By Jonathan Fryer.
As part of our continuing series platforming the views of propsective European Parliamentary Candidates from all major parties ahead of June's European Parliamentary Elections this month is the turn of the Liberal Democrats. Jonathan Fryer is a member of the ELDR's governing Council and Number 2 on the Liberal Democrats' London list for the European elections.
When delegates from 55 member parties from across Europe gathered in Stockholm last October to debate and pass the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) manifesto for this June's European elections, there was genuinely a sense of excitement in the air. This was partly because we were welcoming into the fold several new member parties – some from within the EU, others from the wider Europe – but mainly because the European Liberal family approaches these elections bigger, more united and more enthusiastic about the potential of the European Union in a troubled world than ever before.
Under the stewardship of Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England, the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has become the largest 'third force' in the Parliament's history, with over 100 parliamentarians, three-quarters of whom are also members of the ELDR Party, the EU's first trans-national political grouping. That band will be become even stronger if Ireland's ruling party, Fianna Fail, succeeds in its current bid to join ELDR. Moreover, 9 out of the 27 present European Commissioners are from the Liberal family.
As neither the Socialists nor the Christian Democrats/Conservatives (EPP) have a majority in the Parliament, ALDE's support is often essential in securing parliamentary votes. This will become even more rue after the EPP shrinks with the imminent departure of the British Conservatives into the European political wilderness.
The ELDR manifesto that was unanimously passed at Stockholm concentrates on three main areas: the economy and employment; the environment and energy policy; and foreign and security policy – all infused with the leitmotif of civil liberties. European Liberals stress respect for fundamental freedoms within the EU and beyond, notably the freedom of the Press, thought and speech; liberty of association, religion and ownership; and upholding the right of minorities as well as of those of individuals to privacy and protection of their personal data and dignity – something Britain's New Labour government could usefully learn from.
European Liberals believe that European economic integration has brought tangible benefits for EU citizens and consumers. We would like to see a new 'fifth freedom' relating to the single market: the free movement of knowledge and a single market in intellectual property. ELDR also supports the introduction of an EU 'blue card', to be administered by each member state, to ensure measured economic migration for the benefit of EU citizens.
The combined challenge of climate change and energy security demands unified action across Europe. The EU must become an efficient low carbon economy, leading the world in energy conservation, renewable energy and creative market instruments that can act as incentives for new jobs. We support the further reduction in the Common Agricultural Policy's budget after 2013 and actively promote an ambitious reform of the CAP within the multilateral framework of the WTO. This should enable European farmers to compete in a free global market, better to meet increasing global demand for food in an environmentally responsible way, to direct funding for research in renewable energies (including sustainable new generation bio-fuels) and to guarantee long-term food supplies.
In a globalised world, no EU member state can tackle the threats and challenges we are facing today on its own: military and civilian crisis management, securing energy supplies and international trade, arms control and disarmament, the fight against terrorism, organised crime, climate change, world poverty and the violation of human rights. A more united Europe on the world stage will also be able to exert the influence that its economic and trading power merits.
We believe that EU citizens will benefit from the adoption and implementation of the stalled Lisbon Treaty. The Treaty will bring in significant reforms of the European institutions, will enhance transparency, strengthen the Union's democratic character and equip the EU with the necessary tools for today's global challenges.
British Liberal Democrats will be fighting the forthcoming European elections on the core issues contained in the ELDR manifesto, crystalised as three main points: the economy, the environment, and cross-border crime and security coupled with safeguarding civil liberties. Closer European cooperation can improve our chances of emerging from the current recession, creating 'green jobs', guaranteeing energy security in sustainable ways and providing greater personal security for British citizens. We are stronger together, poorer apart.