A Pan-European Political Party Is Launched
Declan Ganley, the Irish businessman behind the Libertas campaign group, of the key organisations that defeated the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland's referendum on the text in June, has launched Libertas as the first truly pan-European political party.
The new Libertas Party, which aims to run candidates in all 27 European Union states for the European Parliament elections in June 2009, says it wants to democratise the European institutions, with an elected commission and a president.
"We are founding the party to campaign for the people of Europe to respond to the growing anti-democratic tendency in some of the institutions in Brussels," Mr Ganley told reporters on Thursday (11 December) in the organisation's new offices just metres away the European Council building where European premiers and presidents were arriving to meet for their last summit of the year.
The Irish taoisheach, Brian Cowen, is expected at the meeting to tell European leaders that he will hold a second referendum on the treaty if his counterparts accede to two requests: A declaration that Irish taxation policy, family, social and ethical issues, and common security and defence policy with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality should all be safeguarded; and a pledge to maintain the one-commissioner-per-state principle abolished in the Lisbon Treaty.
Pointing out that a greater percentage of Irish citizens voted against the treaty than the percentage of US citizens that voted for Barack Obama, Mr Ganley said that it is undemocratic to force Ireland to hold a second referendum and that other European citizens have been prevented from voting on the text.
"We will give [the EU leaders] the referendum they did not want to give the people of Europe."
"We are at a fork in the road, between the Europe of the Lisbon Treaty, an anti-democratic Europe that does not derive its legitimacy from the citizens…and a democratic Europe."
He insisted that the new party is not anti-EU or "eurosceptic".
"We want Europe to be strong and stand tall in the world, but based on democratic principles," he said.
"This is a pro-European organisation. There is no future for Euroscepticism. The European Union is necessary," he added.
"It is the status quo that if left as it is, will allow euro scepticism to grow."
The new party will not partner with other political parties, but rather run all its candidates under the Libertas banner in each of the EU states.
Beyond its position on democracy in Europe, Libertas' social and economic positions will be centrist, in order to attract people from across the political spectrum, although Mr Ganley was "not sure about communists."
The left in Ireland played a prominent role in campaigning against the treaty, as did the left during the French and Dutch referendums that defeated the Lisbon Treaty's precursor, the Constitutional Treaty.
However, at the press conference announcing the new party, Mr Ganley was light on policy details much beyond the treaty and the structure of the EU.
Pressed by reporters to flesh out its other positions, Mr Ganley said that the party would be broadly free-market oriented, that European defence was "very serious" and that climate change could be addressed by a pan-European competition for entrepreneurs to develop innovative new technologies.
He also said that abortion and gay marriage were not issues Libertas had campaigned on in Ireland, suggesting that these are not issues the pan-European party will either.
The party will hold a congress in Brussels the spring and hammer out its policy positions.
Mr Ganley said that no candidates had been picked yet and would not say whether any prominent politicians had signed up to his cause. He did however say that should Philippe de Villiers, the French leader of the right-wing Mouvement pour la France so wish, he would be "very pleased to have him as a candidate."
Declan Ganley said he would like to be a candidate himself, but had not yet made a decision.
The party's offices were bankrolled by Mr Ganley's Libertas Institute in Ireland, but is inspired by the online fundraising success of the Obama campaign. He encouraged EU citizens to visit Libertas.eu, and "donate a euro or a zloty or any European currency up to the €12,000 maximum."
"We badly need it," he said.
Although there are umbrella groupings in the European Parliament, such as the Party of European Socialists—the centre-left political family, and the European People's Party—its centre-right counterpart, they are still very loose and split along national lines, with very different platforms. Libertas will be the first genuinely pan-European political party with a common programme.
UKIP grumbles at competition
Britain's eurosceptic party, the UK Independence Party, said there was "absolutely no common ground on Europe between Declan Ganley's new party, Libertas, and UKIP."
UKIP's leader, Nigel Farage, said: "Libertas has nailed its colours firmly to [UK Tory chief] David Cameron's mast of wishing to stay within the European Union and try to reform from inside."
"I think it will come as a surprise to many to learn just how pro EU Mr Ganley is," he added.
Graham Watson, head of the Liberals in the European Parliament, described the new party as "anti-European", but welcomed the challenge coming from Libertas and said that it ironically may even "galvanise pro-Europeans to defend the EU."
"We are far from condemning this initiative of Declan Ganley. He is doing Europe a favour by stimulating interest and debate about the EU, which may result in a higher turnout at next year's European elections," the Liberal leader said.