Speech to the Radikaele Venstre party congress - 20 September 2008

September 20, 2008 5:00 PM

It is a pleasure to see here so may old friends. And a privilege to be among people who have chosen to stay curious and optimistic and radical. This conference is the last of its kind before the next European elections. And those elections will be crucial for Europe's Liberal family. Today our Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe has over one hundred MEPs - The largest Liberal group in the history of the European Parliament. But I am not satisfied with that. And I know that you are not satisfied either. We are still only the third biggest in Brussels. Our job is to be the biggest. We need more MEPs from Radikale Venstre. That's what today is about.

Mind you, recently I've worked with three of your MEPs - Lone Dybkjaer, Anders Samuelsen, Johannes Lebech. And two of them have formed new alliances with people from other parties!

Johannes, thank you for being so…unadventurous!

Just like Lone, Hannes Lebech is a great Ambassador for Liberalism. Sometimes I think he must be the prototype of a Danish Radical. Speaking strongly for my Group on the environment and foreign affairs. And even combining the two: blasting the Brussels bureaucracy about the perils of the North Stream pipeline.

Today, the opportunity for Liberals is greater than ever. Why? Because the old twentieth century battle lines between left and right are fading.

Today, Conservatives or Christian Democrats, Socialists or Social democrats might still argue over the rates of tax and tariffs. But now they are just splitting hairs. The market has won. Economic freedom is universally recognised as the key to prosperity. Just as we Liberals always said it was. And today no purposeful political party can refute that reality.

But that is not the end of history. Liberals insist that free markets go hand in hand with social justice and environmental responsibility. We want a society that is free, but also fair and green. That's what we fight for in the European Parliament. The old left-right divide is gone. ut there are new battle lines in European politics. There are some who want to pull up the drawbridge - to create fortress Europe.

You know those people when you hear them. They are Europe's real right wing. They want to stop immigration, protect production and end EU enlargement. They want to turn back the clock on globalisation. To pull the blankets over their heads and wish the world would go away. Their way will never be our way. Liberals believe in a drawbridge-down Europe. Confident, ambitious, outward-looking. Where students and working people are free to move. Where markets are open and knowledge is shared. Where we invest in human capital and mine gold from people's heads.

Liberals believe in dialogue with other people and other cultures. In conversation, not confrontation. In a European Union which speaks softly and carries a big carrot.

We need Europe's soft power to bring about regime change, Europe's way. We're done it from Warsaw to Bucharest, now we must do it from Minsk to Kiev and from Tangiers to Tehran.

The EPP can't do that. The Nationalists won't allow it. Nor will the religious right. And the old left has lost its way. I'm not sure who to feel most sorry for: Helle Thorning Schmidt, banished from Brussels or Bendt Bentsen going backwards to get there. Those guys never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!

Europe needs Liberals because there are so many battles still to fight.

We need your help to change things in Brussels. Some things make me mad. We have to stop the waste of meeting in Brussels and Strasbourg. We have to get better control of how money is spent by the Commission. We must make sure our policies on trade are in tune with our policies on aid. That is a Liberal mission.

Here in Denmark there seem to be a lot of Liberals. You have Liberals in government AND in opposition. I know that debate between you and your Venstre party cousins is real and robust. But the opportunity to have that argument is good for Europe. So we need countries like Denmark. Countries that have the strength in depth to help lead the fight for Europe's liberal future. With talented and effective leaders like Margrethe Vestager.

One thing I see from this conference today. Whoever you choose as your candidates and however many MEPs you elect, you have a powerful platform on which to stand. Because this afternoon you adopt your new manifesto. And that manifesto is a call to arms -

A blueprint for a Liberal Europe.

The kind of Europe that my MEPs work for - week in, week out - in Brussels and Strusbourg.

First, you make clear your commitment to ending discrimination.

ALDE has persuaded the Commission to bring forward a new, broader anti-discrimination directive. Parliament will debate it next week. Liberals must make sure this new law protects all minorities - older people, gay people, disabled people, people of all faiths and none. And that it stops companies discriminating against their clients and consumers, not just their work force.

It should allow people to do their jobs and live their lives free from the tyranny of prejudice.

Second, you make a commitment to health care for patients across Europe. ALDE has won the battle to get a directive on cross-border patients rights. Europeans should benefit from health care wherever we can provide it. Not have to wait for an operation in Billund if there's a bed free in Berlin or in Birmingham. Health care is already free to people on holiday abroad. Soon it will be free across Europe to all Europeans. Thanks to a Liberal campaign by Liberal MEPs and action by a Liberal Commissioner.

Third, you speak out in favour of fair immigration. We are pushing the Union's French presidency to come up with an immigration package that is balanced and just.

We need a common approach to the entry of economic migrants. That way we can supply our labour markets, and manage the flow of migration. And help developing countries which depend on the money their people earn in Europe.

But we also want a common European Asylum System. All countries must help protect people fleeing from persecution or war.

Today, the EU has 27 asylum policies. That is a recipe for conflict and confusion.

Liberals are not afraid to criticise Europe when it should do better. But, as Mark Twain wrote of Wagner's music, it's not bad as it sounds.

Our world faces so many challenges. Challenges like cross-border crime, energy security and climate change. But we no longer confront them alone - we work together. This summer EU President Sarkozy stopped the tanks going into Tbilisi. Never doubt the courage of the French. They're the people who discovered you can eat snails. This week the ECB put 100 million euros into the money market. That shows the success of solidarity. Both Britain and Denmark should be joining in.

You know, there are those who look at our globalised world and see only problems and threats. But liberals look at globalisation and see opportunities and solutions. Our thinking has always been universal and internationalist.

That is why we must shout loudly and proudly that we can overcome the challenges we face: at home, in Europe, and beyond. The twenty first century can be a liberal century: we must be strong enough to make our case.

So in the European elections, Radikale Venstre has every reason to believe in itself and to fight for Liberal values. This is the party of Zahle, Baunsgaard, Helveg Petersen, Jelved - and Vestager. Their success has been to move with the times and address Denmark's needs.

Now, together, we must address the needs of Europe.