A messy divorce, and a constructive way forward

Clive Sneddon, scottish Alde IM give us a point of view about Brexit, ALDE uncertain future for British members and a way to forward

The vision of Europe which resonates for me is the one attributed to two Italian prisoners of war who imagined a Europe in which war is unthinkable as a result of Europeans living and working in each others’ countries and getting to know each other.

Today’s European Union derives, not from the 1946 Monnet Plan to annex the Saar and Ruhr valleys approved by De Gaulle as head of the French provisional Government, but from the Schuman Declaration of 9th May 1950, which envisages concrete steps to be taken by France and Germany and any other state wishing to join them to make war materially impossible.

A vision of individual Europeans getting to know each other is not the same as a vision of states working together. The most powerful institution of the EU today is the Council of Ministers, a set of people elected by their own national voters, with no European remit, who fight for their country’s interests in Brussels. And yet, paradoxically, each major treaty of the EU involves movement towards a United States of Europe, as in Schengen and the Eurozone.

These two differing visions of Europe have led to the messy divorce that is Brexit. Those who were able to study, work, research, marry and retire in other member states agree with the Italian prisoners of war. Those in Britain who were promised economic benefits on joining the then EEC in the 1970s, but feel left behind by the world economy, see no reason to stay in a group of states that from their point of view has not delivered economically, treats other member states such as Greece harshly, and arrives at decisions the European Parliament will then impose whatever national parliaments say.

It is clearly harder to realise a vision of states working together than a vision of people working together. An enterprise begun by France and Germany, whose major decisions all require France and Germany to agree before other states are brought on board, does not feel like a partnership of equals. The 1960s demonstrated this, when De Gaulle twice vetoed British applications to join the EEC, and forced through the Common Agricultural Policy in 1965 by paralysing all decision-making until he got his way. Pompidou then created a Common Fisheries Policy as a pre-condition of entry when four applications were live, and Norway in the end declined to join as a result.

The EU’s reaction to the 2016 Brexit vote fits this history of states pursuing their own self-interest. First the arguments over which state shall get which EU institution from the UK. Then the insistence on only the UK making proposals, and judging every proposal by the EU’s rule book, which had no provision for cherry picking. And now the proposal that after Brexit the UK shall be bound by EU rules on state aid, and shall give over its fishing grounds to France, with President Macron insisting that the UK must accept what the EU offers.

From this messy divorce, there are lessons to be learned on both sides. The UK should for its part not accept something it does not agree with, even for a package it otherwise wants. The Fisheries Policy was a problem from the beginning, while the acceptance as a member of one supra-national element, the pre-eminence of European Parliamentary legislation, was a mistake, ruthlessly exploited by the Leave campaign.

The EU should recognise that its political project has hit the buffers. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty has not so far led to a United States of Europe, and it seems unlikely it ever will. The EU had a future when individual states were queuing up to join. Once one state has left, it cannot achieve Europe-wide union.

I am a convinced European, but Italian prisoner of war style. As an individual member of ALDE, I have subscribed to the Stuttgart declaration. Eligibility to join ALDE ends when the UK’s transition period ends. If ALDE wants to be a wider movement of pro-European individuals, it should accept members of parties belonging to Liberal International from any European country. It should also recognise that the Stuttgart declaration’s institutional building blocks have been achieved but helped bring about Brexit, which means ALDE needs a new founding declaration. What can ALDE do to help Europeans get to know each other better?

I would suggest it could encourage the EU to allow people to work in each other’s countries and get to know each other without their country having to belong to the Single Market. It could also advocate creating a European citizenship, open to any citizen of a European country. After the messy divorce, a constructive approach to working with all European non-member states of the EU would be welcome. Time is now needed for British public opinion to evolve, but a positive evolution will be much easier to achieve if the EU is prepared to extend the hand of friendship now.


Dear Individual Members,

We Congress delegates are happy to invite you to join our weekly resolution conferences starting October 21st.

As many of you have already submitted resolutions for discussion, we decided to go a new way and actually bring us individual members closer together by meeting online. We think it is a nice idea to actually see each other and giving each author the possibility to present their resolution to all of us and at the same time allowing all IMs to ask questions, debate and make amendments to each resolution during the meeting.

Our resolution conferences will be held every Wednesday at 20:30 on Webex until we’ve worked through all submitted resolutions or hit the deadline (which we don’t know yet because of the postponed ALDE Congress). We will definitely reconsider the schedule, if we run out of time before Congress deadlines.

As we decided to only discuss one resolution per conference meeting, we think that one hour is a good time frame for discussion and convincing your fellow IMs to support your resolution. (Presentation of resolution: up to 10 min, questions & answers: up to 20 mins, amendments: up to 30 min)

The first conference will take place on Wednesday, 21st of October 2020 at 20:30 CET.

Anders Basbøll will present his resolution „Climate change: Expand ETS and Net zero“

More resolutions to be discussed in the forthcoming weeks (dates will be announced shortly):

– A new approach to European Migration Policy: Pascal Hureau, Cedric Viero, Robert Arthur Crane, Isabelle Négrier

– Towards a true party of citizens: Pascal Hureau, Cedric Viero, Robert Arthur Crane, Isabelle Négrier

– Towards a true party of citizens: Pascal Hureau, Cedric Viero, Robert Arthur Crane,Isabelle Négrier

– Freedom of movement – sustainable mobility: Pascal Hureau, Cedric Viero, Robert Arthur Crane, Isabelle Négrier

– Spitzenkandidaten: Anders Basbøll

– Commission’s size: Vladan Lausevic

And a few more coming resolutions.

Please note: In case you are not able to participate in a certain conference, but you are interested in the topic, feel free to send us a message with your questions or feedback so we can ask the author during the meeting. We plan on having our conferences recorded, so you will be able to watch at a later time.

We are looking forward to seeing you in our conferences!

Your Congress delegates,

Theresa, Anders and Lianna

The COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of European SME

Dr. Dirk Kreder just recently joined the ALDE Individual Members. He is a member of the Free Democrats Party and municipal councillor in his hometown Holzkirchen, Upper Bavaria. As a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of four companies, he gives an insight into the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).

The ongoing pandemic raises many questions. Trivial ones and a lot of difficult ones. Very hard trade-offs are being made on our behalf by elected officials, and it is worth looking at those trade-offs, challenging what is justified and what is not, and use the learnings as preparation for the next pandemic which will come in just a few years.

As the CEO of four companies, in three European countries, each affected in different ways by the pandemic,while initiating work on COVID responses (development and regulation of tests, a vaccine, and one treatment) and as a liberal, I find what is happening today extremely challenging from both personal and business perspectives.

From the personal perspective, I note my daughter preparing for her career-deciding high school diploma during lockdown with a terribly inadequate digital infrastructure, another daughter losing 60 – 70% of her income from her job with a major airline, a COVID-19 case in my immediate family and 2 weeks of complete isolation with friends leaving food at the front door, dramatic decline of revenue for some of my companies, an inability to travel, inability to socialise, the list could go on and on. None of these were easy to deal with. 

While the response to the pandemic by businesses and governments is unprecedented and will likely succeed in months to years, what appears much less convincing is the level of preparation in most countries in Europe. Just to share a few (of my personal) conclusions from a business perspective:

Firstly, the world has developed a well-oiled mechanism to deal with the ever-changing influenza virus. Every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) isolates the most important strains in Asia and, by May or so, all major vaccine developers receive those strains from WHO and develop vaccines. Not counting occasional hiccups, this works flawlessly and, by September, you can get the vaccine from a nurse or physician. Yet, there are positions like what I recently heard from my brother: “I have never had the flu, so why should I get a flu shot?” Science and politics should urgently improve our populations’ understanding of the incredible value vaccinations bring to our societies. Our economy cannot afford the enormous costs of avoidable epidemics. For one, more businesses should consider for example offering flu shots to their employees.

Secondly, our decision-makers in charge have done a mediocre job at best of actually listening to science including reactions severely impacting our civil rights. As pandemic will happen in the future, it can no longer be the case that no workable emergency plan exists and that decision makers – for example, leaders of the German federal states – come to different conclusions for their states in similar situations. What bugs me most as a virologist and immunologist by training is this: why has the Swedish model been subject to ridicule by most media and politicians outside Sweden? Instead of shutting down our economies and lives, we could have taken a more serious look at Sweden, and we would have found that most of the tragic fatalities were due to early mistakes that were quickly corrected. Today, Sweden is doing quite well despite no lockdown.

Thirdly, despite the fact that this is the first time many people heard of coronavirus: this is not the scariest virus, not even close (you may want to watch ‘93 Days’ on Netflix). The world very narrowly avoided pandemics from the SARS and MERS viruses, both respiratory disease-causing viruses from the same family and has learned… exactly nothing. Germany ran out of protective gear within days, which is nothing short of embarrassing and completely unacceptable. How is it possible that a moderately mortal virus, expected to arrive at some point, shuts our economies down and allows for almost complete revocation of our civil liberties? I can only come to one conclusion: ignorance and poor preparation, a less than effective European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and politicians who panic easily. 

The silver lining: we will likely come out of this situation quite soon. Thanks to an unprecedented effort of mostly private sector efforts fueled by enormous amounts of taxpayer’s money. Never before have so many companies engaged in a pandemic response, been afforded so much public money with regulators lowering the burden by so much. It is an easy prediction that by the end of 2020, we should have one or two vaccines approved and by mid-2021, maybe four or five. Thanks to the private sector, we will also likely have two or three effective therapies in due time. This has never happened before in such a short timeframe and is a great achievement. At the same time, we, our children and grandchildren will pay dearly for it.

Finally, Europe has to be much better prepared when the next virus hits.

Dirk Kreder

About the Coronavirus and our individual responsibilities

Ádám Bakai is a Hungarian individual member living in Munich and the Vice President of Momentum in Munich, Germany. He wrote about Coronavirus pandemic

The  corona virus crisis and the different restrictions and regulations are impacting all of us heavily. Unfortunately lots of regulations can’t be understood very easily or are even controversial. However, we must protect ourselves against the virus, if possible without having to lock down entire countries again.

I read a lot, that some people still choose to ignore the rules. They are not just outraged, when new restrictions and possible penalties attached to those are introduced, but they desperately try to play the system. “They don’t know where I am travelling from”, “ I won’t pay the penalty and I won’t wear masks either!”, “Others don’t keep the rules either, why should I?” These are few examples of many reactions I meet day by day. I saw in the news the other day, that the German authorities are not able to trace back the infected people in a bar in Hamburg, just because hundreds of guests chose to give fake personal information to the restaurant.

Adam Bakai

I do understand, that we would all like to go home to our families without any problems, that we need to go to work, we need to take care of different matters. We would also like to go to restaurants, meet friends and live our life as good as possible. Our individual life does not stop from the corona virus – of course only if we pay attention to ourselves and to each other as well. The different regulations are not worth anything, if a significant part of people don’t keep the rules. Because of that, the virus will probably spread quicker, which will lead to further restrictions.

I am asking you: do we need that? Do we need kindergartens and schools to be closed down again? Do we need to get locked in between the 4 walls of our apartments again? Do we need workplaces to get locked down again, just because we were unable to step up together against the virus? Do we need to risk our own life as well as other people’s lives?

Let’s wear the masks regularly, by covering both our mouth and nose as well. Let’s be a role model for our children and let’s protect our older loved ones. If we don’t really have to travel somewhere, let’s stay at home and let’s discover our own surroundings instead! Let’s keep a safe distance from the people! Let’s disinfect our hands on a regular basis! These are all compromises, which we can all live with, without bigger sacrifices. If we see someone who is not keeping the rules, let’s kindly explain them what to do! Shall we really need to travel somewhere, let’s do that with the biggest care and caution! If we don’t understand the new rules, let’s dig into them thoroughly, what we need to do!

We should not be role models of playing the system and breaking the rules, but we should be role models of keeping those rules. Only this way we can protect our own health and also others’, and we can also avoid further restrictions on our personal lives.

Ádám Bakai


Theresa Zettl is an ALDE individual member from Germany and was recently elected as delegate for the upcoming ALDE Congress. She is a member of the COVID-19 working group of the individual members. She talks here about Coronavirus pandemic, and EU efforts during and after lockdown

“In my opinion, the EU [European Union] has faced the hardest trial since the moment it was established.” Angela Merkel, German chancellor, emphasised this in April pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit all countries of the EU.With more than 27.6 million infected people and almost one million deaths worldwide,2 the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to become at least as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, scientists warned in a study published in the medical journal, JAMA Network Open, in August 2020.3 While European countries like Italy and Spain called for a complete lockdown to keep COVID-19 from spreading, other countries like Brazil still refuse to recognize the seriousness of the virus.4

Surely, lockdowns were a good decision with regard to containment of the virus, but the impact of the lockdown on people and economy has been and remains tremendous. For example, comparing lockdowns has already shown which countries have done their homework with regards to digitalisation. Switching from regular school to homeschooling and from workplace to home offices made clear which governments urgently need to act to make high-speed broadband available.

Work-life balances have been completely turned upside down, especially for single parents. It has been even more challenging for working single parents who are now supervising their school-age children and simultaneously working from home – or struggling to find someone to take care of their children where homeworking is not an option.

Unfortunately, lockdown has also increased the cases of domestic violence, as victims – mostly women – are trapped at home with their abusers. The United Nations published numbers that domestic abuse increased by 20% worldwide during lockdowns.5 Doctors are also reporting a rise of severe mental health issues as a direct result of the pandemic itself: isolation, substance abuse, domestic violence, economic uncertainty as well as the job loss fears are considered as factors that might contribute to the need for extra support to prevent people from burnout, depression or committing suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic.6

So how can we all prevent further lockdowns until the vaccine has been approved? We should trust our scientists more. It’s likely none have ever been exposed to a virus with such a high mortality rate. As time has passed, we have learnt more about the virus and have had to change how we respond to it. Unfortunately, it has become popular to spread conspiracy theories on social media – even when it is more than obvious these theories are fake and not based on scientific fact. There are too many people claiming they are living under dictatorship because they are facing short-term restrictions such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Those of us who live in democratic countries, and especially in Europe, should be grateful that we do not live in a genuine dictatorship. 

Theresa Zettl


1) https://tass.com/world/1140903
2) John Hopkins University & Medicine | Coronavirus Resource Center: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
    Global cases: 27.583.796, global deaths: 897.671; numbers as at 9th September 2020
3) https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/13/scientists-say-the-coronavirus-is-at-least-as-deadly-as-the-1918-flu-pandemic.html
4) https://peoplesdispatch.org/2020/08/14/brazils-national-government-has-undermined-COVID-19-containment-measures/
5) https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-53014211 
6) https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53742121 


Dear fellow ALDE Individual Members!

2016 was the year I joined ALDE IM and would have joined many years before, if I had known we existed. I will work hard to represent all individual members and their dreams and wishes for the ALDE Party Congress. 

My name is Finn Nielsen, from Denmark and active in the Danish ALDE party Radikale Venstre since 1997. I live with my fiancé Kasper and our dachshund in Odense,the fairy tale town of Hans Christian Andersen. I have a master of Chinese and have been a teacher at a general adult education centre since 2011. I am the president of the regional branch of Radikale Venstre for Southern Denmark and the president of the local branch of the Danish European Movement. Since 2017 I have also been the country coordinator for Denmark.

I have been active in numerous local, regional, national and European elections. One of the most memorable was when I campaigned for RemaIN in Devon in 2016. Despite the terrible result it has given me a considerable insight into the minds of the UK voters and the debate at the time. And it may not be for everyone to campaign on a Danish fall day, when most people are tired of politics. Then it is a great comfort to know that you helped political figures such as Margrethe Vestager win elections and that they were there with you in the cold rain staying positive.

For the Congress in Stockholm I hope to bring people together and encourage more members to take part, even as attendees without a vote. I believe I can be diplomatic and network with other delegates from national ALDE parties to lay the groundwork for the Congress and provide a better understanding of IM resolutions as well as work with other delegates to promote progressive resolutions.

When I took part in the last ALDE Party Congress in Warsaw, I was very impressed by the energy of the ALDE IM delegates. You may think that what we as individual members need is more formal power, but I believe we stand to gain influence through persuasion and with our innovative solutions and great proposals. I have no doubt that we will again utilize our creative powers in drafting first-class resolutions. The hard part is convincing the other delegates on our ideas, some may be obvious to vote for while other may be controversial.

We must use our soft power in opening up minds to our controversial resolutions. There are many areas in which we can work for a more liberal and democratic Europe; environment, transparent trade policies, democracy on a European level in close contact to citizens and a cultural flourishing Europe.

For Council I will strive to represent all ALDE IMs of all ages and backgrounds. I will do my utmost to include all voices in the preparation for the Council and keep everyone informed about what happens at the Council. The work will be carried out in close contact with the Steering Committee. I stand for a liberal Europe that fights for democracy, the rule of law and diversity. Europe must lead in the green transition and be a power for good in a world of Trump and Putin. 

I am very honoured to be one of five nominees for delegate to the Congress and one of only two nominees for delegate to the ALDE Council. I hope to debate with all candidates in the Facebook group and answer any questions you may have in the coming days. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram with #VoteFinn.


I am Anders Basbøll, I am running to serve you as a delegate to the ALDE Congress. I have been a member for many years, and have participated in many ALDE IM events since my first on refugees in Düsseldorf 2016. I have attended the ALDE congresses in 2017 and 2019 and 2 more a long time ago.

I am 42 years old, doctor of Physics. I work as Chief Adviser in the Danish Gambling Authority. I live in Odense, Denmark, with my 2 daughters (10 and 8). I want them to grow up and have (at least!) the same European rights and freedoms as my generation have had. We shall not let fear of immigrants, terrorists nor viruses close our (internal) borders or our hearts. Speaking of borders, the way governments all want control with outer borders when they speak in public, but refuse to spend recourses on it when governments meet behind closed doors, is a good illustration why I want European parliamentary democracy (e.g. Spitzenkandidaten) and majority voting in the council. We need european leaders with a clear mandate. That is why I wrote a resolution on Spitzenkandidaten last year. I also co-wrote a resolution on stregthening the cap and trade (for carbon emissions) to combat climate change, with the best economical weapons that we have. Liberals should have a clear platform here. Not ignoring the problem as some conservatives do (it hurts industry!) and not using it as some socialists do to revive old dreams of the state planning the economy (remember Eastern Europe during the cold war?). We shall set strong rules to ensure net zero emissions, and use market forces to get there as efficient as possible – guided by the choices and ideas of workers and consumers.

I also joined ALDE working groups on the manifesto for the EP election of 2019 on defence in Warszawa (where I spoke out for a role for the European Parliament, not just governments) and on trade in København (speaking out against using the climate as an excuse to avoid trade deals). I have recently enjoyed online meetings on Covid-19 (with VP Lambsdorf, thanks Germany) and on Transylvanian local democracy (Thanks, Romania). Great meetings both of them! Exchange of ideas and information across boarders are who we are. And I think that Covid-19 have shown many of us, that online meetings can work well. There has never been a better time to be in a continentwide organisation. I stand ready to fight for you from day one, and I look forward to cooperating with you all – whether I am elected or not. I enjoy the work on resolutions and would like to secure that ours are well written and well presented. I look forward to reaching out to other delegations to reach majorities for our proposals. And I look forward to receiving all your knowledge and ideas when we decide how to vote on other resolutions. This includes the work on urgent resolutions. The ALDE congress should be a strong platform for speaking out against human rigths violations and lack of democracy… in Belarus and/or elsewhere….. and a way to set moral guidance for liberal parties in government.

ALDE IM is my only political affiliation (unless you count cross party Danish European Movement, of which I am a national and local board member).


Dear ALDE Individual Members,

#ALDECongress Delegate election is very close. Being an Individual Member of ALDE since 2019, it is honour for me to be one of the 5 nominees. I want to cease this chance to use my tenacity and experience to work more actively for this Democratic European Family.

Democracy  and Liberalism is a part of me and I consider ALDE my second family.

Hi, I am  Lianna Meelker-Amirkhanyan, from the Netherlands, a mother of two, 3 and 1,5 years old,  a wife and with my Dutch husband we run a family Financial Business. I Study European Law and coach working women Time Management.

Since 2014 I am a member of local VVD Party which stands for Liberalism and Democracy and is a part of ALDE. Having been an active volunteer in two terms of European Parliament elections, I had a chance to work with Hans van Baleen, from where I became an Individual Member of ALDE.

As a new member of ALDE I already had a chance to have my video in ALDE social media and I get familiar with the members via social media, and managed to know many of them. In my turn I invited a few VVD members to become ALDE Individual Members. I believe in ALDE Individual Members power, I believe we can work cohesively for ALDE Missions and Values, for Rule of Law, for Bill of Right, for Equal Division of Power and for Equality to defend Democracy. This is what led me here.

I offer my candidacy to be a part to align and delegate all activities of the IMs, which in its turn will support ALDE’s mission in today’s most difficult period time for the world due to COVID-19. We can overcome this together and not let this damage our democracy.

 My strong personality, right timing in work, love and passion for European Democracy and ability working with team and drive things happen, ability to communicate in 6 languages  will be a part of ALDE activities positive result. I always say what I mean, and I do what I say. I believe that our mission is about addition not a division, a unity over division will bring ALDE into better position. Being elected or not, I am going to work hard with all members, I am going to invest myself in innovation of projects for IMs group. I wish the best for ALDE and our IMs family and let us chose the best candidate for the party. We are a family and can stand for each other.

I had that feeling after being endorsed by six IMs generously, the same way I will stand for each member’s activity, despite of the result of the elections.

I would like to thank the members endorsing me, Daniel and Julia for their hard work and Hans van Baleen, thanks to whom I am in ALDE.

This seems improbable beat.

I am open for any questions, comments and criticism.

My warm Regards to all Members and ALDE administration.

Lianna Meelker-Amirkhanyan

ALDE International Members Congress delegates: get to know candidates/1: Theresa Zettl

Dear fellow ALDE individual members,

As you have already been informed, the delegate elections for Council and Congress will take place shortly. I have decided to run as a delegate for Congress and would like to ask for your support. As I would like to give you the possibility to get to know me a little better, I’d like to introduce myself to you.

My name is Theresa Zettl, I am 33 years old, I work in marketing and live together with my six-year-old daughter in Lower Bavaria, Germany. Even before the federal elections in 2017, I became a member of the German liberal party FDP and I have been an ALDE individual member since July 2019.

After one year of being an active ALDE IM, I would like to get myself involved even more in the matters of the individual members than posting in the Facebook group only. Although the ALDE IM have been established six years ago, we are still rather unknown. I experienced, when talking to pro-European people from the national parties, that they do know the ALDE party or Renew but have mostly never ever heard of the ALDE individual membership. In my first year of being an ALDE IM I successfully recruited quite a few liberal democrats to join us.

The Covid-19 pandemic shows that Europe itself, but also the European idea lives from the commitment, dedication, and cohesion of its citizens. The situation is quite similar for us individual members. I am sure that we IMs could have a great influence on Europe, and it is my opinion and goal, that our voice as IMs should be heard in the ALDE Congress and – even more important, be taken seriously. However, this requires delegates who are self-confident, motivated, and consistent in their actions in cooperation with the Steering Committee to successfully implement our decisions in Congress.

Have you realized yet, that there is a development, especially among the younger generation, that European policy is no longer seen as a separate policy field that somehow stands next to social or health policy, but that the European level is perceived as an additional level of politics?
Many Europeans are disappointed by their national policy and therefore are looking for a transnational organizational structure in which they can implement European policy from the outset. And that is exactly the point at which we, the ALDE individual members, must be their contact persons to introduce and convince them to share the idea of a liberal, united Europe.

So, if I could see two initiatives to be worth supporting in the ALDE Congress, it would be the following two: One of them is standing straight up against rising right-wing populism in EU member states. Member states that restrict the rights of their citizens due to their gender, origin, religion, or sexual orientation should no longer receive any EU funding. We need a strong, united and a Europe of solidarity in which we value and even more important, promote our cultural diversity. Another important initiative would be that we need to call upon the EU to invest more in non-violent conflict management and develop its strengths as a mediator in conflicts. In regard of the large number of violent conflicts worldwide, the EU should not arm states that wage war or violate human rights. The EU is the world’s most successful and long-lasting peace project and it is in our hands to ensure that this project will never fail.

“School’s out!” — As Europe restarts, opening schools should be among the main priorities

Julian Petrat, ALDE Individual Member, wrote about the impact of school closures caused by COVID-19 as well as the future of education

In response to the spread of COVID-19, schools have been closed in most European countries. Students across the continent have been denied access to adequate education for months. The impact on my generation will be destructive. Opening schools should therefore be a priority when easing restrictions.

When schools were shut throughout Europe in March, the arguments in favour of such measures were mostly based on the assumption that children would be rapid spreaders of the virus. While the science still is unclear, research suggests that children are at a lower risk of getting infected and spreading the virus. This indicates that the benefits of school closures in slowing the spread of COVID-19 could be minor.

What cannot be neglected, however, are the effects on development of children. Neither digital classes nor motivated parents can replace real-life lessons given by teachers. Children also cannot acquire important social skills by interacting with their peers. The long-term effect on my generation could be devastating. It is estimated that younger children could lose as much as one year of progress in some subjects.

To make matters worse, the poorest children are those who suffer the most. Many do not have the necessary equipment to participate in digital classes. While parents in richer families tend to be well-educated more often, poorer families might not be able to offer the same level of academic support for their children.

If schools remain closed, it will continue to pose a challenge to parents. They will continue to have to find someone to take care of their children and therefore likely to be less productive. At the same time, it is often mothers who are responsible for childcare. School closures are a serious concern for their professional lives.

It is by no means certain that the virus poses only a minor threat to young people. Nevertheless, the consequences of school closures are too severe to justify them in the long-term. The only reasonable conclusion is that schools must be one of the main priorities when reopening.

With the correct planning, this should be no problem. Young children who are not old enough to coordinate their own learning process should be allowed to return first. Older students could return later because they might be an increased risk but are more disciplined and can follow the hygiene rules.

Such plans are never free of risk. Policymakers might feel like exposing young people to the virus. The process of reopening schools should therefore be supervised by scientists. Schools need sufficient financial and material support to successfully manage this but we must keep in mind that education is the driving force of innovation and progress in our society. It is a risk we must take.

Meanwhile, some schools are beginning to carefully reopen in many European countries. This gives me hope for a quick recovery. If we get this right, we can avoid the worst consequences. My generation is full of bright minds who cannot wait to realize their potential. Do not abandon them.

The future of education

The pandemic also provides an opportunity for sustainable change towards better education, the foundation of a progressive society. In the 21st century, it is crucial that students acquire key digital skills to face a rapidly developing labour market.

This is an opportunity for schools to permanently adapt digital solutions to adjust to modern standards that have lacked attention in the past. We should not simply transfer real-life classes to the digital world. Instead, there is the need for dynamic solutions that work for all students. This situation has unforeseen potential for technological progress in education. Our schools deserve the resources to explore it.

During these times, it has also become obvious how important personalized learning is. School closures show how much a student’s academic success relies on their personal situation. When schools reopen, we should learn from these experiences and find ways for a more inclusive, self-paced learning environment.

It relies on the cooperation of all parties involved if we succeed in achieving sustainable improvements in education. Governments, teachers, parents, and students alike should work towards learning from this situation. The pandemic poses an incredible challenge to all of us. If we draw the right conclusions, it is an opportunity for a brighter future for coming generations.

Julian Petrat