Short history of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party


Every five years the citizens of Europe are called upon, as they already have in 1979,1984,1989 and 1994, to elect their Parliament directly by secret ballot. These elections constitute a challenge to democratic parties to lay before the electo-rate, their ideas for the future of Europe.
The European Liberal Democrats having first come together in a Federation, in the European Community and now as a Party at European level, have published manifestos setting out their objectives - objectives which reach far beyond these direct elections.
The Liberal Democrats have helped to shape the Europe of today. They now show the way forward for the Europe of tomorrow. Their message is that it is necessary to think and act in a liberal way if we are to safeguard peace and prosperity in Europe and the world, and to do so in a climate of freedom and solidarity.
The European Union, as we know it today, rests essentially on the interplay between the Commission and the Council of Ministers. The necessary democratic control by the European Parliament is neglected, resulting in a clear democratic deficit, which must be made good if the necessary further development of a truly democratic European Union is to be achieved.


THE LEAD FOR EUROPE


The European Liberals, Democrats and Reformers were considerably ahead of other party groupings in the E.C. in drawing up a common political programme. They were aided in this by the fact that the international co-operation existing amongst Liberals for many years had led to the foundation of a Federation of European Liberals, which in 1993 became the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party.


Co-operation has taken place at two levels:
- at an organisational level, in the form of international relations between parties in the Liberal International, and
- at an institutional level, co-operation between MEP's in the Liberal Group in the European Parliament.


This co-operation helped to lay the basis for the creation of a European party. There were, amongst the various Liberal Democratic parties, no essential differences or conflicts about policy on Europe, and the treaties instituting European integration at various levels had been actively supported by all Liberal and Democratic parties in the Member States of the Union.


ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURE


The organisational structure of the ELDR Party was first defined at the Stuttgart Congress and later revised by Congress at Poitiers in June 1991 The Party therefore now has three main components: the Congress, the Council and the Bureau. These three organs are assisted by the Secretary General and a secretariat.


THE BUREAU THE COUNCIL THE CONGRESS
The Bureau comprises: The Council is made up of: The Congress comprises six representatives from each member party and for each party a number of representatives based on the number of votes obtained at the last national elections; the members of the Group of the ELDR Party and the Liberal, Democrat and Reform members of the EC Commission, the members of the Council and ten representatives of the Uberal and Radical Youth Movement in the E.C. (LYMEC).
- The President of the ELDR Party, elected by the Congress - The President of the ELDR Party The Congress meets once a year. On this occasion the Secretary General reports on the activities of the Party and the Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Group reports on its activities. The Congress debates and votes on the electoral programme 6 months before the European elections.
- The President of the Group of the ELDR Party - The President of the Group of the ELDR Party
- 3 Vice-Presidents - Representatives from member parties, their number is related to the votes each party obtains in national elections
- The Treasurer - Members of the EC Commission, member party representatives
- The Secretary General appointed by the Council. - A representative of the Liberal and Radical Youth Movement of the European Community (LYMEC)
- Members of the Bureau ex-officio
The council is empowered to speak and act on behalf of the Party


CO-OPERATION BETWEEN LIBERALS BEFORE THE FOUNDING OF THE PARTY


1. LIBERAL INTERNATIONAL


After the radical changes in the political scene brought about by the Second World War, the Liberals - building on considerable traditions - founded the "International World Union" in April 1947, which was later renamed "Liberal International". It was, and is today, an association in which Liberals and Liberal parties from Europe and countries beyond are represented.
At annual congresses of Liberal International, questions of European policy and European integration were always to the fore. They continually came forward with important initiatives on the integration of the European Community. Liberal International advocated the enlargement of the Community at its Congress in Oxford in 1967 and, at its Congress in Munich in 1969, it was the first body to come out in favour of direct European elections.
It was also the leading men and women of Liberal International who demanded a strengthening of the European Parliament's powers and the holding of direct elections at the Congress in Paris in 1972. The consequence of this demand was the creation in 1976 of a Federation of Liberal and Democratic parties in the European Community, with a permanent secretariat, having as its aim the co-ordination of liberal policy leading up to the forthcoming direct elections to the European Parliament.
One year later, at the Congress in Luxembourg, a working group was given the task of drafting a constitution for the Federation which, with some amendments, was adopted at the Congress in Florence in 1974. European Liberals, such as the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Gaston Thorn; the then President of Liberal International, Head of the German F.D.P. and Foreign Minister, Walter Scheel; Jean Rey, ex-President of the Commission; Giovanni Malagodi, Chairman of the Partito Liberale Italiano, to name just a few, began the practice in October 1972 of the now familiar "Liberal Leaders Meetings".


2. THE LIBERAL GROUP IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

The second incentive for the creation of the Federation was the - initially rather passive - co-ordination work performed by the Liberal Group in the European Parliament. From the outset, transnational groups had formed as channels for parlia-mentary business but, in comparison with other groups, the Liberal Group had become by far the most advanced in terms of organisation and programme.
The organisational structure of the Federation respected the fact that there should be close and effective co-operation between the Liberal Group in the EP and the ELD Federation. Only the closest co-operation between these two levels could guarantee that European Liberal Democrats would exercise a decisive influence on future European policy after the direct elections.


FEDERATION OF EUROPEAN LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

It may seem surprising to some who are familiar with the history of European Liberalism and its various strongly individualistic versions, shown, for example, by the existence of several parties in a single state, that the Liberals should be the first to set up a trans-European party structure. The Federation of Liberal parties in the EC was finally set up on the 26th and 27th of March 1976 by the delegations from nine parties and the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, after four years of preparatory work.
The letter of invitation to the Constituent Conference in Stuttgart - signed by Mr. Gaston Thorn, Liberal International President for many years and Luxembourg Prime Minister, and the then F.D.P party leader Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany - laid particular emphasis on the challenge which the forthcoming direct elections represented for the political forces of the Community, as the following extract shows:
'The citizens of the European Community will be electing their Parliament for the first time. The Liberal parties must meet this challenge. The citizens of the Community expect the Liberals to take decisive steps towards European Union and to come forward united for the first direct elections of the European Parliament as an autonomous independent political force".


THE ELDR GROUP: A GENERATION OF SERVICE TO EUROPE


On 16 June 1953, an unprecedented event marked the history of European assemblies. The members of the Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community decided to form themselves into political groups.
The Liberal and Allies Group was founded on 20 June 1953. At that time it included 11 out of a total of 77 members. The Liberals, followed by the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, were the first to organize their parliamentary work within a multina-tional group. These groups took the place of national delegations and from that time onwards political orientation took precedence over individual national interests.
Between 1953 and 1958, the year in which the European Assembly was founded, the Liberal and Allies Group gained considerable strength from a substantial number of new, independent, non attached members. In 1959, the Liberals became the second largest group in Parliament, exceeding the Socialists in number.
The 111 members of the European Parliament who were members of the Liberal Group between 1953 and 1978 included many leading figures who contributed to the development of the European Community and the consolidation of western democracy.
Rene Pleven, was one of the pioneers of Europe in his capacity as President of the Council and author of the plan for the European Defence Community. Other notable Liberals include Walter Scheel, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Gaston Thorn, former Luxembourg Prime Minister and former President of the European Commission, Gaetano Martino, who, as Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, was responsible for organizing the Conference of Messina where the foundations of the European Community were laid, and Lord Gladwyn, one of the architects of the constituent meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco.
Rene Pleven, was one of the pioneers of Europe in his capacity as President of the Council and author of the plan for the European Defence Community. Other notable Liberals include Walter Scheel, former President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Gaston Thorn, former Luxembourg Prime Minister and former President of the European Commission, Gaetano Martino, who, as Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, was responsible for organizing the Conference of Messina where the foundations of the European Community were laid, and Lord Gladwyn, one of the architects of the constituent meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco.
Shortly before the first direct elections, the Liberal and Democratic Group with 24 members was the third largest political group in Parliament, where it played a key role.


The Directly elected European Parliament


The 1979 elections were a success. In the nine Member States, the Liberals secured a total of 11.881.397 votes, 10,6% of the votes cast. In the first directly elected Parliament, the Liberal Group held 40 seats, becoming the fifth largest group. It should not be forgotten however that, had Great-Britain introduced proportional representation at the time, the Group would have won 15 or so extra seats.
The first President, of the elected Parliament, Simone Veil, was a member of the Qroup, while at the same time Martin Bangemann, was elected leader of the Group. The Liberals were a political force to be reckoned with.
In 1984, Mrs Veil took over the Group leadership. At the second European elections, Liberals continued to represent 10% of the electorate but only numbered 31 mem-bers, following the temporary disappearance of the German FDP from the Euro-par-liamentary scene after failing to break the mandatory electoral threshold.
The accession of Spain and Portugal to the EC, has given fresh impetus to the Group. Ten members of the Portuguese Partido Social Democrata (PSD) and two Spaniards, the Catalan member of the Convergentia i Unio and a member for the Canary Islands increased the size of the Group by a third.
This was the largest increase in the size of any of the political groups. Following the European elections in Spain and Portugal in the summer of 1987, two members of the Convergentia were elected as were ten members of the Portuguese Democratic Party. Following enlargement, the liberals changed their name to become the Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Group.
At the 1989 elections, the former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing became President of the LDR Group. The Group won 10% of the votes and returned 49 mem-bers. The German FD.R returned to the European Parliament with four members, while the LDR Group was strengthened by representatives of the Spanish C.D.S. (4), the Irish Progressive Democrats (1) and the Dutch D66 (1). The LDR became the third largest Group in Parliament.
At the end of 1991, the President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and three other French members, followed by a Spanish member, left the LDR. Mr. Yves Galland became President of the LDR Group.
At the June 1994 elections, the LDR Group lost its German Members, the FDP having failed to reach the threshold of 5%. The French Members from the Parti Republicain joined the PPE Group. The Danish and the Dutch parties increased the number of their representatives and the Italian Members from Lega Nord joined the Group. The LDR Group changed its name to "Parliamentary Group of the European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Party: ELDR". With 43 Members, the ELDR Group repre-sents the third political force in the European Parliament, chaired by Gijs de Vries as President of the Group.


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