The growth of a Liberal Democratic European party?

European Liberal and Centrist Politics
This contributes to a topic I’ve posted on once before ‘Greens Join Bayrou: A New Movement in the French Political Centre Takes Shape’, the progress of a broad liberal/centrist space in European politics. That post referred to the small political incident of a French Green micro-party joining the Mouvement democrate in France. The significance was that it suggested the new political party is more than just the fans of its founder and leader, Francois Bayrou. I’m getting into some rather detailed discussions throwing party names and acronyms around. I believe this irritating looking detail is important in evaluating the state of play for the liberal and centrist forces in the European political space. The strength or weakness of such forces is important for European politics, and can only be evaluated through looking at the national variations and changes.

European Democratic Party
In terms of European political alignments MODEM belongs to the European Democratic Party. The ‘party’ here refers to what are really transnational alliances of similar parties in different countries of the European Union. The party label for these alliances comes from the wish of the European Union to have all European politics. These EU ‘parties’ are inevitably rather loose compared with the constituent national parties, though if we think of the relatively loose structure of the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States, the ‘party’ label may make more sense.

European Democratic Party and the European Liberal Democratic and Reformist Party
The EDP includes the main Basque party in Spain EAJ-PNV which according to the website is autonomistic rather than separatist, and which is no a socialist or conservative party. It also defines itself as ‘non-liberal’, which looks like the rejection of purely free market economics. The other components are rather small: Alleanza Popolare (San Marino), Cesta Zemeny (Path of Change, Czech Republic, party programme in English), European Party (Republic of Cyprus), Mouvement des Citoyens pour Le Changement (Belgium/Wallonia). These are all rather small forces. What they have in common is an interest in European integration, democratic reforms, and a communitarian attitude emphasising that the market economy should be guided by social and environmental concerns, and emphasising the importance of trustful relations between citizens. The last part mentioned, MCC, is part of a larger grouping Mouvement reformateur which has the historic Francophone Belgian liberal party at is core, allied with Francophone and German speaking communal rights parties. MR as a whole does not belong to EDP, it belongs to the ELDR (European Liberal Democrats and Reformers) party, which groups European political parties belonging to the liberal tradition. The Reform part of the label was adopted to satisfy French Radicals (small party rooted in Jacobin reformism now a satellite of the main right wing party in France). At present probably just the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia finds the label necessary. As a whole ELDR is more free market/classical liberal than EDP though there are distinctly social (left) liberal parties in ELDR which would not define themselves in that way. EDP and ELDR are grouped together in ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe).

A New Major Party in Italy
I’ve left out one party from the EDP list, because as in Wallonia (Francophone Belgium) parties within the same national political space belong to EDP and ELDR orientations. What is most notable is that the space itself is changing in one of Europe’s larger countries. The Italian formation in EDP is Democrazia e Liberta-La Margaherita, a grouping of former Catholic centrists, moderates and liberals (there used to be three Italian liberal parties: Liberal, Republican, Radical. Recent fracturing and coalitions would make it difficult to give a number now). The party seems to exist between being and nothingness, it has a website listed at EDP but has folded into the broader centre left party Partito Democratico. The DP merges the Margehrita with other centrist and centre left groups (some of which are part of ELDR), and with a party descended from the Italian Communist Party, which became the Party of the Democratic Left, and then Democrats of the Left. Most of DL is joining PD but a dissenting minority has established Democratic Left.

Italian Democratic Party: Centrist or Socialist?
This bizarre series of splits, mergers and realignments has left Italy with a centre left party, PD, so far undecided between the Party of European Socialists and the EDP, and which contains a significant proportion of people who at one time wanted a socialist rupture with capitalism, and belong to a party founded by Leninist revolutionaries. Comparisons have been made with the United States Democratic Party, and that also applies to EDP. That comparison does not really say much accept that there is broad based party defining itself as non-conservative and as non-extreme left. In terms of numbers in the European Parliament, PD’s choice is interesting.

European Democrats and European Liberals
If PD joins EDP, it will be the only really major national party unless we count EAJ-PNV as the majority party of the Basque nation in Spain (though it also claims to represent French Basques). In EDP, PD will be allied through ALDE with limited state liberal free marketeers and others in the liberal tradition, and some components are still listed as part of ELDR. The ELDR/EDP distinction is hard to maintain. Centrist Basque autonomists belong to EDP; centrist Catalan autonomists belong to ELDR, and so on.

Towards a Unified Liberal European Party?
The ultimate logic is surely a unified Liberal Democratic European Party, though the liberal label is hard to accept for centrists in countries where liberalism has strong suggestions of an upper class party with pure free market limited state ideas. Where those countries used to have large liberal parties, those parties have shrunk to nothing, or almost nothing, and the gap is being filled at the level of European alliances by centrist parties with a communitarian (often Catholic) heritage, parties which are definitely not socialist but also definitely see the market as something that needs restraint and balance by communal values implemented by the state. The strong localist and regionalist nature of those parties, and the emphasis they put on reforms of constitutions and political processes, and to use the market where it serves social needs or makes public services more efficient, may also provide a basis for convergence with those close to classical liberalism through the desire to restrain the central state and encourage those parts of the economy outside state direction.

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