Thursday

7th Jul 2022

Liberals ally with Macron for election, but no candidate yet

  • The Liberals declined to put forward a lead candidate (Spitzenkandidat) for European Commission president at their congress in Madrid (Photo: Alde)

After months of wooing Emmanuel Macron, Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt saw his dream of an alliance with the French president's En Marche party become reality this weekend.

But it wasn't quite what he originally had in mind.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Astrid Panosyan, one of the founders of En Marche, formally made the offer of an alliance on Friday (9 November) at the party congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (Alde) in Madrid.

It will see En Marche and Alde campaign together on a common platform in the run-up to the European election.

But En March will not join Alde - leaving options open until after the election.

Panosyan sought to reassure the Liberals that the intention is to join them in a group after the election.

"Make no mistake, Alde is the core with whom En Marche wants to build this coalition," she said.

However her speech suggested that the current Alde would only form the core of a new larger group yet to be created.

Macron has been trying to build a broad tent for a new group which also would take like-minded parties that are currently in the centre-left S&D and Green groups, and maybe even parties currently in the centre-right EPP.

While there was generally enthusiasm at the congress for the union with En Marche – Panosyan received a standing ovation – there was also apprehension over Macron's 'big tent' strategy.

Some fear that if the ideological spectrum within the group is too wide, it will dilute the group's message and leave it standing for nothing.

There is still lingering scepticism about Verhofstadt's expansion plans after his disastrous decision to invite Italy's Five Star Movement to join the group last year.

That move was resoundingly rejected by Alde members, and Verhofstadt now admits it was a mistake. But it left an impression with many Liberals that Verhofstadt is seeking to enlarge the party at any cost, trying to overtake S&D to become the second-largest group in the parliament in the next term.

Albert Rivera, the leader of Spain's Ciudadanos party, urged delegates to support the broadening of the group to form a progressive alliance against the populists and nationalists, even if it means making some ideological compromises. "I am willing to compromise," he said. "I am willing to build bridges, not walls".

No Spitzenkandidat

The Liberals declined to put forward a lead candidate (Spitzenkandidat) for European Commission president at their congress, despite the fact that the EPP and S&D groups have selected their candidates – Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans – at their party congresses this month.

Despite having embraced the Spitzenkandidat process at the last European election in 2014, Alde is opposing the process this time around.

There was a general feeling at the Congress that the system has been designed to favour the EPP group, because it almost certainly will win the most seats in next year's election.

Emmanuel Macron has come out strongly against the process, saying that the choice of commission president should remain in the hands of member state leaders in the European Council.

A nomination coming from the council is more likely to result in a Liberal commission president because - including Macron - there are an equal number of ALDE and EPP leaders in the Council.

However, Alde will reluctantly participate in the Spitzenkandidat process by putting forward a team of candidates – most likely five.

According to Alde sources, this team is certain to include Guy Verhofstadt, but the rest of its composition is still uncertain.

Possible names include Danish competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager and Czech justice commissioner Vera Jourova. However, neither women put themselves forward at the congress.

Alde will decide who will be on the list in February. However the details of how this list will work remain murky.

Following her impressive performance at the congress, some were suggesting that En Marche's Panosyan could be on the list. However this may be unlikely given she has until now had only a behind-the-scenes role and has never held elected office.

Alde also adopted its manifesto for the 2019 election on Saturday, with the support of En Marche.

Opinion

EPP Spitzen-race: choice between Coke Light and Coke Zero

As the Spitzenkandidat process starts up again - for only the second time - the EPP group selects its lead candidate in Helsinki. Amongst the choreographed friendly rivalry, there are still a lot of policy blanks to fill in.

Feature

'Macron vs Orban' is no quick fix for EU democracy

A Macron versus Orbans styled election battle might lift turnout in next year's European Parliament elections, but under laying democratic problems would remain, warn experts.

European Liberals pin hopes on Macron

The French president "will be part of our family", Alde president Van Baalen said at the party congress. But some leaders, like Dutch PM Mark Rutte, seem to be less enthusiastic.

Analysis

Vests & Votes: how protests hit Macron's EP prospects

The 'Yellow Vests' protests have the potential to change the game in the French European Parliament elections, bringing new issues onto the agenda. But the greatest threat, potentially, is to the populist parties on the edges of the political spectrum.

Agenda

Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK

All eyes on London this week, where May struggles to hold onto power against Brexit rebels, while EU leaders meet in Brussels on Sunday to try to clinch agreement.

Column

'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements

Some modest headway in recognising the unrelenting tide of discrimination and violence facing women worldwide was made at last week's largely self-congratulatory and mostly irrelevant G7 talk-fest. But no one mentioned abortion, just days after the Roe vs Wade decision.

News in Brief

  1. British PM defiant amid spate of resignations
  2. France says EU fiscal discipline rules 'obsolete'
  3. Russia claims untouchable status due to nuclear arsenal
  4. Catalan MEPs lose EU court case over recognition
  5. 39 arrested in migrant-smuggling dragnet
  6. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  7. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  8. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Is Orban holding out an olive branch to EPP?
  2. EU should freeze all EU funds to Hungary, says study
  3. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  4. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  5. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  6. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  7. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  8. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us