January 9, 2017
By Dominik Kirchdorfer, Head of Expansion
Rumours have quickly turned to facts, as the ALDE group in the European Parliament has entered into negotiations with Italy’s Five Star Movement on the prospects of an alliance. This comes as a surprise to many, as ALDE has only last month rebranded itself with a new logo, using the fast forward symbol to declare itself the progressive force in the European Parliament. Progressive in the sense that we move forward with the liberal system and the European Union we have established, and reform and deepen them as we move forward.
But those that follow EP politics closely will understand the ALDE group’s reasoning behind it. After all, Guy Verhofstadt is running for EP president. He is a popular and well known candidate, both in Belgium and abroad. But he lacks the political power to achieve victory. By having the 5 Star Movement join, the ALDE group would surpass the ECR in seats and ascend to the third biggest party in the European Parliament. That would strengthen Verhofstadt’s bid enormously. Not only would he have greater backing in his own ranks, but a shift to the left in ALDE would also make him appear more appealing to members of S&D and the Greens, whose support he needs to win.
But Verhofstadt is playing a dangerous game. If the 5SM joins, ALDE gains a lot of more influence in the EP and Verhofstadt may end up the president after all. The confidence loss will be minimal amongst voters, because nobody cares about EU politics or cares to report it in national media. However, the same cannot be said for internal faction cohesion. As the platform VoteWatch.eu demonstrated, 5SM only matches ALDE in social policies.
So while members of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee are more than happy to receive the extra support for their policies, this will anger more economically liberal parties like Venstre, which will then leave and likely join the EPP. This may possibly not happen right away, which is what Verhofstadt may be banking on, as he really just cares about the presidency.
In other words, ALDE will cease to be a centrist faction and veer off to the left. Unfortunately, this will not be in keeping with the recent rebranding of moving forward and being ‘progressive’, because it will mean less integration. 5SM is not just left, but also advocates Italy’s departure from the Eurozone. Right now, ALDE is split about 50/50 on whether or not to further integrate the EU. By adding them to the mix, the party will essentially stop being the pro-integration faction in the EU, which means that we won’t actually have a pro-integration faction anymore (the EPP has also abandoned that stance a while ago).
So for me personally, this is the beginning of the end. Because ALDE is all about the balance of powers and opinions, and because it shifts to one side just to gain a few seats, it will doom itself and likely also the EU, which will no longer have any credible advocates for an ever closer union. When you can’t move forward anymore, it is only a matter of time before the whole thing comes crashing down.
Photo used under CC license.1989 Generation