23 Dec, 2021

175 years of Belgian liberalism

The Belgian liberal parties Mouvement Réformateur (MR) and Open Vld are celebrating their 175th anniversary this year. In this interview, party leaders Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) and Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) give an insight into the history and future of one of the oldest political parties in continental Europe. 175 years on, they continue to fight for the liberal cause with the same enthusiasm and passion as ever!

This interview was originally published in the ALDE Party Liberal Bulletin in December 2021.

Georges-Louis Bouchez, Egbert Lachaert, what does 175 years of liberalism mean for Belgium?

GLB: First of all, it’s important to stress that liberals played a decisive role in the creation of the Belgian State and in the evolution that made our country prosperous: our Constitution from 1830 was widely regarded as ‘the most liberal in the world’ at the time and, on the eve of the First World War, Belgium was the fifth industrial power in the world. This situation is the result of the historical battles that liberals have fought to achieve freedom and progress.

EL: In the 19th century, it was liberals who founded the Belgian National Bank and the Crédit Communal and who heavily invested in infrastructure, such as railways. These steps made our country a major industrial player. In the 20th and 21st centuries, we have never stopped fighting for free enterprise, low taxes and easy access to the labour market, all of which form the foundation of a prosperous economy.

Now, 175 years after the birth of the Belgian liberal movement, we can also proudly say that we are the ones who freed our education system from the influence of the church. We have always fought against fascism, extremism, and populism, and were one of the key contributors to our modern social security in Belgium.

And what does this fight for freedoms mean to you?

GLB: These liberal battles for the freedom of conscience, of expression, of association, of education, of religion, of sexual orientation, of enterprise as well as political freedom, free trade and the freedom to die with dignity are all battles that have led to the expansion of individual freedoms for citizens in Belgium and abroad.

EL: Yes, as liberals we can be proud of this heritage. But we cannot stop here. Today, more than ever, we continue to fight to reduce the tax burden on the middle and working classes, thus rewarding work more. The institutions of our complex, federal country must also be enhanced. We liberals believe in merit, social mobility, and are strong advocates of equal opportunity and fair access to the labour market.

What about the European Union, how important is it for Belgian liberals?

GLB: The EU was an old liberal dream, and liberals were at the heart of its creation. The EU is first and foremost the realisation of a set of values and a common heritage, fully enshrined in our liberal thinking. Guaranteeing peace and prosperity, the EU is an important safeguard against the attacks on the rule of law.

EL: Liberals want to be the driving force for a new European dynamism! We want a European economy that is open to the world and that provides growth opportunities to all sectors.

As for the challenges that we face today, we believe in the need for a strong EU industrial policy. We want a global industrial strategy with a clear action plan. Such a policy is key for implementing the EU’s new growth and job strategy as well as the Green Deal. We must also make the EU more resilient when faced with future crises.

GLB: Europe is also the right level to set exciting objectives for our youth. It is our duty to pass on a liveable planet to future generations. However, we are faced with an environmental challenge that requires not only mobilising all Europeans but also the determination of young people, who must be given the tools to transform their enthusiasm and vision into action, with energy and intelligence.

Linked to this, we need to focus on creating economic growth by putting full emphasis on science and technological innovations such as sustainable energy production, more efficient agriculture and zero emission transport. Technology is evolving rapidly, and it is only by investing in it that we will be able to tackle our present challenges. Forward-looking research and development and innovation policies will play a key role in enabling the EU and its Member States to make the most out of the green transition. And we shouldn’t forget the importance of ambitious and inspiring European projects!

You can follow MR party leader, Georges-Louis Bouchez, in Twitter here.

You can also follow Open Vld party leader, Egbert Lachaert, in Twitter here.

‘Our member parties have the floor’ is a regular series in which we give the opportunity to ALDE members across Europe to share their perspectives. If you have suggestions on which member parties you would like to see featured next, please contact us at [email protected]

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