Sir Graham's address to our Congress

Address by ALDE Party President Sir Graham Watson MEP to the Congress of the Svenska Folkpartiet in Porvoo, Finland on Saturday 8 May 2013


Trevligt at vora med er po denna sommardag!

Thank you for coming to Carlsfest and not to Madeleine’s.

Allow me first to say ‘congratulations’! You are Europe’s most successful Liberal Party.
You have been in government in Finland for over 30 consecutive years. No other ALDE member party has such a record!

True, with six parties your current coalition is a curious one. But having worked with Karl in Brussels and Strasbourg I have no doubt that you have a strong voice in government. My only slight surprise is that Karl is minister for defence. Knowing Calle, I would expect the title Minister for Attack!

From your discussions last night I expect you will be leading the attack, next May, against the so-called True Finns.

The True Finns?

The concept of truth in the name of a political party is dangerous. A Liberal will always preserve a degree of honest doubt.

And the True Finns – just like the National Front in France, the United Kingdom Independence Party, or Jobbik in Hungary, -the True Finns create a climate in which ‘others’ – citizens they define as not being true Finns – start to feel vulnerable. The kind of climate in which crimes can be committed in the name of nationalism.

As a Scot, I know how it feels to come from a minority. We recall the destruction of our lands and our language, our crops and our culture, two hundred years ago.

And Scotland’s story is commonplace. The pages of Europe’s history are stained with the bile of nationalism. Etched on all our cairns is the agony of ethnic cleansing.

This is the European Union’s raison d’etre. To put an end to terror between our tribes. To say ‘never again’ to an eighty year rage of self mutilation, from Sarajevo in 1914 to Srebrenica in 1995. To bind together Frenchman and German, Roma and Hungarian, Kosovar and Serb in a 21st century of freedom, security and justice.

Europe has acted to defend its economy. Now it must act to defend its values. Europeans must fight back against the narrow nationalists. All the way from Belgrade to Borgo.

I would like to salute five Liberals who have held high that international ideal. I have had the honour to work with each of this famous five. Elisabeth Rehn, Astrid Thors, Henrik Lax, Carl Haglund, Nils Torvalds. True Liberals, true Europeans, and in a real sense True Finns!

Nils Torvalds’ work for the rights of the Sami people deserves particular praise. As does the work of Astrid Thors as a VP of our Europe-wide Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Please work hard to make sure you still send us such people. Europe needs them.

Friends, we are not less what we were. Europe has not made the French less French, or the Brits less British or the Finns less Finnish. But we can be proud also to be Europeans.

Being European is your surname. Just like your own nationality is your first name. Nationality is what divides us. Europe unites us.

Europe must be free and must be well governed.

Remember the words of that great Liberal MP Anders Chydenius: ‘Fatherland without freedom and merit is a large word with little meaning’. Freedom and merit must be our watchwords when we vote as free citizens to choose Europe’s leaders on merit.

Economic section

One year from now there will be an election campaign for the eighth elected European Parliament.

The stakes are higher than ever. Managing prosperity was easy. Managing adversity, and its social spill-over, is a much tougher task.

From 1979 the Social Democrats ran Europe. They dominated the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the Parliament. They spent our savings, exhausted our resources. Got us deeply into debt.

Since 1999 it’s been the European People’s Party. Ideology lite. In too many countries, corrupt. I am surprised at the company which Kokoomus and Katainen keep.

Some of them are in Helsinki now. I’ve seen them in their big, black chaikas. The prime minsters of Greece, Ireland, Latvia and Finland. Just like your TV show The Dudesons, these four boys are up to no good.

Europe’s twin crises – sovereign debt and bank deposits – show how weak the Socialists and the People’s Party have made us.

An ageing population, living beyond its means. No longer entrepreneurial or competitive. In danger of handing its children a lethal legacy.

Europe needs its Liberals. We need each other, in this great political family of ours. Look across our continent. Over 1200 Liberals MPs. In government in 14 member states. 85 MEPs. 8 European Commissioners. As party president I fight too often in a suit in Brussels. But Imnever forget the words of the playwright Henrik Ibsen: you don’t do battle for freedom and democracy wearing your best trousers.

economic Liberals and social Liberals must come together, building a solid Centre force.

You heard last night from Olli Rehn. Olli works day and night to get our economy back on track.

Olli Rehn and I know that social Liberalism and economic Liberalism go hand in hand. Forget the folly of Friedman. Go with Galbraith and Dahrendorf, Popper and Norberg.

We must control public spending; because public debt means one generation is stealing money from the next.

We must rethink the welfare state. We spend over half our wealth on welfare.

But we must recognise too, with all great Liberals, that government has a role in making society fair.

So scrap universal benefits. Bring welfare back within limits. Concentrate our efforts where they are most needed. Like the youth guarantee.

Invest money in our young folk. In their time and their curiosity. Invest in their ideas in science and technology, harnessing their energy. To stop the shops being smashed in Stockholm and the bonfire of the Volvos. To stem the suppurating social strife from Athens to Andalucia.

Open our borders to trade. Trade is the best lever for investment, jobs and wealth. Trade keeps us competitive. Trade nurtures new ideas.

That is why Liberals want reform of Europe’s internal market, to free up trade in services. It is why we forge free trade agreements with America, India and Japan.

Stress that no country is an island. Even if – like Britain – it is surrounded by water.

Build a Liberal Europe. A Union of 500 million citizens, working together. In a world with twice as many Indians and three times as many Chinese.

A market of 500 million consumers in which business can trade freely and grow strong.

A society of 500 million citizens in which police forces and judges work together in the fight against crime.

A community of 500 million, pooling its resources to promote human rights and good governance, at home and abroad.

A wellspring of 500 million minds where creativity is driven by diversity.

A Union capable of turning the 20th century, which intolerance soaked in blood, into a 21st century where we harness the power of humankind to the construction of a peaceful, just and sustainable world.

So, true Tavastians, true Karelians, true Finns, you who have always looked outward: go out now, from Hanko to Nuorgam. These days when the Scandic air is suffused with the scent of lilac. Make it happen.