17 Dec, 2020

Liberal solutions in the time of COVID-19

Challenging times call for new solutions, transparent governance and the use of technology, Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, the leader of Icelandic ALDE Party member Viðreisn, writes in this op-ed, encouraging liberal parties across Europe to try new ideas and raise their voices for a better tomorrow.

This op-ed was originally published in the ALDE Party Liberal Bulletin in November 2020.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll in Iceland as well as the rest of the world. Everything changed in a matter of days: our habits and norms, and even our perception of human rights and personal liberties. In Iceland, we agreed as a community to follow the instructions of public health authorities, which were at times very strict and disruptive to people’s daily lives. We did so because the threat of the virus is real and frightening and because in these trying times, solidarity matters. But it is a fine path to tread. When a government grants unelected officials the power to restrict legal rights, we have laid the groundwork for decision-making without accountability, which will eventually lead to weakened democracies.

Viðreisn and other opposition parties of the Icelandic Parliament have repeatedly invited the ruling coalition to have an open and transparent discussion about their COVID-19 measures to better understand what lies behind the decisions and what vision they have for the post-COVID restoration of the country. We believe this to be the liberal way of governing and also believe that Icelandic families and businesses need further clarity on the path forward, including on possible future restrictions, so that they can base their own plans on these.

Now is the time for liberal parties across Europe to raise their voices as never before. This environment of disruptions and restrictions, and of general concern, creates a fertile soil for populist movements to further their agenda throughout the continent. This is a liberal wake-up call to stand up and protect the values on which our societies are built. Not nationalism and conservatism, but compassion, hope and freedom.

All these challenges can also create opportunities for the liberal family. We can use the online solutions that have rapidly become more accessible to reach out to and engage with voters. For example, when the virus first hit Iceland, the board of Viðreisn decided to postpone the party congress. Last month, a week before the rescheduled event, the virus hit again just as hard as the first time! But you cannot postpone the democratic workings of a liberal party indefinitely and we do not know when large gatherings will be safe again. So, with a week’s notice we moved the entire convention online. The result: The largest party congress in our history and even more people watching our online stream.

We broadcasted a three-hour live event, with pre-prepared and live segments, live music and online voting. In the fewest words possible, the event was a success. As it turns out, the digital format was more accessible to people living in different parts of the country, more accessible to people with physical restrictions and more accessible to people with inflexible work conditions.

The most well-received event was a live Q&A with our MPs, which will from now on be held monthly, hopefully outliving the current era of restrictions. By thinking outside the box, we were able to ensure ongoing democracy within our party. Meanwhile, the old conservative parties continue to postpone their own conventions and keep weakening their political mandate.

Challenging times call for new and creative solutions, open and transparent governance, and the application of technological tools. Even though our lives have changed, hopefully only temporarily, it does not mean that we should postpone the progress we are fighting for. Liberal, international and modern political parties across Europe need to pave the way for new technologies to connect with voters and strengthen valuable partnerships across borders, through pan-European coalitions such as the ALDE Party. I surely miss meeting people, travelling and making new connections but while the current situation goes on, we must dare to be different. We must be bold but first and foremost provide hope for a liberal future.

Because it is much needed – for liberal values and for democracy, now more than ever.

You can follow Viðreisn on Twitter by clicking here!

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