Thursday, November 19, 2009

What does a Liberal mean in the Europesn Parliament?

I had always thought that many of the national delegations in the ALDE Group made for very uncomfortable bedfellows. A loose coalition of "liberal" interests, some are free-market evangelicals who would make Lady Thatcher blanche. Others are see themselves as socially progressive first and are comfortable with the state taking responsibility for the well-being of more vulnerable citizens - even if it means social engineering and sometimes even state control of certain aspects of the economy. The British Liberal Democrats would fit into the latter camp - tehir Finance Spokesman, Vince Cable had even advocated the nationalisation of the banks following the financial crisis - something even the Centre-Left Labour governmemt could not countenance doing.

There are other ALDE members who would better fit with the free-market right - of course the FDP is the best example of this. The FDP after years of being in theb wilderness has become a minority partner in the German Government. FDP politicians have secured some senior positons in the Merckel Administration - such as Business, Foreign Affairs, Health (watch for spending cuts) and even International Development (which it had wanted to abolish!). It will be interesting to see how the coalition develops. The FDP regard the CDU as pro-big government and in favour of big spending and high taxes - the FDP dismisses the CDU as "socialists who go to church". It will be a difficult coalition I suspect. As a right wing party, the CDU might seem like natural allies but the FDP would never dream of sitting with them in the EPP Group in the European Parliament. Its strange that the FDP fit in so naturally with ALDE but then again the issue of tax and spending is not so big in the European Parliament. The issue of European integration of course is - which is why the pro-internal market FDP could not hook up with the newly formed European Conservatives and Reformists either.

I was at an interesting event yesterday in Brussels with Alexander Graf Lambsdorff the influential German MEP, who as a member of the liberal pro-free market FDP. He said he was happy to work with the ECR on market issues but they rub eachother up the wrong way on integration issues. I'm a big fan of Lambsdorff's political skills. He said that the FDP is very pro-market but it is also highly aware that markets can and do fail. The more I get to know about ALDE the more fascinating I find it - a lose coalition of parties held together only by their championing of the European Union, civil liberties and, less so, the free market. The pro free-market Guy Verhofstadt the Groups new leader and former Belgium PM is a million miles from his predecessor the more progressive Graham Watson

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