ALDE president: ‘We can be the strongest European party’

Hans van Baalen [European Parliament]

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is traditionally the third strongest political group in the European Parliament, but in the 2014 elections, it suffered big losses, dropping below the ECR. Now it looks like the liberals are back. EURACTIV Germany reports.

euractiv.de spoke to Hans van Baalen, who is president of the ALDE party and represents the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) at a national level.

He spoke to Manuel Müller.

First there was the disaster that were the 2014 European elections, now the resurgence over the last two years. How do you explain the rollercoaster that is ALDE?

It’s all down to what happens at national level. In Germany, the FDP (Free Democratic Party) failed to win any seats and lost its place in the Bundestag, as well as only winning three European seats. When the FDP gets a bit stronger and moves back into the Bundestag, then I think eight or nine seats at the next European election is achievable. In Poland, we have a new party: Nowoczesna (Polish for modern), which is doing very nicely at national level and which could very easily provide ten seats in 2019. The same goes for Ciudadanos in Spain. As these parties are doing so well domestically, it has direct consequences for Europe.

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MEP Hans van Baalen (VVD), a Dutch member of the European Parliament, was elected the new President of the ALDE Party at the ALDE Party Congress in Budapest on Saturday (21 November), triumphing over former Estonian Commissioner Siim Kallas.

In fact, most of these gains have been made by parties that weren’t part of the ALDE group in 2014 or didn’t even exist at the point. The two examples cited before, as well as the Czech ANO party are prime examples. Is the return of ALDE down to a successful recruitment strategy?

Being open to new parties is certainly very important to us. But these parties have to be liberal to their core. We aren’t like the Christian Democrats that let all interested comers in. And we mustn’t forget that in the case of Nowoczesna, they approached us.

We try to help these parties organise and campaign successfully in their respective member states. As party president of ALDE, it is my part of my programme that the successful older parties like the VVD and D66 liaise with our newer members. But, ultimately, it is up to the parties themselves to do well at home.

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Traditionally, ALDE was strongest in the rich north and west of the EU. But your newer members are mostly from the net recipients of the south and east. Is the character of the party changing?

New party members obviously have an influence on the group, that’s normal. But I see no important difference between net contributors and net recipients.

For example, Nowoczesna and VVD have the same views on the European Union, while Ciudadanos have more federalist leanings. Generally, our member parties from Central and Eastern Europe want to give less sovereignty to Brussels.

This doesn’t really matter to ALDE. When it comes to practical cooperation on things like human rights, citizen rights, free market economy, we broadly share the same views. And Guy Verhofstadt, the group leader, and I have different ideas about what the Europe of 50 years’ time should look like. But we agree what the Europe of tomorrow should look like.

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If European elections were to be held today, all pro-integration parties would suffer losses. Except for ALDE. Why are the liberals immune to the crisis being felt by pro-Europeans?

I am of course not going to be able to be objective when it comes to this question. but we have always managed to be pragmatic, we are transparent and we are open. Controversial subjects can easily be broached. Guy Verhofstadt and I have had very intense clashes about the euro crisis. The group even brings together parties that are competing at national level, like the VVD and D66 in the Netherlands or Venstre and the Venstre radicals in Denmark. This culture of debate means that anyone can argue their opinion, which makes us a more open and stronger in ideological terms. Of course, we are also a freedom and progress party, which speaks to people today.

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What are your goals from the 2019 elections?

I think we can achieve about a hundred seats in 2019. And we have to reclaim third place. Further down the line, we should go after first or second place. It’s happening in the Netherlands now, if you told me twenty years ago that the VVD would rise to be the strongest party, I wouldn’t have thought it realistic, but here we are!

Further Reading

Bütikofer: Green parties 'are not so limited in our reach as we once were!'

Pan-European polls do not paint a pleasant picture for the continent's green parties: if elections were to be held today, they would only win a quarter of the 50 seats they currently hold in the European Parliament. EURACTIV.de spoke with European Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer about the issue.