Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th February, 2017
Europe currently faces three serious threats: Islamic terrorism, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. At least that was the view of Belgian MEP (and the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator), Guy Verhofstadt, when he gave the Isaiah Berlin lecture for Liberal International at Chatham House in London earlier this week. He warned that the European Union now has fewer friends in the United States than ever, with Mr Trump himself openly trying to break it up, just as Mr Putin is trying to undermine it. But Guy acknowledged that Europe itself is in a crisis — a “polycrisis”, as he called it — “a crisis of migration, of internal security, of geopolitical weakness in our neighbourhood.” This is unsustainable in the modern world, he argued, urging that the EU must reform. However, his words were not all doom and gloom, as he declared that Brexit “is a golden opportunity … to get our act together inside the European Union. What is really needed is not new ideas; the ideas already exist… we have the building blocks… we need the capacities… to do what is necessary.”
Guy is a former Prime Minister of Belgium who leads the ALDE group within the European Parliament. His latest book is entitled Europe’s Last Chance, which I shall review when a copy is available. For many of us in Britain, of course, the great tragedy is that the UK has willfully stepped aside from confronting the challenges facing the EU, at a time when we should be leading, not leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May blithely says that Britain will be great on the global stage, but even if she can hold the country together (which is far from certain), Britain on its own is far weaker than being part of the EU — and Donald Trump for one is well aware of that.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, Donald Trump, Guy Verhofstadt, Isaiah Berlin lecture, Liberal International, Theresa May, Vladimir Putin | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd February, 2014
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) held a special congress in Brussels at the weekend, to elect the Party’s candidate for President of the European Commission. At least, that is what the meeting was originally intended to do, with delegates from all over Europe (paying our own way, incidentally) gathering to choose between the Finnish Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, and the head of the ALDE group in the European Parliament and former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt. The two men are as different as chalk and cheese, the former dourly northern European, the latter almost Mediterranean in his flamboyant enthusiasm. It would have been fun to have a proper, competitive debate between the two and then a vote (which I suspect the overtly federalist Verhofstadt would have won), but recently the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and a German colleague put a deal together according to which Vehofstadt would indeed be the ALDE candidate for Commission President and Olli Rehn would be put up for some other plum EU job. Verhofstadt is extremely unlikely to actually become Commission President, unless neither the EPP (centre right) nor the Socialists manages to get their candidate chosen), though Rehn should get something. UK Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had made no secret that he preferred Rehn, as the “safe” alternative. Anyway, for us poor delegates, deprived of a real election, all we could do was say “yay” or “nay” to the deal. Many Brits voted “nay” (or abstained), in my case as a protest at the way the deal had been put together. But Verhofstadt was duly endorsed by a very comfortable margin. He’ll certainly add colour to the European election campaign, though not necessarily the sort of colour Nick Clegg and Co will appreciate.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, Brussels, EPP, European Commission, Guy Verhofstadt, Mark Rutte, Nick Clegg, Olli Rehn | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th November, 2013
The fight against British Euro-scepticism is on! At the opening session of the London Congress of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Howard Dawber of the Canary Wharf Group (our hosts, as the plenaries are taking place in Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden) stressed that business and the financial sector strongly support Britain’s membership of the European Union and before handing over to ALDE President Sir Graham Watson underlined the area’s link to Liberalism and Liberal Democracy (William Beveridge did much of his investigation into poverty in the East End, and the Limehouse Declaration establishing the SDP was drawn up at David Owen’s house just up the road), which was noble, given Howard’s political affiliations elsewhere. Graham was in fine rhetorical form, the metaphors rolling off his tongue like the morning mist down the side of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. He urged everyone to remember as we emerge from a deep recession the core values of social liberalism. Nick Clegg, of course, did not disappoint, speaking without notes about his own by now familiar mixed European heritage and his determination that the European elections will be fought by the Liberal Democrats as the unequivocal party of IN. He argued that the big division in Europe now is not so much between left and right but between those whose minds are closed and those whose minds are open (reflected in politician’s attitudes on such thing as freedom of movement within the European single market and towards others beyond Europe’s frontiers. EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom picked up the issue of Europe’s responsibility towards refugees and asylum seekers, as well as to economic migrants driven by despair to try risky passage across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. The appalling loss of life off the Italian Lampedusa is only the most striking example of an ongoing humanitarian tragedy. The finale of the opening session was a rousing speech by the (Flemish) President of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt. He is an unashamed federalist, but he made clear that he understands the true meaning of federalism, not centralisation, as Euro-sceptics often misrepresent, but empowering downwards. That should mean that there is less but better EU-level regulation. For although the ALDE Party is the most pro-European of all the transnational groups in the European Parliament it is also the party of constructive reform.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE Congress, ALDE Group, ALDE Party, Canary Wharf, Cecilia Malstrom, East Wintergarden, European elections, Graham Watson, Guy Verhofstadt, Howard Dawber, Lampedusa, Nick Clegg | Leave a Comment »
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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, Annemie Nuyts, ELDR, Graham Watson, Guy Verhofstadt, Italia dei Valori, Karel de Gucht, Mario Monti, Palermo, Sicily, Silvio Berlusconi | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd July, 2009
The 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.’
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, Baby Thatcher, Belgium, Dirk Verhofstadt, European Parliament, FDP, Flemish Liberals, Graham Watson, Guy Verhofstadt, Liberal Democrats, ten famous Belgians | 1 Comment »