“Germany has enormous potential” for anti-Lisbon Treaty party Libertas in this June’s European elections, its controversial chairman Declan Ganley told EURACTIV in an interview.
Declan Ganley is the founding chairman of the anti-Lisbon Treaty movement Libertas, which aims to run a pan-European campaign in the European elections next June.
Libertas’s status as a pan-European party is currently suspended. Are you still confident your party will receive the European Parliament’s approval following the turmoil of recent weeks? Will you come to Brussels to make your case?
Let me make something very clear. We went to collect signatures in order to register as a pan-European party. We followed their rules. We have done our utmost to comply with their requirements.
I don’t need their approval, and frankly I don’t care if they give us their approval or not, because I’m not looking for their blessing. The only blessing and approval we’re interested in is that of the electorate. We’re going to be running candidates one way or another.
We were told months ago that people in Brussels had been told to look for any excuse not to register us – they couldn’t find one.
While we appreciate our signators, they are very, very far from representing Libertas. Many of the people on that first list are not even people who will be running for Libertas, but rather they were supporting the democratic process. We have sufficient numbers of signators and we’ve told the [Parliament] bureaucracy that we have.
What happened here is political sleight of hand. First of all, statements came out saying these people had not signed anything. We destroyed that lie immediately by proving that they did. Then these people in Brussels changed their story, saying they [Grazin and Hristov] hadn’t known what they were signing.
Let me tell you what happened. The Parliament went to these guys, who they consider to be the weakest links [of the seven signators] and leaned on them, forcing them to change their minds. We subsequently asked them to clarify their position, asking whether they were going to withdraw or not, and they did so a couple of days ago.
It won’t change a single thing – we are coming to Brussels, whether they like it or not.
Can you confirm you are going to run in the European elections in Ireland?
No, I can’t. Again, this is something that these politicians don’t get. They cannot understand the motivations of people who do not put themselves first, which is a prerequisite of public service.
What these people would like is for Libertas to run a disjointed campaign, putting up flaky candidates. They’re going to be sorely disappointed by the calibre of candidates that Libertas is putting forward.
We will reveal that list in our own good time, not when [Graham] Watson and co. want us to do it. We’ll give Mr. Watson a good run for his money for his seat – perhaps, if we decide to do so – when the time is right.
Declan Ganley’s candidacy is not the priority issue here. The most important thing is that we offer the people of Europe pro-European candidates who will be able to show up Euroscepticism for what it is and deliver a strong, credible pro-European message.
You say Libertas is an anti-Lisbon, yet pro-European party. What are your main policy issues apart from opposition to the Lisbon Treaty?
We’re going to be publishing a detailed policy document in March which will lay out our policies in a very wide range of areas. The issue of democracy is not some small thing – it’s huge, it’s central, it’s pivotal.
That, and this economy: come June, we are facing an economic hurricane across Europe, and people are slowly starting to realise that the very policies and leaders that have got us into this economic mess – which is only going to get worse – are the same leaders who are telling voters that this anti-democratic constitution is something that’s good for them.
Stimulating Europe to be the predominant economic leader in the world, second only to nobody, is not going to come by chucking good money after bad, or flogging the taxpayers until they can’t breathe anymore.
It seems likely that the ‘economic hurricane’ will overshadow all other issues in this year’s European elections. Does Libertas have a specific economic platform?
Very much so. I wouldn’t disagree with you that Lisbon isn’t going to be the only issue, but it is going to be big. People may not be worried about Lisbon right now because they don’t know what its effects are and what’s in it. Only the Irish had a rip-roaring debate on it. The fact is that we exposed the treaty for the abomination that it is.
But besides Lisbon, what is Libertas’s economic platform?
The leaders of Europe failed to recognise that the engine of job creation and growth, of a new European renaissance, is not banks, but the ability to stimulate people to take a bit of risk, to go out and start more small and medium-sized businesses of their own.
We have to create an environment where people are prepared and encouraged to take those risks. That’s where Europe’s economic recovery is going to come from. More medium-sized businesses across Europe will create more new jobs than any other sector in business. It’s where innovation and the true genius of European creativity resides. That’s where we need to shift our policy focus, and that is something you will hear Libertas talking about in the months to come.
Let’s talk about candidates. The majority of politicians that signed Libertas’s pan-European party status application are strongly eurosceptic. Will Libertas candidates follow a similar line?
I don’t think so. I think we’ll find – and that’s not to take away from those signatories who were very generous to facilitate the democratic process – a very broad-based, moderate block of candidates putting their names forward for Libertas. Some of them will be politicians, many will not be. Many will be people who have well-established track records in other sectors, such as business and academia. Some will be ‘young blood’: people who have the energy and dynamism to inject real life into Libertas’s very demanding agenda.
Can you name any candidates at this stage?
No. When we do, it will be with a little more fanfare than in an interview.
Can you at least tell us in which countries you have found capable candidates?
In all of them, is the short answer. Where and what we do has yet to be finally determined. Germany has enormous potential for Libertas. Here is a place with the largest number of seats in the European Parliament, which doesn’t have one single party that raises serious questions about the anti-democratic disposition of the current EU institutions.
It’s a very interesting political environment; almost like Ireland, where all the parties are singing from the same hymn sheet, and any shade of opinion that questions the line from Brussels doesn’t exist. There’s no debate.
In Germany, there is a majority sentiment which worries about the direction the EU has been taken, and I think German voters are hugely sensitive to the importance and value of democracy. The types of candidates we’ve been able to get on board with us in Germany, they really get it.
What about funding? You said Libertas would need 75 million euro to mount a successful campaign. Even if you succeed in securing the pan-European party status, that will only bring in 200,000 euro. Can you tell us where the rest is coming from?
Absolutely. One of the things we have done is study the Obama campaign and its approach to fundraising in detail. What we’ve been doing, with some degree of success, is looking to raise small donations but in very large numbers. I expect this will be even more successful when we start turning the heat up for the election campaign.
If you bet five euro on a horse, you tend to watch the race. The key to Libertas’s success is stimulating a high turnout in these elections. We will fail if turnout remains as low as it has been. We would still win some seats, but not large enough numbers to be highly effective.
If turnout is as high as you’re hoping for, what’s the maximum amount of seats you can get? You mentioned the figure of thirty in the past.
We would be setting our sights on a very different number to that.
Higher or lower?
What does it take to be effective? Can we get an average turnout of above 50% for these elections? If we can, the mathematics get very interesting.
We’re not doing this with the intention of getting a small number of seats in the European Parliament. It’s the weakest of the EU institutions, but it’s the only one with democratic legitimacy, and we want a significant number of people in there.
If we can catalyse the debate in Europe, and for this, of course, we need our opponents to have the honesty to come out and debate the issues with us, rather than talk about nonsense, then the people of Europe will make the choice.
You’re on the record as saying that democracy only succeeds if it’s bottom-up, not top-down. Yet it seems that Libertas is a highly top-down organisation, built chiefly around your prominence as a high-profile anti-Lisbon campaigner in Ireland.
That’s not an unfair statement, and we’re changing that. It isn’t about me. Other people want to make it about me, but it isn’t actually. Once we unveil our list of candidates, it should have the effect of changing that.
We have to develop a grassroots. We have to go out and talk to people and get them to know us and a Libertas grass roots will come. Sometimes you have to probe and see what you get.
We are massively encouraged, and I personally am just shocked, at the positive reaction we are getting. The question that keeps coming to my mind is, why did no-one else do this?
If you are so committed to creating a grassroots, and so encouraged by the reaction you are getting on the ground, and so committed to putting forward Libertas’s ideas, surely you want to run as a candidate yourself?
I’d like to, but I’m not ready to make that decision yet, based on the fact that, as I said earlier, this isn’t all about me. It’s more important that I ensure, in my own small way, that we have smart, credible, electable candidates across the European Union. That’s my job, that’s what I’m focusing on, and I am a chap that can focus and get the job done.
If and when the time comes, and I decide I could do a good job, then I will put my name forward. I’m not yet ready to tell you that I’m ready to run. I don’t need this job, and I’ll only do it if I can be effective. That fact distinguishes Libertas candidates from a lot of regular politicians.
If you run, and are elected – presumably as the leader of Libertas – would you put your name forward for European Parliament president?
I can understand that that’s something people would like, and I have to make sure it’s something I think about. Talk to me in a few weeks time.
You often criticise the ‘Brussels elite,’ but among the Brussels elite, many of those who criticise you are elected MEPs with a mandate. Is it not a contradiction that you call them the ‘Brussels elite’ when you have never been elected yourself, and may not even run in this year’s elections?
Well, they’re not the only people we could include in that term. We very much include the Commission in the term ‘Brussels elite,’ and also the lobbyists that have extraordinarily comfortable relationships there in Brussels – many people don’t understand or know about that.
We’re speaking about MEPs who get elected and within weeks, jump on the gravy train and forget about the people who put them there in the first place.
Germany and the Czech Republic are still deliberating the Lisbon Treaty. Czech President Vaclav Klaus is a high-profile Libertas supporter. Will you be disappointed if the Czech Parliament ratifies the treaty in the coming weeks?
It’s a question for the Czech people. I’m not following it very closely, although anything that prevents the Lisbon Treaty from happening is good for the people of Europe.
How confident are you there a second Irish ‘no’ on the Lisbon Treaty? Are you not afraid that Ireland will be isolated or even asked to leave the EU if Irish citizens reject it again?
It has been Irish government policy to isolate Ireland by disgracefully encouraging other people to ratify the treaty. They’ve forgotten who they work for. They are actively working against the sovereign decision of the Irish people.
I think that if there is a second referendum, and I still think it’s an ‘if,’ having not had the mettle or spine to stand up for the decision the people made, and having kowtowed to, among others, the preening prince of the Élysée Palace on this issue, the Irish government will get the same message from the Irish people, in fact even more so.
And you don’t worry that the incidents of the last few weeks may have served to discredit Libertas in the eyes of the Irish people?
Not at all. The Irish press have conducted a campaign to try and hurt Libertas, but in their enthusiasm, they’ve overdone it. They’ve inoculated the people against this nonsense. It beggars belief. And people don’t believe it. I mean, I talk to them, and they don’t believe it.
Finally, describe for us the perfect 2009 for Declan Ganley and Libertas.
That people in multiple member states across the European Union will hear the message of the Libertas candidates who are asking them for a job, for the privilege of serving them in the most dedicated and professional manner, and put a large number of our candidates into the European Parliament.
And then that we do such a good job for them, that by the end of this year, people can look back and say ‘you know what? That was the right decision to make’. And I hope many people, not so much voters but mainly the media, look back and say that yes, Libertas are pro-European, that they are serious in the way they went about this, that they did a great job, and that Europe is all the better for it.