Whilst our primary business was discussing the urgency resolutions, my contribution was to offer some compromise language and update my colleagues on some technical details.
Individual Members summit
The leadership of the Individual Members are deeply unhappy about the proposal to bring the current arrangements to an end and create a new “Friends of ALDE” group. Members of the new group would not have voting rights at Congress or Council and would be supporters rather than active participants. I’m a Liberal Associate (the descriptor for non-EU members) with rights pretty much equivalent to those proposed under the new arrangements and had two reasons for attending, one rather more controversial than the other.
As a member, I had every right to attend and express my views. However, as one of the primary authors of the paper that was to be presented to Council the next day, I am partly responsible for the proposals by which the Individual Members will be wound up.
I do think that the leadership of the Individual Members has been pretty poor in recent years, resembling nothing more than a group of squabbling children arguing over possession of a rather shabby toy. The meetings I have attended have been pretty unedifying and behaviour has been poor. But that is, in itself, an argument for finding better leaders rather than simply abandoning the idea. Instead, my concern is that the policy demands of the Individual Members leadership seem determined to reduce the influence of the member parties to a point where there would be little value in paying an annual subscription. There is a philosophical chasm between the objectives of the two sides, and I can’t see how it can be reconciled.
I’m also not convinced that the leadership represent much more than themselves. The participants in their policy working groups come from a very small pool indeed. I am convinced that the majority of Individual Members join for three reasons - to show support, to be kept up to date with events and to attend briefings and seminars. The new proposal would allow all of that.
I didn’t want to say too much - I don’t agree with the stance they are taking - but felt obliged to correct some of the inaccuracies in their claims. And, whilst I don’t think that they’re in the mood to listen, I did at least try to convince them to stick to the facts.
Stuttgart Declaration session
I was a bit late for this, due to the Individual Members but I did make a contribution. The 1976 Stuttgart Declaration was the founding document for what is now ALDE and it is proposed to update it for a new political age.
It would be successful, I suggested, if we could come up with a statement of principles such that, if someone was to attempt to guess our policy stance on a particular issue, the statement would point towards what it might be. The great liberal philosophers remain valid because their arguments resonate across the ages, and our document should too. The policy statement which follows would be more of an appendix. That seemed to meet with approval, so perhaps I’ve hit upon something.
As the delegation’s “house bureaucrat”, I’m given licence to lead on finance and organisational stuff. So, I queried why we weren’t offered an indication of the current 2022 budget outturn figures when asked to approve the 2023 budget. Comparing it to a 2022 budget which may, or may not, be a fair reflection of what actually happened, rather hampers Council from doing its job of scrutiny. The Treasurer suggested that it would be inappropriate to offer us unaudited figures and I guess that my perspective as a tax inspector differs from his as an accountant. I think that he’s wrong - my job is to scrutinise his work, not merely to applaud it, and I don’t doubt that I’ll return to that topic in May.
I also had a central role in the discussion of how a Secretary General is appointed and evaluated, given that I co-wrote the document that the Bureau presented to Council. The failure of the Co-Presidents to manage the agenda meant that it didn’t really get the airing I had hoped, which augurs badly for the discussion that has to take place at the next Congress. I raised the issue of a “conflict of interest” clause, preventing Bureau members from seeking the position within two years of the end of their term as a Bureau member - something we take for granted in government here. I sensed that Co-President Timmy Dooley wasn’t keen and whilst I did rather spring it on him, it’s an argument that I haven’t given up on.
I had to explain to the delegate from the Individual Members that the paper on the future of their organisation wasn’t a platform to argue whether or not they should be abolished - that decision was taken in Dublin at the previous Congress, after all - so trying to make the argument wasn’t particularly helpful. I’m guessing that this will run and run, not helped by some of the contradictory messages being conveyed.
If I had to sum up how Council went, from a personal perspective, I’d say that I did what I promised I would do, scrutinising the work of the ALDE Party, offering a perspective stemming from a firm belief that an organisation should live its own values in terms of how it operates and how it treats its people.