ALDE presents its Team Europe

Europe’s liberal limbo

, by Bastian De Monte

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English] [français]

Europe's liberal limbo
The ALDE campaign kick-off event took place on 21 March 2019 at the Egmont Palace in Brussels. Photo : Flickr - ALDE Party - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Months after the other European parties presented their Spitzenkandidaten – their lead contenders for Commission president – European liberals presented a slate of candidates to head into this year’s elections. At the ALDE campaign kick-off in Brussels, Team Europe was officially endorsed by the delegates. This decision not only represents the diversity of the ALDE group but also reflects how split liberal parties are among themselves.

Europe’s liberals finally decided what other parties had decided months ago: who will lead them into the 2019 elections. At the ALDE campaign kick-off, the party endorsed its Team Europe, composed of liberal heavyweights and aspiring newcomers. Depending on whether Eurosceptics manage to form an overarching group and whether President Macron actually joins forces with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, liberals hope to re-emerge as the third force in the European Parliament. [1]

Team Europe

The team of lead candidates is regionally balanced and comprises five women as well as two men. The most prominent figures are undoubtedly former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament and the institution’s Brexit negotiator, and Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, famous for taking on tech giants Apple and Google. Despite being widely popular in the Brussels bubble, the Dane faces political headwind back home as her centre-left Radikale Venstre is in opposition. Although Prime Minister Rasmussen’s centre-right Venstre is also part of ALDE in the European Parliament, there have been no signs that he would back Vestager for another term.

Another prominent face is former Commissioner Emma Bonino, who has held several government positions, currently serves as senator for Rome, and recently founded euro-federalist Più Europa. It is not the only young party included in the team: the Hungarian Momentum movement sent its co-founder Katalin Cseh, a gynecologist by training, to Brussels. Newer Member States are further represented by Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc of Slovenia, who throws her hat in for former Slovenian Prime Minister Cerar’s Stranka modernega centra (Modern Centre Party).

The biggest share of liberal parliamentarians is expected to come from Germany, Spain, and Czechia. Thus it is no wonder that FDP lead candidate Nicola Beer and economics professor Luis Garicano from Ciudadanos are part of Team Europe. However, a face that is missing is Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová, who will focus on her national campaign.

New alliances and the Macron factor

While neither Più Europa nor Momentum are currently expected to win seats, it can be seen as a sign of encouragement to have them represented in Team Europe. It is an acknowledgment of a new liberal-progressive wave that is sweeping through countries with rather eurosceptic stances. Only last Sunday, Progressive Slovakia’s Zuzana Čaputová gained around 40% of the vote in the first round of the Slovakian presidential elections.

The big question mark on ALDE’s future remains the Macron factor. An alliance with La République En Marche would not only bolster up the parliamentary group by 22 MEPs, it would also strengthen the liberal voice in the European Council, the de facto most powerful EU body. However, the plans of the French President – acting as disruptor of the traditional party system since 2016 – remain blurry. Supposedly awaiting the election results, he might form an entirely new group and offer ALDE, but also other pro-European forces, to join.

Macron recently called for a European Renaissance, which was – despite not agreeing on all points – met with open arms by Poland’s pro-Europe coalition, an alliance formed by parties from all across the spectrum with the single aim to topple the ruling PiS. The new movement Wiosna (Spring) is not onboard. With its progressive agenda, it has at the same time been thought to be a natural ally of Macron, whereas some within ALDE consider it too far to the left.

The same applies to a potential alliance with the social democratic S&D group: Quite some time ago, Macron was already contemplating a cooperation with Italy’s Partito Democratico; French socialists are highly critical of his agenda, however. But a progressive alliance of any kind whatsoever would in turn also mean a litmus test for ALDE. What thus remains certain is one thing: uncertainty.

Quo vadis ergo, liberal Europe?

But despite all this, ALDE – by not installing a single lead candidate – is kneeling before Macron, who is known to oppose the Spitzenkandidaten system. The party was a major proponent of this system back in 2014 when Guy Verhofstadt headed the campaign. Yet, another aspect needs to be factored in: personal vanities. It became evident that Verhofstadt would not make way for popular Commissioner Vestager without further ado, especially considering that she does not have the backing of her home state’s government.

While it can be argued that a slate of candidates reflects the diversity of the ALDE group – spanning from market-liberals over centrists to social-liberals and progressives – and encourages new member parties, the failure to install a single Spitzenkandidat epitomises how liberals are split among themselves, nationally as well as on the EU level: different views on policy priorities but also on the very question which way our Union is heading. Certain ALDE members are ardent federalists, some are wary of anything entailing financial transfers and favour reinforced intergovernmentalism; and Macron is somewhere in-between.

What stays from the campaign kick-off are the memories of a fancy location. With little programmatic impetus, a key element is still missing however: a true liberal vision for Europe.

In compliance with our guidelines for ethical journalism, The New Federalist wants to disclose that the author has attended the ALDE campaign kick-off event as a party member.


[1The ALDE group in the European Parliament is dominated by the eponymous ALDE party but also includes the European Democratic Party and several individual member parties.

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