised the success of the Liberal Party in the Philippines and addressed the growing concern of Philippine liberals regarding the direction their party would take. Liberalism is not a homogeneous ideology. Even among members of the same national parties in the European Parliament, there is a divergence of opinions, which ensures that liberalism as a political ideology constantly questions and reevaluates itself.

During a working breakfast with European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) President Sir Graham Watson and a session with ELDR Head of Communications, Didrik de Schaetzen, the topic of liberal parties in Europe and the position and future of liberalism in Europe were addressed. The discussion was deepened further in a luncheon workshop with Jeroen Reijnen, Policy Advisor at the ALDE Secretariat on liberal parliamentary practices. Susanne Hartig, Executive Director of the European Liberal Forum (ELF) spoke to the delegates about how liberals can effectively organize sustainable networks to spread their ideas.

On the topic of EU-Philippine trade relations, particularly with regards to the latest scoping exercise for a free trade agreement, the delegation engaged in an exciting discussion with European Commissioner Karel De Gucht. In subsequent meetings with representatives from DG Trade, the European External Action Service, as well as scholar and ECIPE-Director Hosuk Lee-Makiyama further technical details of the EU-Philippine trade relations were discussed. Due to the fast economic integration of the Asian-Pacific area, Lee-Makiyama regarded the further integration of ASEAN likely. “Europeans think they are gods and gods like to create things in their image,” he warned. The members of ASEAN will have to develop endogenously and integrate at their own pace and shouldn’t strive to be the Asian version of the EU.

A particular highlight of the programme was a Reception held at the Philippine Embassy, hosted by H.E. Ambassador Victoria Bataclan in honor of the Congressmen. Invitees were Members of the Filipino expat community, among others from the Congressmen’s constituencies, as well as members of the European political scene.

Susan Schneider