Europe has a long-lasting tradition of liberal thinkers, it being the birthplace of classical liberalism. Today’s self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ are a mix of corrupt politicians and activists attempting to be centrists, whereby losing all credibility.
One of the most untrue common beliefs is that ‘the truth lies somewhere in the middle, eventually leading to the conviction that taking a part of the ideas of each person of a group and merging them into one policy will undoubtedly lead to the best results. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Political parties in Europe have merged the idea that choosing a ‘common sense middle way’ between socialist and centre-right parties is what defines liberalism. The most prominent example of that is the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) group, which reunites 34 parties from all over Europe. This group claims to represent the ideas of liberalism in Europe, but there’s serious doubts that its leadership has any knowledge of actual liberal values. In its About page, ALDE faction chairman Guy Verhofstadt mentions the European Union before even using the word liberty. In fact, the whole is description is EU-centred, as ALDE is a driving force for integration and an advocate for European federalism, which very often are contrary to the principles of limited government and localism.
The Czech ALDE member ANO 2011 is lead by billionaire Andrej Babiš, Finance Minister and owner of a large media empire which covers a large part of the information supply in his country. Babiš is an ex-communist who has been accused of being linked to the Soviet KGB and whose business interest have been described as such (also by Politico):
“The Czech Republic is now a paradox: a society disgusted with corruption has given huge power to a man whose business interests amount to the biggest conflict of interest in the country’s post-1989 history.”
In France, both ALDE affiliates are mere support groups for the major Republican and Socialist parties. The Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) participated in the primary elections of the Republican party, which supports the drug war, mandatory sentencing and raising sales tax and was the party of the big French bank bailouts of 2008. UDI leaders are even to be seen sitting in the first row of the rallies of François Fillon. The Mouvement démocratique (Democratic Movement) has been gravitating to the left, but its leader François Bayrou has continuously pandered to those in power to reach high ministerial positions (like under centre-right Jacques Chirac, under which he served as Minister of Education), while implementing no notable reforms to reduce government.
The Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom run on the worst kind of centrism there is. For the 2015 general election campaign, the LibDems ran on the slogan “We will bring a heart to a Tory Government and a brain to a Labour one“, essentially telling us nothing about the intent of their philosophy and the direction of their policy. In their coalition with the Conservative Party, the LibDems have been a major obstacle for more far-reaching spending cuts. The party and its leader Tim Farron will now refuse to vote in favour of triggering article 50, for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, as long as the government doesn’t organise a second referendum. This is essentially proving to us that after scrapping the ‘liberal’, they should also get rid of the democrats, effectively leaving nothing behind.
In the Netherlands, the liberal D66 really joined the US Democrats on the definition of the word liberal. Its government participation sees no consistent reform of entitlements and welfare spending and it’s only recently that government debt tries to move itself back to the line of 60% of GDP to meet the Euro convergence criteria.
All in all, ALDE is a sad representative of European liberalism, a philosophy which has enriched the continent with the great tradition of advocating for small government. Only in a handful of countries (like Germany) has the original meaning of this political philosophy been preserved.
European liberalism is that of Scottish economist Adam Smith, French thinker Frédéric Bastiat, English philosopher John Stuart Mill or the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. Its tradition is that of scepticism towards big government, not that of a middle way between two forms of social democracy. And while centrism might claim to create a balance of power between what is traditionally seen as left and right, its philosophy is not that of liberalism, neither philosophically, nor practically.
Since ALDE politicians advocate for more political integration, which inevitably leads to more taxation through homogenous tax systems, and thereby support a system which already takes more than half of your income, they should at least give us the word liberalism back.
We’d really like to have it back.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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