The majority of the delegates (79.3% votes in favour, 14.2% against with 6.5% abstaining) from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), meeting in Brussels on Saturday (1 February), has given Verhofstadt the baton to lead the elections’ campaign.
Verhofstadt, who currently heads the party group in the European Parliament, is one of the EU’s most avid euro-federalists.
In 2005, he published a book on closer EU integration, ‘The United States of Europe’, and he is one of the driving forces behind the Spinelli Group of federalist MEPs, launched in 2010.
“We have to be very clear to public opinion that these populist and nationalist eurosceptics have no solution for their problems. Look, if you want a future for your children on this continent, we need more Europe, we need an economic and fiscal union, a banking union, as fast as possible,” Verhofstadt said on Saturday.
The Belgian will lead the campaign with Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.
The two reached an agreement on 20 January to lead a joint campaign. Verhofstadt will run for the post of European Commission president to replace the incumbent José Manuel Barroso, while Rehn wil run for one of the other senior EU posts in economic or foreign affairs.
“I hope we form a dynamic duo for the European liberal and centrist movement in this election. We are both campaigning in different parts of Europe,” Rehn said.
In a joint statement, the two liberals commented: “Liberals are strong when they stand united. In these European elections we have the chance to make Europe stronger. Together with our 39 member parties in the EU member states we will both fiercely campaign for reforming Europe where necessary and taking actions to create jobs and prosperity.”
The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014.
The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.
“Pro-Europeans are under attack in a number of Member States so it is all the more important that those who still believe in the European Union stand together to combat the reactionary forces of nationalism and populism that is spreading doubt and fear in the minds of Europe’s citizens,” Verhofstadt said.
“The Europe of today is clearly not delivering for the citizen. We must elucidate a new and positive vision for the EU of tomorrow that builds on what has been achieved over the past 60 years but works more efficiently and effectively," he added.