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Reporting Back from ALDE Congress in Athens

October 31, 2019 6:01 PM
By Merlene Emerson

ALDE Congress 2019 Merlene Emerson Joyce Onstad and coThe acronym ALDE stands for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe of which the Liberal Democrats are a member. There are currently 67 member parties and together with France's En Marche make up the RENEW Group, the 3rd largest grouping in the European Parliament with 108 MEPs. They sit in the centre of the hemicycle between the socialists on the left and the conservative and nationalistic parties on the right and are an influential force in Europe with 5 Liberal Commissioners.

I recently returned from 3 intense days of networking with our European friends in historic Athens, the cradle of democracy, where we were gathered for ALDE's 40th Congress. A bit like LibDem conferences, there were opportunities for training sessions eg on digital marketing, meeting and hearing from elected politicians such as the Liberal Prime Minister of Luxembourg and the chance to make policy at plenary sessions, ranging from Climate Change to Urgency resolutions on Iraq, Turkey and, of course, BREXIT.

For me there were three stand-out moments:

First, the LibDem delegation went with an important task at hand, to ensure we have a voice on the highest governing body of ALDE Party, the Bureau. Our candidate for one of the 6 vacant Vice-Presidential positions was Baroness Sal Brinton so we went armed with banners and badges and were canvassing for votes for her. Pleased to report that she came in with the 5th highest number of votes out of the 9 candidates, so despite Britain being on the brink of Brexit, our European colleagues showed that we were still welcome to contribute and have a role to play.

Secondly, I managed to get onto one of the working groups for the policy motion on China and though it was jointly proposed by Center Partiet of Sweden and FDP of Germany, the LibDems introduced a number of amendments which were accepted. After 3 rounds of debate the 3 page long motion was finally passed, calling for the EU to be united when dealing with China with a better understanding in Europe of the nature of the Chinese model of political and economic governance as well as of the Chinese Communist Party's ambitions for the 21st century. I was particularly pleased that one of Chinese LibDems' policy statements on Hongkong calling for more meaningful dialogue between the government of Hongkong and key stakeholders was included in the final draft.

Last and by no means least, I had the honour of meeting Mr Sam Rainsy, leader of the main opposition party in Cambodia, CNRP, which has since been banned by strong-man Hun Sen in a purge of all opposition 2 years ago. Rainsy is currently living in exile in Paris but is planning to return to Cambodia on 9 November, coinciding with Cambodia's Independence Day as well as the day of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many of us were alarmed to hear that he is doing this at risk of being arrested or worse still shot at on crossing the border from Thailand. But he is determined to lead his country back to freedom. There is a European angle to his plans which is why he was at ALDE Congress. Cambodia was negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, and has breached their obligations by abandoning multi-party politics and with a horrendous human rights record. Should they lose their preferred "Everything But Arms" status, it would translate into loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs for the Cambodian people. Our LibDem MEPs from DROI, the Human RIghts sub-committee may be joining him in Cambodia. Liberal International has started a petition to stand with Sam Rainsy and you can join us in co-signing the petition here:


As you can see from this report, LibDems benefit greatly from being in ALDE Party, an alliance that is relevant and vital to the UK as our link to Europe. As the ALDE congress slogan says: Mission is Possible - the Renaissance of European Liberalism and we definitely want to be a part of that renaissance!