Flags and slogans mark Libertas congress in Rome
By Honor Mahony
Fledgling pan-European political group Libertas held its first ever convention on Friday (1 May), attracting over 1,000 people, including Polish Nobel Prize laureate Lech Walesa, but sending a somewhat fuzzy message to "Brussels bureaucrats."
Gathered in Rome, speakers talked in generalities about themes such as democracy, liberty and transparency while pledging to never accept the Lisbon treaty.
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Declan Ganley, Irish businessman and the founder of the political movement, said Libertas has four policies which only it can deliver to voters in June's EU elections – accountability, value for money, full disclosure and elected politicians making EU law.
"There has never been a more important European election than this one. It is, quite simply, the last chance we have to ensure that our voice – Europe's voice – is heard," said the man who spear-headed the successful No camp in Ireland's vote on Lisbon last year.
"People who never have to face a ballot box make most of our laws," he went on, referring to the "unelected elite" in Brussels and saying that Libertas opponents are "afraid of democracy."
Other speakers included Philippe de Villiers, the head of the nationalist Mouvement Pour La France; former Latvian Prime Minister Guntars Krasts; Eline van den Broek, the head of the Dutch anti-EU constitution movement; and centre-right Czech MP Vlastimil Tlusty, who recently led a no-confidence vote resulting in the fall of the Czech government.
Their speeches were heavy on big words such as democracy and liberty but light on policy detail, especially on the burning topic of the moment - the state of Europe's economy.
"What unites us is the will to push Europe out of its economic crisis," said Mr Krasts, noting that sound democratic pillars would provide a "solid base for dynamic market development."
Most of the speakers, who come from diverse backgrounds and who often campaign on different issues on home turf, stuck to the agreed Libertas topics, but some let their personal bugbears shine through.
Mr de Villiers said that the "roots of Europe are here," making the point that people from all 27 member states had come to the congress, a fact established by a shout-for-your-country session earlier in the day and plenty of national flags in the crowd.
The French politician said the perimeters of Europe must be defined "once and for all" and that it is "out of the question" for Turkey to join.
The Greek Libertas representative, Emmanuil Kalligiannis, compared Europe to a "whore," saying it would be neither "decent" nor "moral" to negotiate with Turkey, which is "militarily occupying" 40 percent of Cyprus.
Former Slovak prime minister Jan Carnogursky likened the EU to Communism, which tried to "replace the sovereignty and culture of nations."
In a surprise public relations coup, the founder of Poland's anti-Communist Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa also gave a speech in praise of Libertas.
"I see a place for you. There is a place in Europe for different ideas. Too few people take part in elections, programmes are poor, there's too much bureaucracy, so I agree with your diagnosis," he said. "I wish you success. May you stay on God's path."
Mr Walesa came one day after his public appearance at the Warsaw congress of Libertas' political rival, the pro-treaty, pro-integration, European People's Party.
His presence prompted the single most concrete policy proposal of the Libertas convention, from Mr Ganley himself.
The Irishman pledged to "ensure that the shipyards in Gdansk stay open," in reference to the place where Mr Walesa launched Solidarity, but which faces an uncertain future.
The Libertas convention was moderated by the telegenic Eline Van den Broek and ended with Libertas representatives from all member states signing an electronic petition for a new referendum.
"We, in the name of a stronger Europe, pledge that no new European treaty can be implemented without a referendum," the plea said.
Despite their enthusiasm, several signed under the wrong country. The Bulgarian representative filled in for Finland by mistake, something Ms Van den Broek took as a sign of how "European" Libertas is.
Although it has had its first congress and Mr Ganley felt "humbled" by the support, his movement has yet to produce an election manifesto.
Its website says it will be published "in a few weeks," with the European elections to take place in just over a month's time on 4-7 June.