eldrFollowing on from yesterday’s post with Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, outgoing leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES), today’s post is an interview with Sir Graham Watson, the newly elected President of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform party (ELDR). As the name suggests, the ELDR is the liberal party in the European Parliament. Each European political party is comprised of national political parties from across the EU, and Sir Graham Watson is a member of the UK Liberal Democrats.

First up, we’ve had several people calling for a radical “paradigm shift” for Europe (including Rasmussen). Peter, for example, left a comment arguing that what he calls our “obsession with growth” is unsustainable. Is there an unresolvable tension, then, between economic growth and environmental sustainability?

I think there is a tension between growth and sustainability, but it depends how you define growth. We have a rather crazy system where if a person is in a car accident, then the repair of the car and the treatement are counted as economic growth. Clearly, growth has to be sustainable. So, economic growth in a way that will prejudice future generations to live on Earth is clearly not a good thing. On the other hand, trade between countries that drives down prices brings benefits for everybody.

Speaking of “tension”, there’s also a tension within contemporary liberal politics, isn’t there? Between what might be called “economic liberalism” and “social liberalism”? One seems to call for a greater focus on economic freedom and market economics, whilst the other places a greater focus on state intervention and welfare. Is it possible to resolve this tension?

One of the things I find interesting is that all of the political families are families which group people together around certain themes that define their ideology. I’m sometimes surprised, for example, when I look at the socialist group, which includes members that many people would describe as the extreme left and others that are barely centre-left, like the UK Labour Party. The liberal group, compared to the socialist group, is much more ideologically unified. Of course, it’s always easy to find unity in a smaller group.

But there is a tension, isn’t there, when Guy Verhofstadt (the leader of ALDE – the coalition of Watson’s ELDR and the centrist European Democratic Party in the European Parliament) repeatedly calls for a “United States of Europe”? Some members of the ELDR party are classical liberals and thus very much in favour of smaller government, and here is the leader of ALDE calling for a new, continent-wide level of government.

I don’t find any tension with that goal. One of the characteristics of liberals is that we have always been internationalist. We’ve always believed that it’s the way to provide peace and a society that no longer discriminates against people. Where there may be a tension is over the speed of that development towards a federal Europe. There are some who are federalists now; I believe my colleague Andrew Duff has recently published a pamphlet entitled Federal Union Now.

Aren’t there problems, though, with the way democracy works at the European level? After the Danish elections in September, for example, the Centre-right liberal party Venstre (a member of the ELDR) was ousted from power by a coalition including the Danish Social Liberal Party (another member of ELDR) and your party’s press release touted this as a great victory! Does it make sense for the ELDR to have more than one member in each EU country?

Logic and politics don’t always go together. Of course, it would make more sense to have one party in each country. For historical reasons, however, the one party in Denmark divided into two parties in 1905, the Radikale Venstre and the Venstre. They now sit on different sides of the political divide; one could broadly describe one as a social liberal party and the other as economically liberal. But, in fact, members of the two parties work together in the European Parliament. There is, as chance would have it, even a third liberal party in Denmark: the Liberal Alliance (though not a member of the ELDR). And I suppose the thing that liberals should celebrate is that liberal parties collectively polled 48% of the vote in Denmark.

What do YOU think? Does European Liberalism have a clear ideology? Or is there a tension between “economic liberalism” and “social liberalism” that cannot be resolved? Tell us why you vote (or DON’T vote) for European liberal parties in the comments. Let us know your thoughts in the form below and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

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6 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    I avoid voting for them, for the exact reasons you are mentioning above…Because of this “tension” between economic liberalism and social liberalism…While I am all for social liberalism, the economic one leaves me with cold feet….

    Since I belong to the 99% of the population, I want to have rights, power and a voice to protect my interests against any ultra-liberal nut-job that wants to have me at the mercy of the Markets, the big companies, multinationals and their will.. I work hard, I want rewards, I want some stability and security…I need to plan my future..

    Who’s ideas was this system that is very popular in America (and is growing over here too) that a company can hire you and fire you and re-hire you automatically, every 6 months..So if they decide to call it a day, i get only 6 months of compensation, even if i am with the company for 30 years…so where does this leaves me? Who’s idea was all this? The liberals’ or the right wingers’?

    For me a social liberal mixed with socialism political style would be better, with capitalism as the base of the economy, but not in the form we are having it now…we have given too much power and freedom to some, time to get it back…

  2. avatar
    Daniel Pluskota

    I support total social liberalism and law-controlled economic environment because it’s important to keep stable financial situation.

  3. avatar
    Michael Tsikalakis

    Certairnly (to my view), Liberalism has a clear ideology but not in the thougts of the most European citizens. This is because in the last decades the political system has been divided (in the people’s mind) into two major political parties through out Europe. The left-wing and the right-wing. Everything in between seems as a shade of the same color. Consequently any political party other than those two that has projected its ideology was filtered by the people’s mind as such. Liberalism has an advantage today because is not communism nor capitalism – the malfunctioning systems that drove the whole humanity into a dead end. Now is the time to let the people know that there is an alternative the current political system.

  4. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    Liberalism, liberalism, wherefore art thou liberalism?

    Does Liberalism have limits?

    Does liberalism approve polygamy?

    Does liberalism approve zoophilia?

    One person’s liberalism is another person’s fascism!!

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