Walesa the surprise guest at Libertas convention


SPREAD THE word, the time has come, show the people that we recognise that democracy, transparency and accountability are the prerequisites for freedom, said Libertas founder Declan Ganley in his closing words to the party faithful. The tone was almost evangelical and the mood distinctly upbeat, but there was no mistaking the seriousness of intent yesterday at the first convention in Rome of once anti-Lisbon Treaty, now pan-European Libertas.

When proceedings opened yesterday morning at the Parco della Musica Auditorium, Mr Ganley began by greeting the national delegations in the 1,200-1,300 strong gathering. As 27 EU country names were called out, the relevant delegates whooped with delight and waved their flags. It might have been a papal audience in St Peter’s Square, which is traditionally enlivened when the pope’s secretary runs through the names of the various parishes present.

Lest anyone had any doubt that they are unclear about what they want, the opening speaker, French MEP Philippe De Villiers, quickly set the no-nonsense tone. He warned, emphatically, that Libertas is against the admission of Turkey into the EU. “Turkey is neither geographically nor culturally European. We want a Europe that is truly European.”

Warm in his appreciation of the “Lider Maximo”, the French MEP said Mr Ganley was no cynical politician and was not part of the unaccountable elite who run EU affairs.

The convention did, of course, provide its moment of surprise and suspense in the person of guest speaker, Solidarnosc hero, Lech Walesa. Although he will not be running for Libertas in the upcoming European elections, the former Polish president expressed his full support. “Declan Ganley and Libertas have the potential to change Europe for the better. This European project has all the ingredients to become a historic force for good in the world, and grow into so much more than it is today, but for that to happen, we need to heed the Libertas message and put the people back at the heart of the project,” he said.

However, the business of putting together a pan-European party does bring its own pitfalls. The man who did more than his bit to bring down East Bloc communism found himself noisily and bitterly contested by a group of compatriots. Libertas delegate and protester Eva Skowronska said afterwards that Mr Walesa had betrayed the ideals of the Solidarnosc movement and was not worthy to represent Poland abroad. She was unable to define the exact nature of that “betrayal”.

Other speakers during the day included Dutch activist Eline van den Broeck, former Czech finance minister Vlastimil Tlusty and former Latvian prime minister and current MEP Gunthars Krasts. Representing the Italian movement, L’Autonomia, was Teodoro Buontempo, an exponent of La Destra and an extreme-right-wing politician not ashamed to express his nostalgia for Mussolini.

On what was a very pleasant, sunny May 1st, the mood among the delegates was predictably positive. When the delegates spread out into the Luciano Berio piazza during the lunch break, cameras and mobile phones were working overtime. “The feeling here is really pan-European,” said Berlin- based delegate Aron Koenig.

“I have been interested in politics for a long time and I considered joining the old political parties but there was none that I liked. I really liked the Libertas campaign in Ireland last summer and I also liked the internet focus on the campaigning now, the fact that they have hired Joe Trippi.

“They want to make Europe more democratic and just about everyone will agree to that. It’s weird that there needs to be a new party to implement these ideas, to make the EU more accountable, more difficult, but there’s definitely a need.”

Mr Koenig had travelled to Rome at his own expense by train. Many other delegates travelled from various eastern European destinations by bus, again at their own expense, they claimed. One such was Warsaw sociology student Marten, who said many of his student friends were against the Lisbon Treaty and supported Libertas: “Libertas has a lot of good publicity in the Polish media, and I think they will win a lot of seats.”

Irish Libertas activist and candidate in the Dublin constituency, Caroline Simons, felt yesterday’s convention proved that the bandwagon was beginning to roll: “I’m delighted, you [journalists] must be really surprised to see so many people here. I don’t think that the media realised there was this huge movement growing in Europe.”

She went on to predict that things might go surprisingly well for Libertas in Ireland, saying: “There is not just unrest in Ireland at the moment but anger against the Government and I think that for the first time in their history Fianna Fáil will not get seats as if it were their right.”

As for the man himself, Mr Ganley pronounced himself well satisfied but not surprised by his convention day. Saying that Libertas will be fielding 169 candidates in 12 countries (including an as yet unnamed candidate in Northern Ireland), his final words of encouragement to his flock were: “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are not a good European. You have just travelled across half of Europe to say that you no longer want Europe to be run by an unaccountable elite.”