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What does Libertas really want?

Mark Mardell | 10:30 UK time, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Libertas are launching their British campaign for the June European elections today, saying that a vote for them is a vote to bring democracy into the European Union. But with no manifesto unveiled, how do we really know what they stand for?

libertasdeclanpa203b.jpgLibertas, you might remember were the people who campaigned for the "no" vote in the Irish election. As a result, they are loathed by those who feel the EU is nothing without the new treaty. They've said they will put up candidates in all 27 EU member states and I am told they are well on course in all but a handful.

They've just announced that their UK party leader is Robin Mathews, a former director in the Army's department of corporate communications, who's served in Cyprus, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Before the launch, I asked him why people should vote for him.

"It sends a very clear message to those unelected elites and bureaucrats, who seek to daily interfere in our lives more closely, that this cannot go on without proper accountability. The EU needs to change. Libertas believes in a strong Europe but also believes unless democracy is at the heart of that we'll never be able to deliver," he said.

But how would they bring more democracy to the EU?

"Give people a clear platform and give them a chance to vote for you knowing that because of your pan-European approach, you can bring democracy to the heart of Europe," he explained.

But what does this mean? Electing the European Commission, or electing the new European Council president as Libertas founder Declan Ganley believes?

"What ever you do with elected commissioners or an elected commission, they must be accountable to the people. Libertas is seeking such a mandate at the ballot box and that is our first task before we look at exactly ways to reform the commission, president or what ever," Mr Mathews said.

libertasmatthews203.jpgThere was a lot more in this vein. Mr Mathews's argument was that Libertas could deliver a vote across the entire EU, and that would bring more democracy into the system. But, he was unwilling or unable to suggest how do this.

This is interesting because while most people would probably support the idea of "more democracy in the EU", it is not clear what it means.

More powers for the European Parliament? An elected president? An elected commission? All of those would take power away from the people who we choose in general elections. I suspect most people who say it would mean less power for European institutions and more for national parliaments.

Which is fair enough, but it is not actually about increasing democracy in the EU as such.

National leaders may occasionally get irritated by the commission's ideas, but in the end the commission are their servants, if sometimes ones with Jeeves-like powers. National leaders wouldn't dream of giving them more legitimacy.

The same goes for a foreign affairs chief or president of the council. It is because Mr Ganley has supported an elected president that he has had little luck striking a deal with traditional conservatives. It would transform the EU, but maybe not in a way traditional Eurosceptics would relish.


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