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Europe

Convinced Europeans with an Economic Focus

Not one euroskeptic is part of the European Liberal Democrats and Reformers (ELDR), the third-largest political group in the European Parliament (EP). They would never be allowed to join.

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The most visible EU Liberal: outgoing EP President Pat Cox

Irishman Pat Cox, the European Parliament's outgoing president, is the Liberal parliamentary group's best known face. Like his colleagues, Cox describes himself as a convinced European, which explains why it's so important to him to counter widespread disenchantment with politics and persuade people that the European Union is a good thing.

"I'm trying to talk to people about what is the essential public purpose of this union, why do we do these things together and what are the values, and what is its value and its value added," Cox told Deutsche Welle. "I'm trying to communicate the essential meaning of why we're together in the European Union."

Thus, the Liberals avidly push for passage of the draft EU Constitution and advocate European states working closely in areas that benefit particularly from joint efforts, such as economic, foreign and security policies.

"We must recognize that actually we all have the same problems. We must use Europe where we can more effectively make policies," Graham Watson, leader of the ELDR said. "When you look at environmental policies or the fight against crime and terrorism, for example, we can cooperate much better. I'm not saying there's no role for the national state anymore, but when it comes to big challenges we must work together if we want to be efficient."

Sharp critics

Working together also means obeying rules, discipline that was often neglected, Watson said. He pointed to states' failure to uphold the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact that underpins the euro. The Liberals are the sharpest critics of the countries that haven't kept their budget debt below the benchmark of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

"We cannot allow that there are consequences when Portugal disregards the Stability Pact, but that Germany and France can violate the pact without such consequences," Watson said. "If we carry on like this with different rules for small and large countries, the small countries will lose confidence in Europe."

Baking a cake

Like the other smaller delegations in the EP -- 67 MEPs and observers are part of the ELDR -- the Liberals try to tip the scales one way or another by forging alliances with other parliamentary groups.

"We frequently vote with the People's Party on economic issues. On sociopolitical issues we usually vote with the Socialists and make a difference that way," MEP Colette Flesch from Luxembourg explained. "You could say that we actually have much greater influence than our numbers would suggest."

In traditional European liberal manner, the group is particularly focused on economic issues. Flesch said high unemployment and economic growth were Europe's most pressing challenges, along with the fight against terrorism.

"Economic growth is a very important question for us, since it concerns jobs and social progress. You can only make social progress if economic growth is sufficient. You can only share a cake that has first been baked. First, you must have economic growth to create jobs and make progress."

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