Monday 2 December 2013

Don't let be beastly to the Germans

It's perhaps a strange manifesto that is written not to appeal to voters - who are unlikely to ever see it - but to avoid handing ammunition to opponents, who will.

That is what the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe did in London last weekend, preparing its manifesto for May's European Parliament elections, and an eye-opening process it was too.

I assume that in the fullness of time the manifesto will appear here. Meantime, to convey a flavour of the process we had a fairly short manifesto draft but then 187 amendments to get through.

Some were just textual (changing 'our European currency' to 'the European currency' for the benefit of non-euro members, for example), some were 'nice to have' additions that no-one would go to the wall over except on grounds of length.

The big rows came in three areas: eurobonds, rebates and the environment.

These required a combination of talks in rooms that would have been smoked filled were it not banned, contorted wordings and ultimately competitive votes.

Eurobonds were a major area of contention since Germany's FDP regards them as politically toxic, as  they would in effect see Germany pay for the eurozone's debts. For the same reason, parties from countries with large debts think they are a splendid idea. The Germans couldn't live with them in a manifesto, debtor countries couldn't live without them.

Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff came up with a neat solution that stressed the need for financial discipline and fiscal stability and which avoided the eurobond problem by not mentioning them, thus leaving the whole subject open.

That though was not enough for the FDP, who right up to the end were threatening to oppose the entire manifesto, though they ultimately allowed their delegates to vote as they chose.

Rebates were major issue for the UK and certain other countries. The very economically right-wing Venstre, one of two Danish member parties, wanted them all scrapped. The Lib Dems could for obvious reasons hardly enter an election subscribing to a manifesto that made any such call. This again took convoluted wording but ended with the UK delegation getting its way.

The third problem was the environment. Some of the more right-wing parties are not very sympathetic anyway, but the word 'green' is a provocation in itself to parties in countries with effective Green parties, so amendments calling for 'green growth' - innocuous in the UK - caused difficulty and had to be worded differently.

All this led to a surprising number of contentious votes - a process not helped by the collapse of the electronic voting system.

The ALDE manifesto does not bind member parties, who can add to or subtract from it whatever they please. It is thus a sort of general steer to member parties' campaigns but not necessarily their actual manifesto. Discussions among British delegates were notable for concern about what 'the media' would make of some or other parts of it rather than any impact on voters.

Like Liberal International, ALDE Congresses (and this was my first) can seem a bit unreal at times with national delegations solemnly negotiating wording that hardly anyone in their country will read. The process is though always interesting, seeing the perspectives liberals in other countries have from their differing history and circumstances.

However, even if the way parties in the EU conduct themselves can seem cumbersome and faintly absurd, as the session chair reminded us outside it in Ukraine people were that weekend risking their lives to vote, electronically nor not.


  1. Makes me wonder what sort of "liberals" we are associating with in Europe, some of them sound like complete neo-Thatcherite fruit-loops....*oops*

  2. What is really good about ALDE is that here we have well over 30 parties from the EU and beyond, all of whom subscribe to the Liberal Democrat cause, working together in the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and in other EU bodies to make common cause and the achieve Liberal decisions. The opportunity to meet with Liberals from across the European continent is valuable and rewarding. I recommend it to those whose contact with Lib Dems has so far been largely limited to the UK.

  3. The above two comments have been published as they contain nothing objectionable, but please remember our policy that all comments should be in people's real names.


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