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NEWS9 May 2011 | ELDR News n°9 | www.eldr.eu

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European Liberal Democrats

The European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR Party) brings together 56 political parties with common liberal, democratic and reform ideals and is the forum for member parties to develop co-ordinated policies.

Contents Page 2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 〜 What role for Europe after the revolution in North Africa? 〜 Cohesion Policy: linking citizens to the EU 〜 How Saxony benefited from cohesion funds

May the Arab spring bloom Only so can the foundations for a pluralist democracy be laid. In that spirit, I took the initiative to invite the main European political parties, the different German foundations, the major political Internationals and the major multiparty organisations to Brussels to meet with the Head for the Middle East of the European External Action Service and the Head of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights. All the major organisations were present, and we had the opportunity to stress how important it will be to support political parties and to support work and training programs aimed at building and strengthening them.

Page 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 〜 Eurobonds for balanced budgets 〜 Common Agricultural Policy: Avoiding the perfect storm 〜 European Liberal Democrats: Refining the EU Budget – Reforming Europe! Page 4 〜 Join the ELDR Party as Associate member! 〜 Italy: a part of Europe or apart from Europe?

We will meet again in the near future to establish a status questionis and see what more needs to be done. In my last column, I called upon the components of the Liberal family to help with the democratisation process in Egypt and Tunisia and to assist fledgling liberal forces to prepare for the upcoming elections. Liberal International has convened a meeting in London with just that purpose and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation is organising a major Liberal Conference that will take place in Cairo in early May. I will participate in this conference and the ALDE group of the European Parliament will send a delegation of MEP’s conducted by its President, Guy Verhofstadt. As I have often stated, political parties have an essential role to play in the establishment of any political democracy.

To be sustainable, a political democracy needs sustainable political parties. Such parties are absent in most Arab countries, because political pluralism wasn’t tolerated. Neither were the fundamental political freedoms of assembly and expression tolerated. In several of them, so called states of emergency were kept in place for decades, which allowed the autocratic leaders to randomly arrest whoever was deemed to threaten the regime. No normal political life could develop in such an environment. Many observers hail modern media and social networks as the most effective tools of the recent upheavals which resulted in the ousting of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt. And decisive these media were; but they would have come

to nothing if not for the determination and courage of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Those demonstrators should not be robbed of the fruits of their uprising. Now is the time to lay the foundations for sustainable democracies. Elections will constitute the first step. There is precious little time and precious little experience to properly prepare them. This is where we can and must help. And when I say we I mean all of us who have experience with elections, selections and training of candidates, campaigning, etc.

During May’s ELDR Council Meeting in Dresden, Germany, the ELDR Party will discuss these issues in depth. This is only the beginning..

〜 by Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck ELDR President

The democratisation process cannot and must not be limited to a single political family. It is of the utmost importance that all democratic forces contribute to it.

Challenges Facing the January 25th Revolution The future direction of Egypt is still to be defined The essence of any revolution is the ability of establishing a clear paradigm shift. While the revolts have clearly demanded freedom, justice and equality during the demonstrations attended by a million people, I am not yet certain, however, that Egypt will be fully able to realize these demands in a constructive manner. The January 25th Revolution managed to force former president Mubarak to step down, followed by remanding his family and key figures of his regime in custody for questioning over charges of political and financial corruption. However, the big challenge is to dismantle the entire regime and build Egypt based on modern and democratic principles. The revolution should culminate in certain outcomes that reflect its goals and

spirit. The outcomes are a number of laws that identify the vision of Egypt towards the future, and institutions that monitor those changes. Unfortunately, the revolution did not conclude into a body or leadership that defends its goals and applies its philosophy on ‘New Egypt’. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) that took over from former President Mubarak is currently governing Egypt by its mindset and philosophy rather than capitalizing on the revolution’s goals and spirits. The revolution is not only demanding a fair electoral system, but should also work on energizing people towards a new mindset boosted with a fresh spirit. Unfortunately, this is not happening in the transitional period; for example all political forces have been reques-

ting the dropping of the fifty percent quota of workers and peasants in our parliament, who can be represented according to their weight in their respective constituencies rather than a quota, but SCAF kept this article in the recent declaration. Furthermore, Egyptian political forces have been requesting a roadmap that illustrates how and where Egypt will be heading during the current transitional period. This roadmap must be put to a vote in a referendum. However, SCAF’s philosophy is to proceed step by step, which does not give the Egyptian society the ability to visualise the future. This lack of vision has caused economic and political instability whereby Egyptians are wondering about how Egypt will look like from political and business perspectives.

Moreover, the recent change of Governors defines how Egypt is currently ruled. A number of Governors who were former State Security Intelligence officers have been assigned to their positions, this step led to demonstrations of hundreds of thousands rejecting these appointees. This is a clear sign of missing the essence of the revolution’s spirit. The lack of good political process in the current transitional period may end up favouring a group of politicians over others. A segment of society claims that Egypt should follow the Turkish political model, this proposal, in my opinion, is a big mistake. Turkey is a true liberal country, currently governed by a party that has Islamic orientation. While Egypt having, currently, no clear political direction, might face the problem of being ruled by an Islamic group that

would definitely transform the country into an Islamic one. Egypt strongly needs to define the country as a Civil State nation, establishing a number of laws that clearly separate politics from religion and prevents the use of religious slogans in political campaigns, as well as instituting a number of practices that define how elections can be run. I am personally a member of a small group of renowned politicians who are taking some initiatives to ensure that Egypt is on the right track towards liberal democracy.

〜 by Mohammed Nosseir Member of the Political Bureau and Head of International Relations Democratic Front Party, Egypt


May 2011 | ELDR News n°9 | www.eldr.eu

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What role for Europe after the revolution in North Africa? It’s about human dignity, about respect for the individual and about democracy. We want to have a say in our own country’s future”. Cries like these could be heard all over Egypt and Tunisia from those that were out in the streets, overthrowing their autocratic governments, often braving violence and facing serious personal risk. And they continue today in Yemen, Libya, Syria and almost every other country in the region. Whereas Egyptians and Tunisians have ousted their dictators, the other revolutions are in full battle. North Africa’s battle for freedom may have come as a surprise to some Europeans, but not to people who had real contact in the region. Simplistic stereotypes about Northern Africa were swept away within a few days. Suddenly, besides dictatorship and religious extremism, an alternative seems possible in Arab countries. Dictators

that humiliated their citizens and deprived them of any rights had to leave office. The role of religious extremists was marginal. The decades’ long Western policy aimed at supporting dictators because the alternative would be worse, was made redundant. For liberals it was a thrill to see the developments and the courageous individuals making it possible. The liberal dream of freedom and democracy, personal dignity and rule of law was – and still is - fuelling these revolutions. We as liberals welcome this change. And have to ask ourselves what our role is at this critical juncture. How can Europe ensure the changes are long-lasting? After all, if there is one lesson we learned from all our enlargements, it is that it is in our interest to have stable, prosperous neighbours and being a functioning democracy is an essential prerequisite for that.

Here are some initial thoughts: 1. Europe itself has seen the transition from dictatorial regimes to democracies after the fall of the Berlin wall in Eastern Europe. We are well aware how hard it was – and still is – to establish democracy, the rule of law and at the same time deal with the heritage of dictatorship, like publishing files of the secret police and trials against those formerly in charge. Dictatorships leave traumatised societies behind and the healing can take generations. We can be of assistance to the people in Tunisia or Egypt by sharing our experience, but we must remember that we are not and should not be in the driver’s seat. Every country will take pride in its own struggle to democracy and yes, will make it’s own mistakes. We can help manage expectations and gives support where we are asked. But the change must remain home grown and there is no one template for success. 2. We will find new very self-confident partners south of the Mediterranean. They will be asking the EU to open up its markets for trade and its borders for people, from businesspeople to students, from artists to immigrants. And if we are serious about supporting them, we should say yes. Naturally conditions should be placed on job seekers – liberals have always advocated for a fair and consistent immigration policy across the EU. But it is in our long-term interest to open up our markets. And it will be a pleasure to see more travel, to exchange students and have artists linking up, finding common ground and celebrating differences. 3. Against simplistic conceptions opposing freedom and Islam, Europeans are witnessing their Muslim neighbours struggle

Cohesion Policy: linking citizens to the EU ‘O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!’ Shakespeare’s words still ring in the heart, though it may seem strange to quote this quintessentially English playwright in an article about Cohesion Policy! He calls for ‘a muse of fire’, a way of painting a picture that will capture the hearts of his audience. At this moment in time, dealing with the future of Cohesion Policy and its funding, a ‘muse of fire ‘ is just what is needed! So, let me try; try to paint a picture of how this single policy has the power to change lives, communities and even the future of Europe itself. There are many who would argue that Cohesion policy should be renationalised, save for the poorest member states. In effect that Eastern Europe should be the focus for any such policy. There is a logic to the argument. Richer member states would then look after their own poorer cities and regions. Much simpler, much easier, much better than moving all this money around Europe.

the script. It is what makes sense of the whole, of the movement; of the presence on the stage. It is the coherent, vibrant, active heart of the European Union. But such a policy needs to be clear in its objectives; in its aims. It needs to be imaginative, innovative, creative in its application. It should enable, not confine and be responsive to the needs of communities. It should have the active involvement of those whom it is there to serve and of local and regional authorities within its area. They must be able to shape what is needed to regenerate and invigorate local economies, and rebuild for the long term, rather than the quick fix.

and businessmen, it must become a Union of the people; of the citizen; of the participant; of the actor on the stage, rather than the onlooker. Cohesion Policy allows that to happen in a way no other EU policy does. We should remember that in all of our deliberations. It is ‘our muse of fire’ if we allow it to be so.

〜 by Flo Clucas, Leader of the ALDE Group in the Committee of the Regions of the European Union

But all of this takes money and time. A short time period will not enable long term decisions about investment to be made and the difference realised. Resources have therefore to be enough to meet the demands of the policy. That will require some hard negotiation and some member states will be reluctant, to say the least, to see that happen.

That’s right, isn’t it? If that was all that Cohesion Policy represented, then the argument would be valid, but Cohesion Policy is about much more. For Cohesion Policy is what brings together citizens from across the union; what gives every citizen a place at the table; and is a visible sign of Europe’s presence in our communities.

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. With the scepticism about the role and future of the EU increasing, citizens need to see how Europe acts in their cities and regions. The importance of having an EU wide policy cannot therefore be overstated. Europe needs Cohesion Policy. It is what makes Europe relevant to our communities. Within them, it needs to be effective, efficient and enabling. If it is, it will carry the hopes of citizens with it.

And if Europe is the stage, then its citizens are the actors and Cohesion Policy

If the European Union is to be more than a show for bankers, bureaucrats

for personal freedom and dignity. Fears about religious extremists taking power, as the only alternative to dictatorship, must be proven wrong. Now there is a chance to move beyond the clash of civilisations some have made the main narrative after the 9-11 attacks. The revolutions in Tunis and Cairo were triggered by the same frustrations as the European revolutions in 1989: the lack of citizen’s rights and economic perspective. This is a common denominator beyond religion and race. It opens up new bridges to a better understanding of each other. We can leave stereotypes and prejudice behind: at the end of the day it is about human dignity for everyone. 4. If a regional powerhouse like Egypt will make respect for human rights and democracy a key pillar of its policies, this will have great impact not only in the Arab world but on a global scale. Egypt is a key player in the non-aligned movement and its importance in the Human Rights Council and other UN-bodies is tremendous. Old confrontational politics in multi-lateral settings can be overcome as Egypt will not automatically be on the side of human rights offenders anymore. The group of human rights defending democracies would find a very important new ally at the global level. This is going to make a big difference in many debates with Islamic countries and can be pivotal for liberal priorities such as equality between men and women and sexual and reproductive rights. 5. Europe should not underestimate its soft power at this turning point in history. Access to our markets, universities and know-how can and should be made conditional. We expect countries to start ratifying international treaties and to start applying them. From the UN Charter on Human Rights to the Rome Statute on

〜 by ELDR Vice Presidents Lousewies van der Laan and Markus Löning

Lousewies van der Laan

Markus Löning

How Saxony benefited from cohesion funds The Free State of Saxony as an example for goodpractise of Cohesion Policy Since German reunification Saxony has undergone a development which would be unthinkable in this form without the support of the European Structural Funds. The revival of its industrial core has been largely achieved and the region‘s economic power has been strengthened due to many new businesses and investments. This demonstrates the success of the Saxon strategy, which, even before the introduction of earmarking in favour of the Lisbon goals, had placed a focus on the sustainable support of economic competitiveness and employment. Today Saxony is an industrial region again, characterised by a wide representation of industrial sectors, innovative companies, an increasing export rate and new areas of growth, such as renewable energies, micro and nanoelectronics, biotechnologies as well as the development of new materials and clean technologies. “Silicon Saxony” is Europe’s leading and the world’s fifth largest cluster for microelectronics. Anyway, the goal of a self-supporting economic structure has not yet been achieved. The successes obtained still stand on unsteady ground. The budgetary and fiscal policy environment for the next funding period aims to address this issue.

Flo Clucas

the International Criminal Court, there is a plethora of international standards that – when translated and applied locally – will give North Africans the freedom they seek. We already have the principles, but we need to apply them consistently. It is where we have failed in the past and where the real challenge for Europe lies.

EU resources which have become scarcer must be concentrated even more than before on strategically important areas of EU policy. European projects for the future must

Holger Zastrow

increasingly benefit these areas, e.g. also key technologies affected by global competition. It is only by completely aligning the cohesion policy with the objectives of the ‘Europe 2020’ strategy that it can be ensured that cohesion policy plays its part in the implementation of this strategy. It should, however, also be noted that the alignment of cohesion policy with growth and employment has been pointing in the right direction already and that there is no need to further tighten up the existing ‘earmarking’ for the Structural Fund. In the case of Saxony the challenges of globalisation, climate change and a sustainable energy supply will have to be dealt with alongside demographic change. The shaping of future cohesion policy should take into account these challenges. To master these challenges will be the key to increasing the competitiveness of the regions.

〜 by Holger Zastrow,

Chairman FDP Saxony Chairman FDP Parliamentary Group/Saxon State Parliament


May 2011 | ELDR News n°9 | www.eldr.eu

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Eurobonds for balanced budgets Community bonds in the euro-zone may not be used to reduce the cost of public debt. They must create incentives to reduce the debt. A proposal. The longer the Euro crisis lasts, the more vehemently the introduction of Eurobonds is being demanded. Community bonds may become a reasonable option in the long term but only if they provide the incentive of reducing budget deficits rather than simply facilitating further borrowing at cheaper rates. So far each Euro-zone member may borrow up to 60% of the gross national product as stipulated in the Stability and Growth Pact. Eurobonds as a permanent facility would de facto be the entry into a transfer union. All countries issuing Eurobonds would be jointly liable for the overall amount of bonds. Thus, financially sound countries would be liable for countries with less sound budgets. Therefore, weaker states benefit and pay significantly lower interest rates than if they issued their own national bonds. Based on the experience that member states do not abide by the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, one needs to

assume they will also not do so in the future. With Eurobonds, fiscal complacency would lead to higher interest rates. For financially more sound countries such as Germany this would become prohibitively expensive: a higher interest rate would be applicable than for traditional national bonds. Some argue that the size of a genuine Euro market would lower the level of interest rates so it remains attractive for all countries. However, there is no empirical evidence to back-up such a claim. Moreover, one cannot predict whether the interest rate for national bonds of weak states would not rise even higher so that no advantage remains for heavily indebted countries. This approach has three major drawbacks:

However, a single monetary policy without a European Economic and Fiscal Union is hardly feasible as the crisis has shown. Thirdly, such a Eurobond project could help reduce the interest burden of heavily indebted countries but would make absolutely no contribution to debt reduction in general. On the contrary, lower interest rates for a country’s financial burden may tempt the county to defer or water down necessary reforms. If Eurobonds were to be introduced, an incentive for debt reduction would need to be an integral part of it. Similar to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the members may not be jointly liable for the total debt but only for their own share – no matter what that means in detail.

in the medium and long term if the EU succeeds in resolving the democratic deficit and has linked the benefits of Eurobonds to reducing debts.

Secondly, the participating countries would need to be willing to change the EU into a real economic and fiscal Union. This means abandoning sovereignty rights, which is unimaginable to many countries so far.

The ceiling of the Stability and Growth Pact must be the goal: no more debt than 60% of the gross national product. The incentive to reduce debts is created if the access to low interest Eurobonds is facilitated as

The present problems of some Euro zone member states can certainly not be resolved in the short term by introducing Eurobonds. One can consider Eurobonds

they are not the answer to feeding a hungry world.

European Liberal Democrats: Refining the EU Budget – Reforming Europe!

George Lyon MEP

With the UK keen to hold on to its rebate ,France wanting a strong CAP budget and the biggest net payer Germany, keen to hold down the total budget, many commentators suspect there is already some

Wolf Klinz MEP

In addition, the participation in the Eurobond project must depend on measurable progress of reducing debt.

We need to develop a new sustainable intensive model of agriculture that is more nutrient efficient, more carbon efficient and more efficient in its use of scarce resources. As Professor John Beddington the UK’s chief scientist warned recently “If we don’t act now to address these issues, then we face a perfect storm of scarcity of food, scarcity of water and scarce energy supplies.

These conflicting demands would in times of financial plenty be challenging but in these times of austerity, resolving them is going to be very difficult to achieve. As ever the deal on the budget will be agreed by Heads of Government but it is difficult to see how this will be agreed this side of the French elections in April and May 2012. France, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and UK, the big net contributors to the EU budget, have already made crystal clear, in December 2010, in a joint letter to President Barroso that there should be no increase in the total EU spend over the next financial framework.

The following example illustrates how this mechanism could look: a country has a debt of 100% of the gross national product. If the country reduces the burden to 80%, it has achieved half of the requirement to reach the debt ceiling. In return, the country may settle half of its debts with Eurobonds within the allowed 60%. For the remaining debt, the country may issue national bonds for which it, alone, is liable. If the country reduces its debt to 60% of the gross national product, i.e. meeting the stability criteria according to the treaties, the entire debt could be covered by Eurobonds.

Firstly, countries assume joint liability for the fiscal policies of other countries for which they cannot assume democratically exercised control.

Common Agricultural Policy: Avoiding the perfect storm

The history of the CAP is one of evolution and change driven by the need to respond to new challenges and opportunities and this time round will be no different. The two new challenges of climate change and economic crisis will drive the reform and shape the outcome. The impact of the economic crisis on the public finances of every country in Europe means there will be pressure to cut the CAP budget. There will be those who also want to see CAP money used for other European priorities and on top of that, there are the expectations of New Member states that were promised a fairer share of CAP spending when they joined the EU to be met.

much as the country reduces its excessive debt.

kind of agreement starting to take shape between these key member states. On the policy side there is also a pressing need to reform the CAP to meet new challenges. The big global challenge is a near doubling of food demand by 2050 as a result of population growth and rising demand from India and China as they become wealthier. In the post war years European agriculture responded to a similar rise in demand and the first green revolution based on cheap energy, plentiful land and plentiful water supplies, delivered bountiful supplies of cheap food onto our supermarket shelves to meet it. This time around we cannot just turn on the food tap as we did in the past. There are now major constraints that will make it difficult to repeat that feat again without change. Scarce and more expensive energy, water shortages and limited supplies of new land to bring into production means a new model of agriculture has to be developed to meet growing world demand. A new model that has sustainability at its heart. An agriculture that produces more food from the same area of land, but with a substantial reduction in the use of scarce supplies of water and fossil fuel based inputs such as nitrogen fertilizers. That does not mean a return to an age of low input, low output or organic farming systems. They have a role to play but

Given the scale of the task, sustainability must be central to the reform of the CAP. The CAP should become a major driver in developing that new sustainable intensive model of agricultural production. It should drive innovation and the new thinking that will be needed to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. The CAP also has to help realise the tremendous opportunity there is to generate renewable energy from on farm bio waste, biogas and small scale wind and hydro power. Providing that type of green growth in rural areas will help create new job and diversification opportunities, which will be so important, in helping economic recovery as well as contributing to the renewable revolution. By putting sustainability at the heart of a new reformed CAP, European Agriculture can take the lead in further reducing greenhouse gas emissions, make a contribution to meeting the growing worldwide demand for food and energy as well as continuing to deliver food security for European consumers. It would also demonstrate quite clearly, that in meeting new challenges of the 21st century, the CAP and European farmers are part of the solution and not part of the problem. The European Parliament backed that vision of the future in its first report voted through with a large majority in July 2010 and the Commission followed our lead in its communication in November. We must now build on that consensus and turn the vision into a reality.

〜 by George Lyon MEP Liberal Coordinator for Agriculture and Rural Development in the European Parliament

The main objective of such an incentive is the reduction of the state debt and not the price reduction of financing debts that contain the risk to continue with lax fiscal policies.

〜 by Wolf Klinz MEP Chairman of the Committee on Financial, Economic and Social Crisis (CRIS) in the European Parliament This article is based on the original German version as published in the Financial Times Deutschland on 31 January 2011.

The ELDR Party’s Focus Year on the budget of the European Union and the EU’s multiannual financial framework which will run from 2014 to 2020 and determine the EU’s economic fortunes over the coming decadecontinues. By logging on to www.eldrfocus.eu, you will not only be able to read liberal views and discussion on these issues – you also have the possibility to vote in frequent polls, contribute to the discussion and ask questions to key liberal politicians. This Focus Year will run until November 2011, when the discussion will be the cornerstone of the main Theme of THE European Liberal event in 2011: the ELDR Party Congress in Palermo, Italy!


May 2011 | ELDR News n°9 | www.eldr.eu

Join the ELDR Party as Associate member!

Do you want to become associated to ELDR? From now on it is possible! Associate Membership for individuals is a sign of support to the European liberal values of freedom and individual responsibility, democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and tolerance. For ELDR, it is a new way to engage interested European citizens in the role and activities of our Party. «The launch of Associate Membership for individuals is another step in the continuing development of the ELDR Party from a network of liberal parties into a fully fledged European political party,» said ELDR Secretary General Federica Sabbati. She continued: «Once there will be truly panEuropean election campaigns and European candidates in the elections for the European Parliament, ELDR will be ready to involve its associate members in our election campaign activities.» Membership is 25 € per year which will give you:

Want to become an associated member of ELDR? Read this code! What do you need to read it? Two main things: 1. A smartphone with a camera and Internet connectivity 2. A QR code reader (see explanation below) QR code reader: Some smartphones have a QR code reader already installed, but if not , you will need to download the reader and install it yourself. Example for iPhone: After you have you have your reader installed, start it and snap a picture of the QR code. Make sure that your hand is steady and that you are able to include the whole code into the picture. There will be some instances when the scan would fail, do not worry, just keep on snapping. If successful, you should get an ELDR membership application form on your screen.

1) An Associate membership card, 2) H  ome delivery of the quarterly ELDR newspaper, 3) The ELDR electronic newsletter. 4) P  ersonalised invitations for selected events. Furthermore, associate members will be able to participate and be a candidate in online elections that will select the delegate(s) representing associate members at the yearly ELDR Congress. You can sign up at www.eldr.eu/associate

ELDR Party aisbl European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party Parti européen des Libéraux, Démocrates et Réformateurs Rue Montoyerstraat 31, 1000 Brussels Tel. 02 237 01 40 - Fax 02 231 19 07 Editor / Publisher: ELDR Party Lay-out and impression: Trinôme Published with the support of the European Parliament. Printed on recycled paper

Planning of the ELDR meetings in 2011 · E LDR Council in Dresden, Germany, 20 May 2011 · S eminar for local and national media in Brussels, Belgium, 15-16 June 2011

· L iberal Academy in Brussels, Belgium, 6-8 September 2011 · L iberal Summit in Brussels, Belgium, 17 November 2011 · E LDR Party Congress in Palermo, Italy, 23-25 November 2011

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Italy: a part of Europe or apart from Europe?

This year’s ELDR Congress will be held in the Sicilian city of Palermo. ELDR member Italia dei Valori confirms its commitment to ELDR by hosting our most important event of the year. As an Italian I am very glad of this choice, as I believe that more than ever before we need to restate loudly in Italy the liberal-democratic values that Europe was built upon with Italy’s support. As we prepare for Palermo, the political climate in Italy is heated by two main events in which the country’s increasing distance from Europe shows. The first is the campaign for two sets of electoral appointments. In mid May 2011 regional and local elections will take place, with landmark elections including Milan in the north and Naples in the south. Politically as important are three referenda next June: on the privatization of water services, on nuclear energy and on the legitimate impediment – a law to protect the prime minister and government ministers from trial due to impediments arising from their official schedules. Both votes are important tests for the government and for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, particularly in the wake of scandals involving prostitutes (also under-age) allegedly attending parties in Berlusconi’s residences. It has shocked many to hear that his comments to accounts of his encounters have been of the type “better liking beautiful girls than being gay”. In the latest electoral rally

in support of his candidate for mayor of Milan, Berlusconi went so far as to name the Milan magistrates (where he is on trial for this and other cases) a “cancer to be eradicated”. Anywhere else in Europe a Prime Minister would resign over such declarations. The fact that Berlusconi doesn’t, shows the extent to which Italy’s political culture has degenerated away from Europe’s standards. A second event – and the Italian response to it – follows the revolutions in the Arab world. Since the beginning of 2011, 20.000 immigrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily aboard fishing boats, in search of a better life in Europe. The difficulties in handling them have sparked head-on fights between the Italian government and the EU Commission as well as the government of France, where many are directed to. The anti-immigration rhetoric and positions of the Italian government ministers from the party Lega Nord are amongst the most negative in Europe. An EU’s interior ministers meeting last April, which ended in Italy’s demands remaining unsatisfied, prompted Italy’s interior minister to put into question even Italy’s EU membership over the issue.

times due to poverty, the same reasons north African immigrants come to Europe today. ELDR’s Italian member parties are strongly pro-European and it is this spirit that needs to prevail in an Italy which I feel is distancing more and more from European liberal democratic values. The presence of ELDR in Italy next November is an opportunity to reiterate that freedom doesn’t mean freedom to do whatever with impunity; that the respect of public institutions is a guarantee of the freedom of every citizen and that the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law are core values of a European democracy. There can only be one possible future for Italy: it is as a part of Europe, not apart from Europe.

〜 Federica Sabbati, Secretary General, ELDR Party 9 May 2011

How ironic that this should come from a country which between 1861 (Italy’s unification) and 1961 has provided the biggest mass migration of contemporary

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