On 12 June the second day of the virtual ALDE Party Congress kicked off with two panel sessions that brought together some of Europe’s leading liberals to discuss topical issues, from Europe’s economic recovery and smart spending to strengthening our democracies.
The first panel of the day focused on Europe’s economic recovery and smart spending.
In his opening remarks, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte highlighted the importance of "recover, reform and rethink" and noted: “It is crucial to enable companies to invest and grow over the coming years. Governments, banks and investors need to cooperate to prevent companies from financial collapse just before or after reaching the finish line – including small and medium enterprises.”
Panellists Commissioner Kadri Simson, Belgian State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, ALDE Party Vice President Luis Garicano MEP and MEPs Nicola Beer, Morten Løkkegaard and Stéphane Séjourné contributed to the discussion that looked at this key topic from a range of perspectives.
“We have always been open-minded and ready to test new innovative solutions,” Commissioner Simson said and highlighted: "It would be easy to shy away from the challenges ahead [...] but that is the wrong mind-set."
"Liberals see opportunities in times of adversity," De Bleeker said. "We liberals believe in the power of the civil society, we believe in free markets. We don't have the intention to decide for people what they should do or shouldn't do," she continued.
"It's now the moment to recover the balance. [...] That will require building back civil society, building back community, building back the individual," Garicano underlined.
"We want to invest in common research and innovation; we want to invest in European cross-border infrastructure," Beer said but highlighted this should just be used as a frame to foster further innovation.
"These are different times, we have been undergoing a paradigm shift through this pandemic crisis. We are now looking at and have support for public investment," Løkkegaard said.
"There are lessons to learn from this crisis," Séjourné said.
The closing speech of the panel was delivered by Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland. In his remarks, he underlined the challenges ahead and said: "This is a critical moment, not just for Europe but the world as a whole," and called for both protecting and promoting fundamental values.
"The pandemic has also showed us how much we in the European Union can achieve together," he noted.
The second panel of the day tackled topics related to strengthening our democracies and reinstating our freedoms.
Keynote speeches were delivered by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová.
"Europe has shown that if we put our minds into something, we can get things done," De Croo highlighted, and mentioned the historic Recovery and Resilience fund as one key example.
"I remember the naïve times when we thought that democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law will defend itself, that it will be forever," Jourová said, thinking back at the beginning of her journey at the European Commission. "These values have to be defended and promoted every day and at every front," she continued.
"To take special rules should be an exception in all democracies," Bettel underlined.
The panellists, consisting of Lithuanian Minister of Justice Evelina Dobrovolska, Romanian Secretary of State Alexandru Dimitriu, ALDE Party Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MP and MEPs Katalin Cseh and Sophie in ‘t Veld, reflected on the state of democracy and freedoms at national, European and global levels.
"For me, freedom and democracy are an issue of trust. [...] The pandemic has heavily impacted that trust [...] and now we must build that trust back," Dobrovolska said.
"In 2050, we will be able to look back and say that fundamental rights and democracy have been strengthened by the very degree of damage they suffered during the pandemic," Dimitriu said, reflecting on the current situation with a long-term perspective.
"There is always a balance to strike between liberty and protection," Graf Lambsdorff noted and called for creating European competencies in the field of health as well as for a better balance between national and European levels.
"I would like to argue not only for freedom but also more trust, curiosity; embrace diversity, embrace being different," in ‘t Veld addressed the audience. "Freedom, equality, diversity - they all go together and they make a vibrant society," she said.
"Quite paradoxically, this crisis can give us the strength and energy to breath new life into our democracies," Cseh said but noted that we must first acknowledge how much our democracies have suffered during the pandemic.
In his closing remarks, Commissioner Didier Reynders said:
"Governments need to take the necessary measures to protect public health. But the Commission has insisted from the beginning that responses must respect our fundamental values."
"We have a long road beyond us in terms of fostering coordination among member states to lift barriers to free movement, which is a fundamental right. [...] We need to ensure a safe return to free movement without unnecessary restrictions and with utmost regard to fundamental rights," Reynders concluded.
In case you missed the panel discussions, you can rewatch the sessions on our Youtube channel.