The European Liberal Democrats, the ALDE Party, have elected a new president, Hans van Baalen, a Member of the European Parliament and Honorary President of Liberal International. Van Baalen hails from the liberal VVD Party in the Netherlands. Rounding off our series of Liberal Breakfasts FNF and the ALDE Party hosted an intimate breakfast discussion with Van Baalen to find out how he wants to run his term as the “hands-on” president, the slogan he brandished during his campaign.
In his introductory remarks van Baalen made clear that he saw his role as ALDE Party president much more in the tradition of British party chairmen than as a more political president. As a proverbial chairman he would focus more on bringing European liberals together in celebration of their diversity, rather than forcing uniform positions on European issues. He stressed that he was personally not a fan of labels such as social liberal, market liberal, left-liberal or conservative-liberal. Van Baalen underlined that liberals of all colours share a commitment to civil liberties on the one hand and a free market on the other. As president he will use this basic tenet work to bring liberals together and ensure that regardless of labels they work together for a more liberal Europe.
Part and parcel to van Baalen’s approach as ALDE Party president is his ambition to give the vice-presidents of the party a stronger role within the party and to encourage each Bureau member to use his or her talents in service of the party. The bureau includes a range of impressive personalities and van Baalen is certain that allowing them to set and pursue their own goals as vice president will be a great benefit for the party.
Asked what he would prioritise in the first 100 days of his presidency, van Baalen said he would set out to visit all ALDE Party member parties. Asked at the breakfast if his bags are packed, he could inform the crowd that he had already undertaken his first travels as president, visiting the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and the ALDE Party member parties in Georgia. Van Baalen underlined the importance of these personal encounters to understand not only what member parties can do for the ALDE Party, but also what the ALDE Party can do for its members, to paraphrase a former U.S. president. Indeed, he not only wants to work closer with member parties, but also improve cooperation with other liberal organisations such as Liberal International, the ALDE Group and the European Liberal Forum.
Hans van Baalen also has an ambitious plan to help the ALDE Group in the European Parliament re-take the role as third biggest force, and spoke out in favour of permanent campaigning by liberal parties around Europe. Van Baalen wants the ALDE Party to expand its already impressive campaign training work around European and praised the efforts of the secretariat for making sure that ALDE Party resources are at the disposal of those facing elections. As a “hands-on” president van Baalen is determined to bring enthusiasm and strength to Europe’s liberals, because as he stressed “small is not beautiful in politics”.