So, just in time for next years European Parliament elections Declan Ganley launched his Libertas party, or “pan-European movement” as he would label it. However, so far the ‘party’ neither has programme nor candidates which I think is major shortcoming when launching a party. You would at least expect some basic policy goals in order to attract ‘members’ for the movement as well as funding. The conclusion could be that Libertas neither needs members nor funding. 426 fans on facebook and 29 followers on Twitter also don’t make the impression of a huge grass root pan-European movement. So is it only a small fringe party of a millionaire that got carried away by his successful Irish No-campaign?
Declan Ganley is clearly a one man show. He wants to turn the EP elections in a Europe wide referendum about … yes about what exactly? He is against the “undemocratic” Lisbon treaty and against the “unaccountable elite in Brussels” but what does he really want to achieve?
Somehow Ganley reminds me of a classic modern populist (Ronald Schill, Jörg Haider, maybe even Oskar Lafontaine) although in quite another context. (and also without the usual racist and law and order attitudes) Furthermore, Ganley only focuses on one single issue (anti-Lisbon basically) which is quite typical for any populist movements.
The only content worth reading on the new Libertas website is the “Facts” section that addresses “Libertas myths” which is weird because it gives the impression that Libertas is on the defensive and at the same time a kind of martyr as it seems to communicate one thing: “We are not the establishment!”
Mark Mardell interviewed Ganley a few days ago about Libertas, you can listen to a short clip here. Actually the piece is quite interesting as it reveals the lack of any positive political vision. Ganley talks a lot about “turning the elections in a referendum against the Brussels elites” and “bringing back Europe to the people”.
His rhethoric is not very pan-European either. He hardly mentions anything that is relevant for people outside Ireland and the UK (ok, maybe because it was a BBC interview..). And even for Ireland and the UK he links everything with the distinctive British (and Irish) referendum debates. Ganley also does not seem to understand the difference between an election and a referendum which he shows by comparing the elections in the US with the Lisbon treaty referendum in Ireland.
What he also fails to deliver is any positive vision, being against something is just not enough (well, maybe it is enough for some voters?). He only talks about this one election as a ‘one-off’ opportunity for voters to show their discontent to the “unaccountable elites in Brussels”. But what about the future of the European Parliament elections and the future of the European Parliament itself? What does Libertas want to achieve in the day to day business of the Parliament? What Ganley’s vision for the insitutional setup of the EU? It seems he only wants so send a “strong message” to the leaders of Europe without any substance or as Ganley puts it “a clear no vote”.The only firm aim is a “25 page” document that would replace the Lisbon Treaty.
The claim of having a 25 page document is very interesting as it can mean different things for different target groups:
One option is a EU with very limited powers and hardly any competences as a 25 page document is not long enough to specify any political and institutional compromises. Very attractive to the Anti-EU camp and the supporters of a withdrawal policy.
The second option is a EU with state attributes similar to the US with clear federal divisions. Very attractive for federalists and very optimistic EU supporters.
Ganley seems to think that he can get supporters from both “camps” which I doubt he can achieve. I think by meeting up with known “EU-sceptics” and the lack of having an actual draft of the 25 page document he will only get votes from the Anti-EU camp.
So what can we expect from Libertas? Not much, unfortunately. Probably EP candidates will not be very prolific with the exception of the top candidates that probably will come from other fringe movements plus a few known EU sceptics. I am sure there will be some scandals with candidates that are lower ranked and not screened properly.
The campaign itself is likely to focus on traditional media strategies, lots of TV spots and big poster campaigns. (similar to the campaign in Ireland)
At the moment it is very hard to say anything about the content of the campaign. However, I suspect it will be a negative campaign. We will see a lot of false information and a lot of populist statements that include phrases with a mixture of “democracy now” “Europe for the people ” “Vote against Brussels bureaucrats”. Lots of attacks against the “elites in Brussels” that are “not in touch with us, the people” etc. of course anti-Lisbon but without any clear alternative besides a very nebulous concept of a “new deal for Europe”.