ELDR Congress Palermo
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th November, 2011
There has been a distinctively festive air at the ELDR Congress in Palermo, Sicily, over the past few days, not because the eurozone’s crisis has markedly eased — it hasn’t — but because the Italians are feeling a sense of huge relief at getting rid of Silvio Berlusconi. Our hosts have been Italia dei Valori, who have been working hard to put some integrity back into Italian politics; one can only wish them well, and trust that former EU Commissioner Mario Monti, the newly appointed Italian Prime Minister, can help steer Italy out of its economic whirlpool. The EU budget was the principal theme of the Congress, though I was personally much more motivated by the parralel debates and workshop on the so-called Arab Sprin and how Europe should engage with it; boosting trade with the region was the answer provided by EU Commissioner Karel de Gucht, but I would argue that building a greater sense of solidarity between the peoples of Europe and North Africa and the Middle East is equally important. De Gucht also led the tributes to Annemie Nuyts, the Flemish Liberal who has been President of ELDR for the past six years. Her valedictory speech was rather downbeat, noting that whereas five years ago the ELDR encompassed 10 Prime Ministers, now there are only two (Estonia and the Netherlands). However, her compatriot Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and now leader of the ALDE (Liberal) Group in the European Parliament, gave a barnstorming performance that raised all our spirits and there was a fittnig finale to the formal part of the proceedings with a speech by incoming ELDR President, Sir Graham Watson, South West England MEP and former ALDE leader,who set out his vision of where ELDR should be heading — very much onwards and upwards.