Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘FDP’

The European Liberal Family (ALDE)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd November, 2019

12836C57-4082-48C4-B8C6-5EA2ED7AF71AFor most of last week I was in Athens, the cradle of democracy, for the ALDE Party Congress, which brought together dozens of Liberal parties from across Europe, not just the EU. I’ve been on the ALDE’s elected Council as a UK Liberal Democrats’ representative for many years and am currently standing for re-election to that role (all LibDem members can vote). As ever, one of the highlights of the Congress was the welcoming into membership of new parties, the details of which can be found on the ALDE website*. But inevitably a lot of the political discussion, especially outside the plenary sessions, was about Brexit. It was good to be able to confirm that the UK would not be leaving the EU on 31 October after all, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s do-or-die pledge. The British delegation worked hard to strengthen the resolve of our Continental counterparts (the Irish are well on board!) to support our efforts to Remain. When Luxembourg Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, declared in his plenary speech that he regretted the UK’s departure, he was rightly heckled by London MEP Irina von Wiese, “We’re not Leaving,”

5D6E7B66-4657-4764-A539-A4A387F6AD9BSubsequently, after the Congress, a 3-month extension to Article50 was granted by the EU27 and a general election was called in Britain for 12 December, in which Brexit will inevitably be a major issue. However, the ALDE Congress agenda was much broader than that and there was a range of interesting fringe meetings, including an event put on by (the worldwide) Liberal International on fighting Fake News and Alternative Facts.

ALDE itself is a very broad church, embracing social liberals, like the UK LibDems and D66 from the Netherlands, as well as more economically conservative parties, such as the German and Swiss FDPs. But there are many strongly shared values, not least on human rights (including LGBTi matters) and environmental protection. In the European Parliament, ALDE parties are together in the Renew Europe Group with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche from France, and with 108 MEPs — a sharp rise from 2014 — constitute the third largest grouping, with considerable influence. But one of the healthy things about the ALDE Congress is to remind us all that Europe is far wider than just the EU and that all of us have a shared European heritage, despite our glorious diversity.


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Being a Junior Partner in a Coalition

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th March, 2012

For half a century and more the Liberal Party and its successor, the Liberal Democrats, languished as the high-minded, principled oppositional alternative to both Conseratives and Labour, and I have to say that most of us found that situation pretty comfortable, although we spoke wistfully of one day having the chance of getting into power. But I think we realised that the only way that would happen in the post-modern age was as a junior partner in coalition with one of the two ‘major’ parties, which could well result in a shrinkage in our level of public support (as indeed Chris Rennard long ago warned). We looked at examples such as Germany’s FDP and saw that even on a small share of the vote one could nonetheless wield quite a lot of influence (admittedly under a system of proportional representation in Germany’s case), and even aspire to having a few Cabinet Ministers. I suppose most of us imagined that if that opportunity arose, it would almost certainly be in a Coalition with Labour; indeed, Paddy Ashdown and some of his closest colleagues imagined that could happen with a Blair-led government, before Britain’s warped electoral system gave Tony Blair a humungous majority and he veered away from social democracy to become seriously illiberal and a George W Bush groupie. So it was with some surprise that after the May 2010 election the arithmetic meant that only a Tory-led Coalition in Britain was possible. But did that inevitably mean that the LibDems as the junior partner would be screwed? This was the subject of a fascinating seminar put on at Westminster’s Portcullis House yesterday by the Centre for Reform, moderated by former LibDem Chief Executive Lord (Chris) Rennard. Ben Page, Chief Executive of Ipsos-MORI was somewhat disheartening in his analysis of the way that sacrificing full independence had inevitably led to the LibDems’ sharp decline in the opinion polls. But his pessimism was counter-balanced by the Deputy Leader of the party, Simon Hughes MP, who — despite getting into a bit of a muddle with his statistics — managed to reassure the audience that the LibDems, far from crashing to oblivion are still alive and kicking and actually doing better than at many times in their recent history, as well as winning real victories on policy within the Coalition government. Martin Kettle, the acceptable face of the Guardian’s political columns, was also fairly upbeat; unlike Polly Toynbee he does not feel we have sold our soul to the devil, and moreover he believes that even in the North — from which, like me, he hails — there is a future for the party. In the ensuing discussion I pointed out that being the junior partner in a Coalition government is rather like travelling down a road full of hidden sleeping poliemen. The tuition fees débacle was probably predictable; the NHS Bill less so. But I warned that the Tory rethink on the Heathrow third runway could be a third bump that could shake the Coalition and cause a fall in support for the LibDems unless the party came out firmly against once again. I didn’t get quite the ringing endorsement of this line that I’d hoped for from Simon Hughes (or indeed Lord Rennard), but I think the point was taken.

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ELDR Council in Dresden

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st May, 2011

There was a time, not all that many years ago, when most of the meetings of the governing Council of the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) were held in Brussels. But these days they occur all over the Continent, both to give the participants a taste of the local sister party and its activities as well as to generate some publicity in the city or country concerned. Thanks to the German Free Democrats (FDP), this weekend’s Council was in Dresden, capital of the Free State of Saxony and known as Paris on the Elbe before the British bombed it to smithereens during the Second World War. Although I did travel a lot in the old DDR (East Germany), I had never been to Dresden until now, so it was interesting to see how much of the old city — including the celebrated Frauenkirche — has been rebuilt or refurbished, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Saxony had a standard of living well below the European Union average when German reunification took place, but the city benefited greatly from funds made available under the EU’s Cohesion Policy, which was the subject of a seminar attached to the Council meeting. It was good to hear from several Saxon state Ministers at the event, as well as the UK LibDems’ own Flo Clucas, who extolled how EU funds had helped Liverpool regenerate once the Trots were ousted from control of that city. The ELDR Council itself is largely an administrative affair (including the passing of urgency resolutions on such issues as human rights in Russia and threats to the Schengen Agreement), but there was a worthwhile session led by Mohammed Nosseir of Egypt’s Democratic Front on how Europe should respond to the Arab Awakening — a theme much preoccupying me at the moment and one which the ELDR will doubtless return to at its Congress in Palermo in November.


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Where the FDP Did Best

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th September, 2009

Courtesy of the German Federal Government site (these Germans really are SO efficient!):

FDP results

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Germany’s Clear Election Result

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th September, 2009

Angela Merkel 2I was at the German Embassy in London this evening for an election night (or maybe one should more accurately say ‘election afternoon’) party; with typical Teutonic efficiency, the basic results were out in a matter of minutes after polls closed at 5pm London time. There had earlier been a sweepstake among guests about what the result would be; in my own prediction, I got the Conservative  Christian Democrat (CDU) and Liberal (FDP) tallies pretty close, but like most people I under-estimated the scale of the Socialist Social Democrats’ (SPD) collapse. The ‘grand coalition’ of CDU-SPD that has run Europe’s largest ecoomy for the past four years will cease and in its place a much more traditional Conservative-Liberal (CDU/CSU-FDP) formation will take over.

Guido WesterwelleFrau Merkel had every reason to be beaming on the instantaneous TV election analysis programme German leaders are obliged to take part in. But this was also very much Guido Westerwelle and the Liberals’ day. Only a few years ago, the FDP seemed to be on its last legs and it was not represented in the European Parliament for a while, as it failed to scale the five-per cent German election threshold. But its support has surged over the past 12 months and the party registered nearly 15 per cent today. Even though the FDP is well to the right of the British Liberal Democrats on economic matters (British newspaper journalists almost invariably refer to it as the ‘pro-business’ party), this is a good result for the European and global Liberal families, the ELDR and the Liberal International (LI), as well as yet another headache for Gordon Brown and the Socialist (‘Sad’) group to which the Labour Party belongs in Europe.

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Germany, Multiculturalism and the Liberals

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th July, 2009

Georg BoomgaardenThe German Liberals (FDP) are highly likely to form part of the next German government, according to the German Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. Speaking at an Association of European Journalists (AEJ) lunch at the London offices of the European Parliament, H.E. Georg Boomgaarden said that although it is always possible that the ‘grand coalition’ of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SDP) might continue after September’s federal elections, a more likely scenario would be a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition government, or even the so-called Jamaica coalition that has been mooted: i.e. CDU/CSU, FDP and the Greens (whose party colours are black, yellow and green, like the Jamaican flag). The Liberals traditionally were the junior party in German coalitions but have been in opposition in recent years. But they did extremely well in last month’s European elections. Being a diplomat, however, Dr Boomgaarden cautioned that opinion polls are often volatile in the run-up to a Germa election, so anything is technically possible.

On another matter, in the light of the appalling recent murder of a pregnant Egyptian woman by a racist German attacker in a courtroom in Dresden — an assault in which her husband was also wounded — I asked which model of multiculturalism Germany had adopted, if any. The Ambassador replied that Germany had lied to itself about what used to be referred to as Turkish guest workers (gastarbeiter), assuming that once they had finished their working lives they would return home, whereas many of them did not. The main problem for integration, he said, is related to the fact that most of the Turkish immigrants came from eastern Anatolia — many of them Kurds — and they have a more traditional and Asian lifestyle. This is exacerbated by the fact that Turks immigrants even of the second and third generation tend to marry girls from their home country, who then find themselves in an alien environment in Germany. However, an Islamic Conference has been functioning in Germany for some time and recently it brought out a paper stressing that Muslims should stand by the German constitution, while at the same time freedom of religion must be repected.


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ALDE’s New Euro-parliamentary Leader

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd July, 2009

Guy Verhofstadt 2The ALDE (Liberal) Group in the new European Parliament has chosen the Flemish Liberal and former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, to be its new leader. He takes over from the British (South West England) Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson, who has meanwhile thrown his hat into the ring to try to be the new President of the parliament. Under Graham’s stewardship, ALDE grew to just over 100 members within the previous, larger, parliament. The British were the biggest national contingent in ALDE then, but they were overtaken by the Germans this time as a result of the FDP’s impressive surge in last month’s elections. As the Germans seem to be getting the leadership of the other major party groupings in the European Parliament, however, it is probably as well that they didn’t get handed ALDE as well.

Besides, Guy Verhofstadt is a sizeable and experienced political figure in his own right, even if his last attempts at forming a government in Belgium came to naught. In the 1980s, when he was a very young star in the Flemish political firmament, he became known as ‘Baby Thatcher’ for his economic liberalism, but he has softened since then, reportedly under the influence of his brother Dirk, who is a social liberal political philosopher. Guy Verhofstadt has spoken at Liberal Democrat Conference in the UK and even if he probably still would not figure in most Brits’ list of Ten Famous Belgians, his new role will undoubtedly raise his profile more even in this blinkered island nation. His commitment to the European project is without doubt. Following his election as ALDE group leader, he declared, ‘Europe is not the problem but the solution to the problems we are facing at the moment. We need more, not less Europe.’


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