This month, we interviewed ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen MEP on the upcoming ALDE Party Congress and his work in the European Parliament.
Liberal values are strong in Europe, but they are also increasingly challenged by illiberal forces. How would you assess the current state of liberalism in Europe and what should liberals prioritise?
There are currently eight liberal Prime Ministers in the European Council, making the liberals the joint biggest group there. We have five European Commissioners and strong co-operation between the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, ALDE Party and its Member Parties and many Individual Members. We are also part of Liberal International. With ELF we have an EU-wide network of liberal think-tanks. We have the ALDE in the Council of Europe and Committee of the Regions. In the Netherlands, two liberal parties are in coalition government together. Estonia has been ruled by a liberal party for over 20 years. Support for Ciudadanos is quickly growing in Spain. FDP is back in the Bundestag. There are many other signs that liberalism is thriving in Europe. However, if we want to continue to grow we cannot close our eyes to the growth of illiberal forces in Europe. The only way to fight populism is by achieving concrete results in the areas of the internal market, trade, and human rights and civil liberties. This means concluding free trade agreements as liberal commissioner Cecilia Malmström is doing, completing the internal market and protecting human rights. Only if we deliver, we can defeat populist forces.
The ALDE Party will be hosting liberals from all over Europe in Madrid on 8-10 November for the annual ALDE Congress. What are the plans for this year’s edition and what are your recommendations?
ALDE Party’s European Election Manifesto will be adopted at the Congress in Madrid.It was drafted under the leadership of Taavi Roivas and will serve as our foundation of the upcoming European election campaign. In putting together our manifesto, we mobilised the liberal grassroots all over Europe; we organised expert forums and town hall meetings, and showed how liberals work together. Our goal for the elections for the European Parliament is for ALDE to play a decisive role in the new legislature by becoming the second biggest force. Currently ALDE is the fourth group in the European Parliament and this is simply not good enough. Our congress in Madrid is an important milestone in our march to the 2019 European elections! ALDE should be the core of a broad European movement and a strong force in the next European Parliament. As ALDE Party President I want that that a united ALDE will take the lead in this process.
You are a passionate advocate of strong transatlantic relations and you were a speaker at ELF’s #TransatlanticLab programme for two years in a row. What is your take on the current state of transatlantic partnership and what can Europeans do to strengthen it?
The relations between the EU and the United States have become more unpredictable since the election of President Donald Trump. However, relations between the EU and US do not depend exclusively on relations with the American President. Other channels are becoming increasingly important in light of the upcoming midterm elections in the US. There are many moderate Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. There is a fresh impetus for a new trade agreement between the EU and the US. Members of the European Parliament, national parliaments and many other levels have an important role to play here.
Next year, your EP mandate will end. What achievement would you like to highlight during your service as an ALDE MEP?
As MEP, I have been working in the field of foreign affairs and international trade. In the previous years, we have witnessed growing instability at the European borders, due to the conflict in Syria and the aggression of authoritarian regimes, like Putin’s Russia and the annexation of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine. Together with my colleagues – because the European Parliament is not a one-man-show – I took the lead to send a strong message to Putin, and cooperated effectively with both the Commission and Council to impose sanctions on Russia. ALDE, the Group and Party, support Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other countries threatened by Putin’s Russia. In the field of international trade, I am proud that we have been able to secure free trade deals between the EU and other economic powerhouses, like Canada, Mercosur and Japan. Trade deals are real engines for economic growth, jobs and prosperity for all Europeans.
My first EP Mandate, I combined with my Presidency of Liberal International (2009 – 2014). My second mandate in the European Parliament, I combined with the (Vice) Presidency of the ALDE Party (2014 – 2019). I will fulfil my current mandate as ALDE Party President until the end of 2019 with pleasure and energy. Whether I will run for a third and last term as ALDE Party President, I will decide later. Over the last years, the ALDE Party has grown with new members from Spain, France, Poland and many other member states. The number of Prime Ministers has increased, and I see that there is much room for liberalism to grow further.
For the upcoming European elections, the choice has never been so fundamental: either we choose for a liberal, free and forward-looking Union or we choose stagnation and insignificance. The European Union and the Member States should supplement and strengthen each other. Liberals Must Unite and We Must Go Forward together!