This series presents argumentations for why students of Maastricht could choose to vote for certain European Parties at the European Elections 23rd-26th May. We do this because we want to contribute to creating a common European public discourse. Most political conversations happen within the national realm, and we want to expand this. The arguments presented in this series are the writers’ alone, but can help readers to articulate an informed opinion by engaging with a (non-)opposing opinion. To that end, the MD will publish opinions in favour of multiple different parties. So, if you do not agree with the opinion here; great! Other parties will be represented in due time.
Liberals (specifically those of a political plumage) aren’t all that popular these days, least of all amongst students. It’s hard not to see why. In a world that’s bombarding voters with crisis after crisis – each one seemingly graver than the one before – parties that tend to favour measured responses are easily seen as belittling problems and the concerns they raise. In many countries, liberals were in power when the fall-out of the financial crisis hit. They, too, shoulder the burden of responsibility for the austerity policies that have ravaged communities. If politics was about punishing parties that did not live up to their billing, logically speaking, no one should vote for them. There also would not be a single party left.
The European Parliament as an organ represents over 500 million European citizens and this, unfortunately, means that often the only way forward is uneasy compromise, rather than an unadulterated ideological victory. Because Europeans don’t agree on a lot of things. Parties on the left are quick to point to the free-market foundation of the European union as being one of the major causes of increasing social inequality and damage to our environment, parties on the right increasingly rail against immigration and social programmes they consider too costly. Who, if anyone, is right here?
Largely neither, in my opinion. Europe is not a playground for these partisan shenanigans that do so well on our national stages these days. It is where we deal with the future of our continent in the face of powers often beyond our control. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) is nestled firmly in the centre, which in our divided times makes it ideally suited to deal with legitimate problems while moving beyond political tropes like anti-capitalism or anti-immigration. Because we need a Europe that can compete in the global market place if we don’t want to be dependent solely on Chinese and American companies. Informed criticism about capitalism is needed, but the recent issues with Boeing and Huawei illustrates perfectly that not having a strong market presence can leave European citizens vulnerable to the excesses of far less scrupulous states. We should save capitalism from itself, champion our own interpretation of it rather than the slash and burn version of the USA so that the free market works for the good of citizens rather than the reverse.
In many ways, ALDE’s members already do this. European Commissioners Věra Jourová (Justice & Consumers), Margrethe Vestager (Competition), Cecilia Malmström (Trade) and Andrus Ansip (Digital Market) have all worked tirelessly to protect us from the dangers of a rapidly changing economy. Vestager especially has taken on the role of fearless giant slayer, forcing large corporations to play by our rules, not theirs. But more needs to be done, and with some urgency too.
Guy Verhofstadt, co-lead candidate of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), arrives ahead of the Maastricht Debate at Vrijthof Theatre in Maastricht. Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg via Getty Images
So fittingly, ALDE’s manifesto for the 2019 elections is unapologetically pro-European and unashamed in admitting that the rapidly globalising economy has left many people behind and is destroying our planet. Unexpected for some maybe, it proposes not that we invest in companies, but in people. Education, infrastructure and a decent legal framework are crucial in making sure that it is not large companies harvesting people’s hard-earned wages but people planting and growing the seeds of their own economic prosperity. Some concrete proposals involve the expansion of rail networks; both to reduce pollution from air travel as well as further unite our continent. They also champion a pan-European reform of our asylum system, as well as more legal pathways for people looking for a better live for their loved ones. Finally, and perhaps most important to readers, they want to see academic qualifications harmonized so that from now on, students are truly free to use the rewards of their hard work to earn a living wherever they want.
Perhaps one of the party’s most attractive qualities for me is that ALDE campaigns with the reality of needing a coalition already on full display. I’m Belgian, so maybe that’s just my national affliction. But that is the reality of the European parliament. Parties who tear each other down in election season will become colleagues later. Despite many voters thinking that centrism doesn’t represent any strong beliefs, ALDE’s members recognise the need for a humane migration policy, urgent climate action and effective regulations curbing the excesses of capitalism and promoting social mobility. In times when even facts themselves are questioned, having allies who see the world as you do is invaluable, even if their answers are not the same. Based on their elections campaigns, there should be lots of room for agreement with both PES and the Greens on a range of topics, especially on equal rights and environmental policy.
So why should you consider voting liberal, too? If you believe the EU to be the right level to effectively combat climate change and migration crises, if you believe in working with people across the aisle and if you believe that the free market – if regulated and taxed correctly- can still be a force for good in our nations, then ALDE can provide a welcome home. It is okay to try to hold the centre when the fabric of the union is at risk of tearing on both sides, because in the end we are still all in this together.
Stay tuned for arguments supporting other parties! The most important thing is to vote; here are seven reasons why.
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Matthijs Lenarts studies Law at UM, and has a background in Economics.