Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Liberals debate their future in Budapest

  • Candidates' ideas were not much different (Photo: EUobserver)

There was an election mood at the Liberal congress in Budapest on Friday (20 November) night, as a rare debate took place between the two candidates running for the presidency of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe party.

Delegates prepared with banners and loud cheers for the clash between Siim Kallas, former Estonian prime minister and ex-EU commissioner, and Hans Van Baalen, a Dutch MEP.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The US-style political debate kicked off with introductory videos on the candidates.

They highlighted the two very different characters: Kallas walking on the beach with his grandchildren, explaining the meaning of freedom, while Van Baalen, speaking from the halls of the European Parliament, emphasised his ability to mobilise voters.

Open competition is rare in big European political families. Leadership is usually decided behind closed doors.

But the Liberal delegates take pride in having a real competition. “It’s great. That’s the real difference between us and the other parties,” said an enthused young visitor before the debate.

During the debate, Kallas, promised 120 liberal MEPs by 2019 (there are 70 today) and more influence on EU policies. He started off by a joke on his signature-style accent, saying: “I hope you enjoy my accent, borrowed from Finnish Formula 1 drivers.”

Kallas said he is a man of ideas, while Van Baalen said he is a man of action.

Their ideas didn’t differ that much - supporting young people starting off businesses, standing up to Russia, fighting for an inclusive society.

Kallas urged jobs for refugees and migrants as soon as possible, saying “if we keep them in camps, then it’s hopeless.”

Van Baalen said migrants and refugees have rights and duties, but so does mainstream society, in not leaving people abandoned.

“Siim’s experience is impressive, but Hans is a very lively, on the top of things kind of man,” said a young woman before the debate, noting that liberals might choose the candidate they believe will able to secure votes.

Others were disappointed the candidates didn’t address how liberals could make their voices heard in a Europe, where liberal values are increasingly isolated.

“I’ve heard nothing that will solve our immediate problems, unemployment, the rise of populism. They have no concrete ideas, and it is disappointing,” said one.

The votes for the presidency will be cast on Friday.

Talking tough

Earlier in the day, opening the liberal congress, the EP group leader Guy Verhofstadt didn’t mince words on Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, a former liberal himself.

“Our presence here is a clear ‘No’ to the ‘illiberal state’ of Mr. Orban. Russia is an illiberal state. China is. Venezuela is. North-Korea is one. Let me be clear: there is no place for North Koreas or Venezuelas in Europe,” he said.

Verhofstadt added: “He is also our problem, a European problem. Orban is Europe’s moral crisis. Instead of defending our European values, we tolerate him. We barely react.”

He called the conservative European People’s Party, Orban's European family “spineless” for defending him against criticism.

Liberal leaders try to rebuild influence

Liberals gather in Budapest to elect new president, discuss ways to defend liberal values more effectively amid EU security threats and refugee concerns.

Opinion

Liberal policy strengthens Europe

Today the European liberal movement is not strong enough to significantly influence the European Union's policies, writes Siim Kallas, a former EU commissioner, who is running to lead Europe's liberal party.

Liberal MEPs refuse to back down on Orban

Liberal MEPs will try to revive plans to stress-test Hungary’s democratic standards, after being voted down, including by socialists, on Monday.

Interview

'Let’s be honest: the union does not exist'

Whether the UK votes to stay or go, Brexit is an opportunity to create a much deeper European Union, Guy Verhofstadt, the liberal leader in the EU parliament, has said.

German spies to monitor far-right AfD party

Germany's domestic spy agency, the BfV, is to start monitoring the far-right AfD party in a move endorsed by the government, but decried as a witch-hunt by the party's leaders.

News in Brief

  1. Spanish PM calls for EU gender equality strategy
  2. Farage says bigger Brexit majority if second referendum
  3. Macron starts 'grand debate' tour after yellow vests protests
  4. Barnier: up to London to take Brexit forward
  5. Stimulus still needed, ECB's Draghi says in final report
  6. May's Brexit deal defeated by 230 votes
  7. German economy hit by global economic turbulence
  8. MEPs narrowly call for end to 'tampon tax'

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  2. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  3. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  4. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  5. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  6. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  7. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025
  8. MEPs redouble appeal on sexual harassment

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us