Why centrists in European Parliament are prepared to drop the term ‘liberal’

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE group during a party conference in November 2018. EPA-EFE/FERNANDO VILLAR

The incoming centrist group in the European Parliament should no longer be calling itself “liberal”. This could also lead to the group leaning more towards the left. EURACTIV France reports.

This is petty turf politics, but not only that. Dropping the term “liberal” in the name of the incoming centrist group in the European Parliament is a precondition for rallying elected Macronists.

The current president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) group, Guy Verhofstadt, acknowledged this in an interview with Le Figaro last week. “It is possible that the term liberal may no longer appear in the name that will be given to the new group,” he said.

This requirement of the French is not just vanity. In France, but also in southern Europe, where the new group hopes to strike alliances with more leftist parties, liberalism is getting bad press. In French and in southern European languages, the term actually has an economic connotation.

Moral value in the North, economic value in the South

The European institutions are often accused of being “ultra-liberal”, and of sacrificing social developments in favour of the market economy. The Maastricht Treaty and the rule that the public deficit must not exceed 3% of the GDP, are demonised.

Even if France rarely meets these criteria, they are accused of all evils. Similarly, the French have little interest in free trade agreements. And the granting of financial assistance and tax breaks following the ‘yellow vest’ crisis highlights that Macronists also favour state intervention.

But getting this accepted by current members of the group remains quite delicate because the term “liberal” is so deeply ingrained for some of them. Especially in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where the term does not have the same meaning as in French, because it refers to democratic values and free trade.

Defenders of the term argue that liberalism is a clear programme capable of facing “illiberalism” advocated in Eastern doctrine, particularly in Hungary where Viktor Orban speaks of “illiberal democracy”. An oxymoron, since democracy by its very nature, carries within it the values of liberalism, and in particular individual freedom.

Extending the group towards the left

The abandonment of the term ‘liberal’ also aims to soften more left-wing Europeans who have been seduced by Macron. Because if the centrist group looks for allies on the right in France, in Europe, they have clearer affinities with the left, especially with the Italian democrats.

La Republique en Marche (LREM)’s Secretary-General Stanislas Guerini attended a meeting on Sunday with the Italian Democratic Party, a long-standing member of the S&D Group in the European Parliament.

“We have two weeks left to convince ourselves that voting for progressive lists across Europe is about enabling the EU to rise to this century’s challenges and to revive its project. We have two weeks to win France, Italy and Europe!” the elected official, who is close to Macron, said in Turin.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa also supported Macron’s Renaissance on Saturday.

This did not prevent him from applauding Frans Timmermans, the socialist candidate, the following day.

Both Italian and Portuguese parties, therefore, seem more open to collaborating or even forming a coalition, rather than to the idea of actually joining the new centrist group.

The German Greens are also among the targets of the progressive alliance and are set to have more than 20 elected members in the European Parliament. They are also in the spotlight.

Macron’s Renaissance seeks allies with French right and European left 

For the time being, Macron’s Renaissance has not convinced right-wing personalities to support them outside of France.

In addition to Alain Lamassoure, a second outgoing MEP, Françoise Grossetête, Vice-President of the European People’s Party (EPP), has indicated her support for Renaissance.

This actually angered Arnaud Danjean, number three on the list of French right-wing party Les Républicains (LR), who asked her on Twitter if she was planning to give up her position as EPP vice-president for the last three weeks of her mandate.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

EXCLUSIVE: Macron's Renaissance to reveal allies in Strasbourg

Eight European parties will meet up with Macron’s Renaissance party tomorrow (11 May 2019) in Strasbourg. For allies of France’s leading party in the European Parliament, the wait is over and they can now form a group of 100 centrists. EURACTIV France reports.

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