'The genius of the European idea is that it knows no bounds'

10/11/2012
ALDE Party President Sir Graham Watson MEP
ALDE Party President Sir Graham Watson MEP

Speaking on Saturday 10 November at the closing of the Congress in Dublin, ALDE Party President Sir Graham Watson MEP stated: "The great tribes of Europe are more inventive together than apart. If people persist in harking back to independent nations, it is partly because we have not engaged them enough in the day to day business of Europe. A Liberal society can only be governed with the comprehension and consent of the citizen."


The full speech by Sir Graham Watson MEP, President of the ALDE Party

Closing Session of ELDR Congress
Dublin, 10th November 2012

Friends, we've had a tough year for Europe.  But we Liberals have been in the thick of it. Olli Rehn, working day and night to save the Euro. Nick Clegg and Philipp Roesler, trying to keep our major economies on track. Mark Rutte's VVD and Alexander Pechthold's D66, fighting forcefully to see off the hate-filled hordes of Geert Wilders.

And what a result in The Netherlands! A stronger Liberal government and a stronger Liberal opposition! Only Liberals can do that.

We've had a tough year worldwide. Continuing conflict in the Near East, tensions in Turkey, retrogression in Russia. But to know how far the European spirit has spread, look back to last Tuesday. As the American election results rolled in, Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief. Unnoticed, almost surreptitiously, a common view of the world has crept into our citizens' heads. This is part of the genius of Europe.

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Here in Dublin, we've had a good congress. We've done a lot of politics, changed our party’s name, drunk some pints of Guinness and enjoyed a warm Irish welcome to Dublin from our friends in Fianna Fail.

I'd like to thank our hosts, our sponsors, our staff and all of you for a great weekend!

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A conference like this ticks many boxes. Encouraging exchange of views. Crafting common policies. Welcoming new members.

It allows us to evaluate each other's endeavours and to recommit to our common cause.

It wills us to look at where we can do better, such as our work with women; and I welcome the election of Flo Clucas as new chair of our Women's Liberal Network.

Most of all, for me, Conference renews and refreshes my Liberalism.

Talking to delegates here, learning about what we are doing in government makes me proud to be a Liberal.

There is so much I have learned.

How in Denmark we provide the backbone to a weak Socialist led coalition, insisting on budgettary discipline while cutting income tax. And managing moreover a major investment in the green energy switch.

How Liberals in Germany are using their power in government to review the anti-terror laws hurriedly adopted after 9-11.

How in Lithuania we have liberalised the postal service and given universities more freedom.

Liberals in Belgium: balancing the budget by emphasising savings and reforms.

In Estonia where our amazing Andrus Ansip has delivered 7.6% growth and cut debt to just 6% of GDP.

In Sweden we've secured a surplus in the budget and a return to robust growth. We're putting €2 bn into the green energy switch.

In Finland, acting to protect minorities including the indigenous Sami people.

In the UK, Liberals in government have cut income tax for the lower paid, invested in education for the poorest children and set up a Green Investment Bank.

In Moldova, which I visited in August, our Liberal Party ministers working hard to root out corruption in government.

And in Croatia our Member parties have kept the country on track for joining the EU next year, spearheaded by our dynamic vice president Vesna Pusic.

In Catalonia we are getting rid of red tape and making things easier for business, just as we instil budgetary discipline.

In the Czech Republic our Lidem ministers are rooting out corruption and installing a culture of good governance.

So many countries, so much to be said! Liberals in government, working for the good of Europe's people.

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And its not just in national government that Liberals are making the difference.

In Brussels our Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn has installed an innovation union with a venture capital scheme to help innovation.

Androulla Vassiliou has worked to put education, youth and training at the heart of the EU's response to the economic crisis. 130,000 young people have joined job placements abroad.

Neelie Kroes has given us a roaming regulation, protecting mobile phone users from rip off prices.

Cecilia Malmstrom has given us a common Asylum and Migration System, suffused by solidarity and respect for fundamental rights. A Liberal Commissioner working for a Europe which treats people with dignity and respect.

Janez Potocnik has put resource efficiency and green economy objectives into all EU initiatives and has led for us in Rio on biodiversity.

Siim Kallas has steered through a Transport white paper and the Connecting Europe Facility.

Karel De Gucht has revised preferences for developing countries and given us a better Liberal balance between trade, development and human rights.

Olli Rehn I've already mentioned, laying the building blocks for sustainable growth.

Eight Liberal members of the European Commission. Eight campaigners for a Liberal Europe. Eight candidates for a hall of Liberal fame.

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As our MEPs are right to point out, more and more of the decision making in Europe is done in the European Council and the European Parliament. The deals struck between Council and Parliament are those which carry sway. So ELDR brings together our prime ministers before each European Summit; and in Parliament our ALDE Group plays a vital role.

Nobody can neglect the impact of 85 MEPs in the ALDE Group. In many decisions we are the drivers. Liberals have won the political battle in Parliament about a single seat. We've insisted on a woman on the board of the Central Bank. We scored a major Liberal victory on the six pack automatic RQMV.

Of course, you all understand the six-pack automatic RQMV?  I hope you do. It's important. And as Mark Twain said of Wagner's music, it's not as bad as it sounds. Andrew Duff can explain it all!

The point that I make is that our MEPs are working damn hard and doing a fine job. And Guy Verhofstadt, with experience of both Council and Parliament, leads our Group with breathtaking bravery. Guy, I commend you for your courage.

And because our MEPs are important I want to see regular meetings between Liberal Democrat MEPs and Liberal Democrat ministers before Council of Ministers meetings in each sectoral Council. Networking is the name of the game.

The same is true of COSAC, the specialised committee of national MPs overseeing EU business.

And we need a better bringing together of Liberals from all our parliamentary groups, the Council of Europe and Committee of the Regions included. We almost need an annual summit of Liberals with parliamentary mandates. But before we do, let’s try to get more of them here.

We need this coordination, because Liberals are there, helping to make Europe work.

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When people tell me that Europe does not work, I tell them how little they know. The genius of the European idea - the most significant idea to emerge from Europe in the last hundred years - is that it knows no bounds. The great tribes of Europe are more inventive together than apart.

If people persist in harking back to independent nations, it is partly because we have not engaged them enough in the day to day business of Europe. Too often we've allowed a specialist elite to run Europe. The Russians call them the nomenclatura, the Chinese the mandarins. They use expressions like six-pack automatic RQMV. And it confounds confidence in Europe just as in other empires. A Liberal society can only be governed with the comprehension and consent of the citizen.

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And look what a The Liberal Society has given us! Efficient capital markets. The Rule of Law.  Openness to new ideas. These three essentials are the building blocks for Liberal success. So we must regulate financial markets, but not strangle them, as some social democrats would. We must welcome new ideas, not resist progress in science, as the Greens often do. We must insist on the rule of law. Not turn a blind eye to illegality, like the European People's Party.

Friends, the European People's Party it was which supported Saakashvili to the end. Despite the corruption eating away his country. Despite the arrogance of his approach. Despite the beatings of opposition party workers and the sickening film footage of torture in the country's gaols.

I warned them that with Saakashvili they were on a slippery slope. They've ended up on their backsides!

But the left offered no other way for the people of Georgia. No vision, no ideas, no ideological maps for their terrain. That's why the Free Democrats have joined us this week, just as will many other parties from many other countries fighting populist arrogance and corruption.

Irakli Alassania, we welcome your party. The voters in tiny Tbilisi have sent a signal about our civilisation. No return to the past!

No return to rule and to rulers rife with the rotten stench of corruption.

No going back to elections rigged by rogues.

No return to the physical abuse of the people in our prisons.

Fellow Liberals, this too is the genius of Europe. Policing each other. Common standards, overseen by all. Countries playing by the rules, not playing with the rules. Whether it is Greece's budget, Hungary's judicial system, Georgia's governing elite. And this is what Liberals ensure for Europeans!

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I salute here the presence of Hans van Baalen, who spoke yesterday. Hans does a great job as President of Liberal International. And some of the work he does is to offer to others the European experience. Because freedom is just as important to an African or an Asian as to a white Caucasian.

Europe is no longer the world's economic powerhouse. Developments in Calcutta or Cairo or Cape Town or Caracas no longer depend on the dispositions of London or Paris or Madrid. But where we once thought of power we can now think of responsibility. As we grapple with globalisation we can do a lot of good. Together, united, we can brand Europe as a benchmark for the way we manage our affairs.

We can help practically too. In a hospital bed in Birmingham a 14 year old from Pakistan can know that her Liberal vision is not in vain.

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I want to thank my fellow Bureau members, current and outgoing. I want to welcome Ramona Manescu to our team. I want to thank our new Secretary General Jacob Moroza-Rasmussen and his headquarters team for a great event. And to salute our friends in Fianna Fail for their fabulous friendship.

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I would like to thank you for sharing with me this Congress. I once made the mistake of asking a mountain climber why mountaineers tie themselves together with ropes. He told me that if they did not, the intelligent ones would go home. Fellow delegates, we are roped together like mountain climbers in the ascent of a mountain of mind-boggling measure. We will only achieve it together.