On Friday 22 October, Belgian ALDE Party member parties, Open VLD (Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten) and MR (Mouvement Réformateur), invited high profile international guests to celebrate their 175th anniversary.
The evening was kicked off by European Council President Charles Michel and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo who underlined the importance of multilateral cooperation to tackle major challenges that lay ahead.
“During 175 years of liberalism, we have seen unprecedented progress. Together we will continue to work towards a country we can be proud of,” De Croo said.
“We must make righteous choices and face the future without fear. We move forward thanks to freedom, innovation, and responsibility. I am ambitious because we will continue down this path for the next 175 years,” asserted Michel.
Prime Ministers Kaja Kallas (Estonia), Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg) and Mark Rutte (the Netherlands) took the stage and were questioned by the moderators about the importance of the liberal values in Europe and in their home countries.
“When we lost our independence in Estonia, it was because we thought we didn't need it. Then Russia took over. When we regained our independence, the main message was never alone again," Kallas said.
“It's unfortunate that some parties divide people to win votes. Even within the European family, we have to remind some of the significance of human rights,” Bettel noted.
Rutte affirmed:“We must now invest in climate, education and security. That is now our most important task as liberals. Provide enough jobs and enough security so that people can live in freedom!”
During the event, Afghan women's rights activist Razia Arefi gave a moving testimony about freedom and women's rights in Afghanistan. She made a clear appeal:
“Afghanistan is experiencing days which have never been expected. Twenty years of struggle, hopes, dreams and ambitions buried all at a sudden. Let us call on all countries believing in women’s rights, to stand firm with their values and Afghan women.”
This was followed by an interesting exchange of views on the rule of law in the EU, with European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, Katalin Cseh MEP and Thomas Byrne, Irish Minister for European Affairs.
“When it comes to Poland, we want to make sure that the values we proclaim are also put into practice. If you know that a judge is politicized, you cannot have the rule of law,” Reynders said.
“There are countries that use the EU as an ATM. We can debate this extensively, but we can never debate the rule of law. Because that's what our Union is built on," declared Cseh.
“Because of the civil war, we know very well what it means to have a rule of law. It is the rule of law that has helped Ireland grow into the modern economy it is today,” affirmed Byrne.
At the closing of the event, both party leaders Egbert Lachaert (Open Vld) and Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) looked forward to the future of liberalism in Belgium.
“Liberalism is the only ideology that focuses on people's freedom. We believe that tomorrow will be better than today and we dare to lead. That's how we do politics," Lachaert said.
“Without freedom, nothing has meaning or value. It demands constant attention from us. We do not pretend to have the secret of happiness. It’s up to each individual to determine what is good for them and it’s up to us politicians to make sure they find the tools to make it happen,” concluded Bouchez.
You can re-watch the Congress here with speeches of ALDE Party acting Co-Presidents Timmy Dooley and Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP, French President Emmanuel Macron, Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová, ALDE Chairman on the Conference on the Future of Europe Guy Verhofstadt and SAB Party Leader Alenka Bratušek.
J'ai participé à grand congrès anniversaire libéral - 175 ans @MR_officiel. Together with @openvld they can be the driving force of #Belgium and #Europe and I am convinced that the future is bright and liberal. JOYEUX ANNIVERSAIRE! GELUKKIGE VERJAARDAG! 🇧🇪🇪🇺 pic.twitter.com/vYayjHqL9L— Ilhan Kyuchyuk (@ilhankyuchyuk) October 23, 2021
Meer dan 4000 leden van @openvld & @MR_officiel, internationale topsprekers, een terugblik op onze rijke geschiedenis maar vooral een duidelijke toekomstvisie voor de liberalen in België en Europa.— Open Vld (@openvld) October 25, 2021
Dit was ons vieringscongres 👇 pic.twitter.com/POTS9361JQ
🎂 Que dire après un tel congrès d’anniversaire ? Vous étiez plus de 4.500 pour célébrer notre 175ème anniversaire ! 🥳— Georges-L BOUCHEZ (@GLBouchez) October 23, 2021
🗞 https://t.co/2OhCtMP8Tc#PresidenceMR #fierdetreliberal #begov 🇧🇪 pic.twitter.com/hE7M0DWx3G
Photo credit: Georges-Louis Bouchez