LibertasIn the sometimes dreary world of EU politics a rich Irish bloke coming along and trying to rock the boat is one of the few things that can make life a bit interesting around the Rond Point Schuman. Yes, it’s Declan Ganley and Libertas (more on Wikipedia here) that have been in the news once again. Tony Barber in the FT has it about right – Ganley seems to really have the ability to get under people’s skin within the institutions. But I don’t work in an institution, so maybe I can look at the development of Libertas with a greater degree of distance and dispassion.

Ganley has recruited Aussie strategist Lynton Crosby to work on his UK campaign, as reported by Conservative Home, Guido and Political Betting. Crosby is best known for helping John Howard to election victories in Australia, and also for working on Boris Johnson’s successful London Mayor campaign. With such a reputation Crosby cannot be cheap. Ganley has meanwhile appointed Robin Matthews, a former soldier, as his party leader in the UK, and he’s also given an interesting interview in E!Sharp magazine. England Expects also delves into the controversy of what Ganley’s party even will be called on the ballot papers in the UK.

So what will determine whether Ganley and Libertas are going to be a success or not?

First of all no-one is going to vote for Libertas on the basis of what the party reputedly stands for. They oppose the Treaty of Lisbon, but they also want the European Parliament to decide all European law (foreign policy too?) and for all legislative work to be conducted in the open – all sounds rather federalist. See their policy page for more. Forget the fact that the Treaty of Lisbon actually gives the EP codecision powers on all police and judicial cooperation issues and agriculture spending… Anyway, in essence, Libertas has a ‘yes, but‘ stance on the EU – they do not want out, but they somehow want to change the EU from within. This sort of line is not that far distant from Tories’ stance on the EU. In a debate full of politicians wanting to sound tough they will have a hard time standing out. If you want radical yet reactionary tub thumpers then vote UKIP.

The main way that Libertas can present themselves as different is by playing the politics of anti-politics, presenting themselves as the voice of reason from outside the system. This is just the approach Ganley takes in his E!Sharp interview. In reply to the question “And now do you see yourself more as a businessman or a politician?” he replies “I don’t see myself as a politician, for sure. I’m an entrepreneur – I think I always will be.” The European Union is the very epitomy of the distant and unaccountable political class and Libertas could play on that. However much the Tories and others in the UK might chunter on about EU politics all the main UK parties are very much part of what a substantial part of the population consider to be a cosy consensus, not helped by Giles Chichester and others.

So it’s about the presentation, not the message as such, and for that Libertas needs to have some decent candidates. It needs to have normal and professional people, capable of communicating, and not – UKIP style – looking like a bunch of loony old men with outdated views. So where should Ganley look for such people? The blogosphere might be a decent place to start – as I’ve argued on Twitter I reckon Nosemonkey‘s positions are not too far from those of Libertas, and he’s an award winning journalist and a respected voice in the UK blogosphere on EU matters. Why not? Professional yet non-political people are the sort of folks that Ganley should go for, trying to find the British equivalent of Hans Peter Martin or Paul van Buitenen. You can now even nominate people to be Libertas candidates on their website.

Ganley clearly has serious money to be able to employ Crosby, but as yet his efforts are not to be taken seriously.


  1. marmurr1916

    Libertas aren’t the first pan-European political party by any means. The Newropeans ( have been going since 2000.
    @Jack Thurston: latests opinion polls show Libertas at less than 2% in Ireland’s North West constituency, where Declan Ganley is the candidate.
    @DamienRM: there not going to be winning any seats in Germany, since they didn’t manage to get the 4,000 verified signatures needed to register a list of candidates at federal level; they haven’t registered any candidates at state level either.

    For all they hype, Libertas look like being a damp squib.

  2. In my humble view, any party launching a campaign for the European elections should have (at least the elements of) a credible programme for five years of legislative work in place plus a blueprint for the future of the European Union.

    Until now Declan Ganley has produced little more than indignation and flummery.

  3. Perhaps we should all club together then and form our own pan-European party?!

    With Libertas, well, I was against them at the start because of some of their outlandish claims on Lisbon, then my interest was grabbed by some of the rhetoric on increasing democracy and Ganley’s earlier writings, and then I was repelled again by the right-wing rhetoric, the extreme members and the constant conspiracy claims.

    Keith’s assessment of the Irish constituencies sounds right.

  4. I’ve been expecting something to start rumbling about a pro-EU or at least progressive alternative pan-European movement, but so far (the whiskery European Movement aside) nothing much seems to be happening.

  5. >though they may win on home turf in Ireland I suppose

    I can report from Ireland that Libertas currently have only one candidate (Ganley himself) in the four Republic of Ireland constituencies, and that he has about a 50% chance of taking the last seat (of three) in that constituency (Ireland West) – depending on how much he spends, and how well his new right-wing Catholic posture goes down with the voters there (the candidate with simiilar views last time out – “Dana” Rosemary Scallon – got about 15%, and she was an outgoing MEP).
    They have neither candidates declared nor a chance in any of the other three Southern Ireland constituencies, nor the Northern Ireland constituency.

  6. I think the most interesting thing about this is that Libertas will be the first party fielding candidates in all member states. I think that is a real breakthrough in the formation of a genuine European polity. It’s ironic that it should come from a party that presents itself as ‘anti’. I will be very interested to see how they get on. Setting up an election winning party from a standing start in 27 countries is incredibly ambitious, it must be said.

    I don’t rate their chances of winning a single seat in the UK, though they may win on home turf in Ireland I suppose. DamienRM: interesting perspectives on France, Germany and the Netherlands. What about the other member states?

    Other readers of this blog, how do you rate Libertas’s chances in *your* country?

  7. I’d be all up for it if you could vote for individual candidates in the EU elections in the UK (hell – an MEP’s salary would be most welcome in the current economic climate, and I do like Brussels…). But I very much doubt I’d land anywhere near the top of the London party list, even for Libertas. And judging by the people the party’s putting up in other countries, my campaigning would mostly revolve around slagging off the other Libertas candidates as being unreconstructed reactionaries. Not to mention slagging off Ganley as a populist with decidedly unclear motivations and objectives…

    In any case, he hasn’t got back to me yet

  8. Fair points… I tried to give the UK take on it as that’s what’s currently being debated in the UK blogosphere. I think the same sort of messages could work in Germany or elsewhere too.

  9. DamienRM

    Hey Jon.

    Well don’t think I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I think Ganley is going to waste his time in the UK. His message doesn’t go down well with the eurosceptic electorate, who after years of reading in our wonderful that the EU is a mixture of the USSR and Hell, want to hear some proper EU-bashing and not prudent criticism of the way the EU works. His ideas that there should be an EU and the UK and IE should be in it is hard to accept for many UKIP/Tory voters… His Euroscepticism is too mild, if you like. His position on the Lisbon treaty is not even a winning argument since he can’t really compete with the tories who promised a referendum on it…

    No, I honestly think that the Eurosceptic ground in the UK is overpopulated, and as whoever said it (Duff I think) I hope they choke themselves to death.

    I think we should be looking more at Ganley’s continental campaign. If he’s smart, he could pick up two or three seats in Germany, since there is basically no anti-EU party in this country (well, Die Linke is against Lisbon but…). Exactly for the same reason as I was saying up there: his near-federalist rethoric would play down well with closeted German eurosceptics, who would definitely feel guilty about voting for a party like UKIP. If he downplays his opposition to Lisbon and makes a smart campaign in Germany, he’s bound to work something out.
    the Benelux has also been mentioned, though I have my doubts. I know the Dutch well enough to think that most no-voters in 2005 would look at Ganley with a not-so-veiled contempt.
    I think his campaign in France is going straight to the wall because of his candidate choices. The French (and especially 2005 no-voters) might have been receptive to his message if it had been presented by a young and unkown face. But choosing a 60-year-old sovereignist who’s been in French politics all his life and is a former royalist candidate for president means he’ll stick to his 2% or something.

    On the whole, I think we’re looking at a Libertas delegation of max. 10ish MEPs, and that’s if they play their cards well.

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