European Liberal Democrats, from Federation to Party: More than the sum of its parts

In this blog post, Daniel Tanahatoe, describes the history of the ALDE Party, focusing on the direct involvement of citizens, namely on the individual membership of the party, which today counts more than 2500 members instead. Finally, Daniel discusses the role of individual members and their goals. 

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, or ALDE Party in short, has a long history. With the perspective of the first direct elections to the European Parliament and the need to coordinate liberal policies, the “Federation of liberal and democratic parties of the European Community” was established, in March 1976. As such, Liberals were the first to create their pan-European political family, based on the Stuttgart declaration. That document is not just the founding act of the Federation, it also outlines the values of the organisation and the strong belief in European integration.

In 1992, the Treaty of the European Union was signed in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Recognising the importance of European political parties, the Treaty introduced in article 138A for the first time such entities. The then President Willy De Clercq emphasised that: “The political parties at the European level are recognised as an essential element for European integration. They contribute to the European spirit and help to express the will of the citizens of the European Union. The political parties at the European level will offer a complementary option for citizens to participate in European integration.” Although Viscount De Clercq highlighted the step towards more democracy and citizens’ participation at the European level, most of the political action remained in the hands of the member parties at the national level through which citizens could influence European integration.

The first step towards direct citizens’ involvement happened in 2004 on the eve of the big EU enlargement to 25 member states, when member parties adopted new statutes which included for the first time a mention of “individual members.” Yet, it took until 2010 when the Party Bureau under the leadership of then President Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck decided to activate individual membership.

Though some other European political parties had already started experimenting with direct citizens’ involvement, the European Liberal Democrats were the first to take a bold and until then unprecedented step to introduce individual membership without the need to belong to a national political party. The Liberals do not require such an affiliation, understanding how important it is to accept people for their values and not their party affiliation.

To be honest, individual membership started as an experiment. The first members can truly be called pioneers. They are people that believe that Europe is a project of peace and cooperation, tolerance and the rule of law, freedom and democracy. And that it is a project worth fighting for.

Today, with over 2500 members, and a strong growth of new members, the individual members are starting to realise their potential and truly are energising the European liberal movement.

Looking back, I become aware of how much has been done so far. Individual members have connected 40 different countries to share the same pro-European and liberal values. Becoming the new bridge-builders has been a key accomplishment of our individual members.

As the elected Chair of the individual members, Julie Cantalou, put it: “Just as the EU should aim at becoming more than the sum of its member states, individual members believe that the ALDE Party could, thanks to individual membership, become more than the sum of its parts.” One example is the involvement of individual members, through their elected delegates with voting rights, in the Congress, the highest decision-making body of the ALDE Party. Individual members help set the agenda and influence decision making.

There are still many things to be done, to involve more citizens, and make individual members’ voices heard. There are obstacles too, but the individual members are convinced that they need to stick together and work harder and that they are at home in the ALDE Party. As such, individual membership is a concrete example and way forward on how to bridge the gap between Europe and its citizens and develop our organisation into a true pan-European movement.

Daniel Tanahatoe, Communication adviser at the ALDE Party and responsible for individual membership

One thought on “European Liberal Democrats, from Federation to Party: More than the sum of its parts”

  1. I remember when I came to you at ELDR HQ in Brussels and we discussed individual membership and you told me that at that time, 2002 I think it was, there was no such membership, but that there were discussions with the ELDR Council. Cheers. I am member No. 080.


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