December 23, 2019

ALDE Party Congress Athens 2019

25 October 2019

Iskra Mihaylova
Iskra Mihaylova
Member of the European Parliament
Member of Management Board of Liberal Integration Foundation

Athens, the capital of Greece, is hosting the annual congress of ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The delegates include more than a thousand representatives of different liberal democratic parties from all over Europe. This is an immensely diverse and uplifting group of people, all coming from different backgrounds but sharing a common feeling of confidence as 21st-century citizens, all armed with computers, iPads, and smart phones, yet aspiring to devote these days to face-to-face interaction which will enrich and inspire their lives, and fire them with new enthusiasm. 

Among the attendees are members of the European Parliament, of different national parliaments, of the European Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, European Commissioners, ministers, party leadership representatives, party HQ administrators, youth leaders and very young and enthusiastic NGO activists.  

There are people passionate about climate change and about the future of our planet, and there are people who have chosen to devote their time and energy to the protection of human rights in any part of the world, irrespective of whether it is the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, intellectuals repressed for their beliefs, or communities with non-traditional sexual orientation. There are strong supporters of the digitization of the modern society and economy, there are people who are deeply concerned with the fate of the refugees in Europe, and there are those who work to ensure that the migrants will be better welcomed by the more traditional social communities of the European countries. The supremacy of the law is a core and much cherished value for each and every one of them. There are economists and representatives of the business world who have already started implementing the principles of the circular green and blue economy. It is hugely impressive how many young people are among these congress delegates.

All of them share a common belief that it is precisely the liberal values that can help people overcome their challenges and that it is precisely the liberal parties and governments that are capable of finding and implementing the solutions to the multitude of issues which Europe is facing.  

There is one more thing that brings these people together: their commitment to the idea of a united Europe and their unshakeable faith in the abundance of the possibilities in front of the European Union. This is not a blind belief or some misguided ideological loyalty. This is a free-spirited personal point of view and interpretation of how united Europe will continue developing with the help of each and every EU citizen through the platforms of dozens of parties.  

On October 25 there was a session of the Party Council during which it adopted a list of new members – new parties that acknowledge and accept the ALDE family as their own.  

Later, in the early afternoon, was the official opening of the congress. Among the delegates were representatives of the Bulgarian liberal party Movement for Rights and Freedoms. We, as delegates of Bulgaria and the MRF, felt very comfortable in that setting. We were among like-minded people; we wanted to share our views in the discussions and to contribute to the decisions that were about to be made.

25 October 2019, Sofia  

At the same time, Bulgaria was in the final hours of the election campaign for the local elections for municipal, local, and regional mayors, and municipal council members. Elections in which some of the mayor candidates voiced their positions loud and clear – There will be no place for anyone who is different! And – people from this ethnic group will not get access to government jobs under my watch! And – this group of people has no right to vote because it is of such and such ethnic origin, or because they have no education. Not a word was said the prevention of climate change, about digital services, or the protection of the human rights of EU citizens. Discussions of refugees and migrants were a taboo for fear that the citizens of European Bulgaria might ask what the candidate thought about them. Two ambitious women competing for the mayor’s chair in the capital were quarrelling over whether the municipality would go bankrupt, if it took even the most basic steps toward improving the quality of the air in the city. Both of them were more concerned about the budget than the air. The voters listened with a non-committal look, trying to recall the last time the streets of this city had been cleaned. It was not an easy task. A young candidate running for mayor bravely posed the question about the separate collection of waste. He’s young. He doesn’t know that the entire state and local administration were about to pounce on him. However, not even that candidate made mention of the circular economy. Well, he would never be elected anyway.  

The MRF candidates talked about open government, about the participation of active citizens in the governance, about clean air, water, and food, about the advanced development of the country to which the local authorities are contributors as well. And voters understood them, liked them and trusted them. MRF ran its campaign with confidence and presented its plan and vision for the development of each municipality within the context of the development of the country and of Europe as a whole.    

And back to Athens, 25 October 2019

ALDE held the Congress with conviction and an ambitious agenda for the dynamic changes in the European Union.  

The motto of the congress was Mission Possible. A Renaissance of Liberalism. The official opening ceremony included only a few selected and very captivating speakers. There was no risk of anyone getting bored. The messages were clear, loud and focused entirely on the citizens of the European Union. They were also engaging and inspiring, down-to-earth and accessible.

Energy is what makes a party strong.  

If it has enough energy, it is capable of bringing change. And where there is change, there is also progress. This was the lesson from the latest European Parliament elections. The liberal parties, their messages and programmes are getting more and more support. However, the expectations also rise. The EU citizens feel well in the European Union, but they also expect it to develop and change. Its institutions are expected to get closer to the citizen, its policies should become clearer, and the dialogue should be open and continuous. For the modern Europeans, it is not enough to participate actively in the elections: they need to take part in the decision-making processes and the law-making procedures. These citizens are aware of their right to control the work of the EU institutions, of the national parliaments and governments, and of the local authorities. The ALDE Party Congress invites all national liberal parties to work toward such a dialogue.

The era of anti-liberalism is over.  

It is now time for the Renaissance of Liberalism, of a modern, technologically and environmentally engaged liberalism for a competitive, free, prosperous, and leading United Europe. The liberal parties are winning at democratic elections and gaining more and more support which helps them get actively engaged in European governance. This was the clear message of the ALDE Congress. There are examples galore – from the newly-elected Mayor of Budapest (Viktor Orban will likely remember that he started his political career as a liberal?), through the string of liberal governments and coalitions in Europe (the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Czech Republic, …) to the large number of key commissioners in the new European Commission and the President of the EU Council. It is precisely the liberal governments that are taking practical steps toward the implementation of policies which are widely discussed, but unfortunately, not always put into practice. Luxembourg, for example, plans to make public transport free for all citizens as of 2020. Not because it wants to build a communist state, but simply because it wants to limit the driving of personal motor vehicles and thus reduce the harmful emissions of gas and carbon dioxide.  

Remember the candidates for mayors of Sofia?  

And the streets which have not been cleaned for who knows how long?

It is again the liberal governments in Europe that propose solutions to the issue of how to have a career and raise children at the same time. Their freedom to choose must and can be guaranteed. By implementing some social measures and guaranteeing gender equality, by introducing digitization and various new technologies across all sectors of the economy, by modernizing the traditional concept of the workplace, working hours, and social rights.

Politicians must not judge, they must respect.

This is the request of the ALDE Congress to all EU parties. Respect for the person is at the heart of the successful policy of the EU liberals. If we can rethink each common policy through the prism of respect for the citizens, we will make new sense of these policies; we will bring them closer to the people and will infuse them with the energy which leads to change and progress. This message is a long way from the superficial behaviour of nationalists and populists. The hard thing is to respect: it is much easier to reject something because you don’t know anything about it or because you don’t understand it; to deny because you think you don’t need to change; to try to ban something only because you refuse to accept that it may be different from you. The EU liberals are choosing the more difficult but ultimately more dignified road of respect. And they elevate it into a criterion of success.  

Let’s appreciate the achievements of united Europe – peace, embracing our differences, solidarity whereby you not only take, but you also give, free movement of goods and people, roaming services, visas, quality of water and food, environmental standards, freedom of speech and religious denomination, free entrepreneurship and competition, supremacy of the law.  This, too, was what the ALDE Congress called for.  

The freedom to be what you were born to be, even if this means to be different from others, is one of EU’s core values which generations of politicians and citizens fought for and built on top of the ruins of post-war Europe. Only 75 years ago it was so unthinkably dangerous to be different in Europe. This freedom must be protected, safeguarded, and manifested. That, too, was what the ALDE Congress spoke of.  

Europe, as a big family where each member is feeling fine but is also seeking to protect their right to participate and make decisions; where each member expects gifts on special occasions, and wants to share their plans, their disappointments, and their successes. The diversity of this family is what makes it strong; the differences of the EU give it its strength. And make it prosperous.

Innovations, digitization, sustainability, green growth, blue economy. For the ALDE Congress these are not only commonly used words. These are the definitions of the dynamic development of Europe. They require that united Europe should be governed in a whole new way.  

You can’t govern and develop an entire continent – the continent which is the best place to live on the planet Earth – using principles, tools and solutions suitable for the 1950s. ALDE proposes solutions worthy of the 21stcentury.

On 26 October 2019 the ALDE Congress appointed as one of the deputy chairs of its party the Bulgarian EP member Ilhan Kyuchuk from MRF who was elected with majority of the votes. 

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms accepts the challenge.

The mission is indeed possible, after all.