The Conference on the Future of Europe should not be a PR exercise but a genuine people’s convention to deliberate all the tough issues we face together and to hear what citizens expect from Europe, argues Hans van Baalen.
Hans van Baalen is the president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party and a former member of the European Parliament.
This Friday (26 March), the ALDE Party turns 45 years – and what a four and a half decades it has been! We have achieved so much in so little time.
Our story began in Stuttgart in 1976 when liberals from all over Europe joined forces and agreed on a joint declaration of our fundamental values and where we wanted our continent to go. Only three years into our journey, we landed our first major political win when Simone Veil became the first President of the first directly elected European Parliament.
At seventeen, we become a political party and at thirty-five we launched a new venture for European citizens to enable them to become individual members of our party, remaining to this day the only European political party to do so.
At forty-three we could celebrate a historic victory in the 2019 European Parliament elections that enable us, every day, to deliver on our European liberal agenda, fighting for fundamental rights and rule of law, strengthening the digital single market, and fostering the green transition to create tomorrow’s jobs and economic growth.
Today, we are facing many challenges, most of all to find our way out of the COVID-19 health crisis. Much more also remains to be done to further build out Europe’s democracy.
The Conference on the Future of Europe will be an important opportunity to hear from the citizens what they expect from Europe.
As the ALDE Party, we will work with our member parties and individual members to make sure the liberal voice is heard and to provide the bridge between the European and national level. We need to turn the conference into a genuine people’s convention to deliberate all the tough issues that we face together.
First and foremost, how we manage the next pandemic. Despite some positives such as the Next Generation EU economic recovery package, we have not been able to deliver an effective coordinated European response to manage and find a way out of the COVID-19 crisis.
When the next crisis hits, we must ensure a more efficient cooperation to prevent supply chain disruptions, ensure solidarity, provide for faster fiscal responses, and safeguard free movement to the greatest extent possible.
We must resist any temptation to turn to vaccine nationalism and at the same time learn to be more assertive in our contractual dealings with pharma companies.
Looking beyond our most pressing concern, we need to unpack the climate question. The ALDE party supports the ambition for Europe to be climate neutral by 2050. We need concrete solutions to enable this transition in a way that simultaneously creates jobs and generates growth.
We have the know-how in Europe to achieve this if we stay pragmatic and open to discuss all possible avenues.
For instance, to have discussions on the right energy mix in which nuclear is not a taboo. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than fighting over who will commit to the highest target without any clear roadmap to get there.
We also need to recognise that immigration and asylum remains a key concern in our countries. It has become the third rail in Brussels politics, but this should not stop us from deliberating this with our citizens.
Integration is the key to successful and sustainable immigration, a competence that rests with the member states, but we need a more effective Common European Asylum System to improve the responsibility sharing and safeguard fundamental standards.
Europe, of course, faces many other challenges, around digital, trade and the respect for human rights, as China’s blacklisting this week has amply demonstrated. The ALDE Party will work with our member parties to engage on all those issues and to make sure the Conference on the Future of Europe becomes a genuine people’s convention – let’s move forward together.