Tuesday

20th Feb 2018

Opinion

Liberal policy strengthens Europe

  • Siim Kallas is candidate to lead the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party. (Photo: EU Commission)

My candidacy for the president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party is not a coincidence. Liberal ideas have always been close to my heart.

Throughout the past 25 years, implementing liberal ideas (and often successfully) in policy has been part of my life.

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Another concept, which I have been committed to since Estonia regained its independence, is the European idea of personal and economic freedoms, today known as the idea of the voluntary community of 28 nations - the European Union.

My perception of Europe comes from my experience of the Soviet Union.

I do not want anything Soviet back!

I do not want a centrally planned economy, which is restrictive and tied to corruption. I do not want an organisation of society, where people are fully subordinated to the government. I do not want restrictions of personal freedoms. I do not want the absence of freedom of speech. I do not want completely closed borders.

During the last decade Europe has been governed by the Conservatives. At times they have been supported by the Social Democrats, in other times by the Liberals. Therefore, there are quite a few things to be learnt from the Conservatives.

Today the European liberal movement is not strong enough to significantly influence the European Union's policies. However, is this really necessary?

What are the problems that the alliance of Conservatives and Socialists now dominating in the European Union would resolve differently when the Liberals had more impact?

First of all, it would be the attitude towards market economy. Conservative economic policies in the European Union clearly prefer government regulation and control. Socialists in principle show disbelief towards the market economy.

During my 10 years in the European Commission, I saw more and more that the market economy and entrepreneurship are seen as problems rather than solutions.

Over the last three years, the tax burden in Europe has increased. It is a sign of an increased governmental intervention in the economic policies.

Conservative policy often favours protectionism and national fragmentation.

How about four basic freedoms?

Free movement of goods, people, services and capital, are the European Union's fundamental freedoms and are particularly close to the heart and soul of the Liberals.

Has there been progress in ensuring personal and economic freedoms during the last decade? Here, for instance, may I remind you of the failure of the services directive and the current threat to the free movement of people. There are still plenty of obstacles to the much talked about development of the digital market.

Liberals are traditionally against government bureaucracy. Unfortunately, it is true that Europe has adopted many regulations, which have required increasing centralisation and an ever increasing number of officials to manage all of those rules.

Liberal policy has two power centers in the European Union. One is the group of prime ministers, which now has as many as seven members. There is a certain co-operation between them, even though some governments are rather eurosceptic (the Netherlands) and others are very pro-European (Estonia, Belgium).

Liberals have a number of influential positions in the European Commission - the digital market, foreign trade etc.

The other power centre is the Liberal Group in the European Parliament. This group includes 72 MEPs. The group is highly fragmented. Several elected representatives from the same country belong to different political parties that are far from being friendly to each other. Only about 50 MEPs belong to the Alde Party.

This group is unfortunately too small (the fourth largest) to play a decisive role in the European Parliament. To make a significance, there should be approximately 120 members in this parliamentary group. This could be the aim in the parliamentary elections in 2019.

There could and should be the third power center, which promotes liberal policy and combines a variety of standpoints. It could and should be a pan-European liberal party. Today this organisation is in a certain sense politically irrelevant. The Alde Party has been left only with the role of the secretariat (which the secretariat performs very well).

Why support the Liberals?

The Alde Party has supported member parties from its own budget and helped them to prepare for the elections. This has been commendable work. There are also rules on how to collect donations. But why should any large pan-European entrepreneur support this political party?

It should, only when the party has clear principles and it fights for the interests of the entrepreneurship as a whole. So here I see further opportunities to collect donations.

The liberal movement has to be more coherent and far better organised than today. Here I would emphasise that clearer political positions and framework do not disunite, but enhance the unity of the movement.

Uniting means sharing the same ideas. Clearer policies make it easier to organise collaboration within the movement as well as with other forces.

I have implemented radical reforms supported by pragmatic compromises between various standpoints and political forces. The policy cannot be replaced with the production of ambiguous and meaningless publications that are so prevalent in the European Union and what we unfortunately also see in the liberal movement.

If you want to please everybody, then in the end nobody likes you. The liberal movement has two wings - the so-called social liberals and the economic liberals. Both wings have strong common ground - they support the policy of freedoms. This common element allows creation of additional political value.

The pan-European liberal party is electing its president, although some of the representatives of member parties have already promised their support to a single candidate long before the nomination of the candidates started.

This creates the impression that any kind of elections are not really welcome. In that sense, the set-up of my candidacy has created the atmosphere of elections itself. Only competitive elections politically strengthen liberal movement. All the rest is already history.

Siim Kallas has served two terms as European Commissioner and is also former prime minister of Estonia

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