Family get-togethers are usually an occasion for heartfelt reunions, swapping news, forging plans, and often welcoming new members. The gathering in Madrid, where more than a thousand European liberals met for the annual ALDE Congress, was no exception. Following stations in Warsaw and Amsterdam, this time the event was hosted by the Spanish Ciudadanos (Cs). The strategic groundwork was laid for the upcoming European election campaign. The fifty-page platform left no doubt that the ALDE family — a coalition with a membership of more than 60 parties — would be tackling an impressive workload over the course of its two-and-a-half-day Congress.
Debates, roundtables, training modules, work meetings, delegate sessions, votes – the liberal family had to gear itself up for the upcoming elections. At the moment, the ALDE faction is the fourth-largest group in the European Parliament; the election on 26 May 2019 could change this. The Spanish Ciudadanos Party, host and co-organiser of the Congress, is the largest liberal party in Southern Europe. President Albert Rivera presented himself as an ambitious leader. In his opening speech, he warned against an appropriation of the European project by populists and nationalists.
The speech of Astrid Panosyan, co-founder of the French La République en Marche (LaREM), was also eagerly anticipated. Panosyan declared that LaREM was going to join forces with ALDE, campaigning — and advocating for Europe — under the ALDE umbrella; the announcement was met with thunderous applause.
The entire weekend was marked by a spirit of optimism, not least because the ALDE family was being joined by several new members. New full members of ALDE include the Slovenian Stranka LMŠ, the Hungarian Momentum, and the French Movement Radical/Social-Libéral. The Ukrainian Syla Lyudey joined as an associate member.
The highlight of the Congress was the unanimous adoption — on Saturday afternoon, after two and a half days of intense debate — of the ALDE campaign manifesto for the 2019 European elections. ‘We want a Europe that is rich in diversity and united in standing up for the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens’, the document proclaims. However, the electoral manifesto is more than just the lowest common denominator of the ALDE member parties. Europe’s liberals agree that Europe needs to be sustainable, fair, dynamic, free and open. In this sense, ALDE wants to meet challenges head-on and develop liberal solutions together. The manifesto emphasizes liberal values such as tolerance, free trade, and equal opportunity through education. It believes, accordingly, that there should be more investment in education, that free trade should be promoted, and that Euroscepticism should be countered. The Friedrich Naumann Foundation contributed to the Congress in many ways. A strong delegation of about 15 members talked about the Foundation’s activities. Prof. Karl-Heinz Paqué, Chair of the Board of the Foundation, appeared on two panels discussing the challenges facing Europe in a new world economic order as well as the liberal answers to various current and future transformations of the job market.
Not only were there no family disputes this year, the family even agreed on a common goal for summer 2019: be the family of parties that finally overcomes Europe’s political gridlock!
Carmen Gerstenmeyer is the European Affairs Manager in the Brussels Regional Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom
Carmen Gerstenmeyer ist European Affairs Managerin im Regionalbüro der Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit in Brüssel.