The history of all political Groups in the Council is relatively recent. It was not until after the celebration of the Council of Europe’s 25th anniversary in 1964 that the Rules of Procedure of the Consultative Assembly (its name was not changed to Parliamentary Assembly until 1974) discreetly mentioned that members now had the possibility of forming political groups. There are two main reasons why all political groupings encountered serious difficulties in establishing themselves in the Council of Europe and are a relatively recent phenomenon, namely the complexity of the original structure of the Council of Europe and dominant role which, from the outset, the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Assembly assigned to the national delegations.

Today any school textbook will tell us that the Council of Europe was founded on May 1949. What has since been forgotten are the passionate debates which preceded its foundation. There was a clash between two apparently contradictory theses. Belgium and France wanted a European Union whose central body would be a parliament with its own members appointed by the member States, whereas the United Kingdom was pressing for the creation of a ‘diplomatic club’ composed of government representatives. Ultimately both theses were adopted. What emerged was the Council of Europe, an institution for co-operation between States, with a permanent secretariat and two organs: the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. However, the founding States gave precedence to the sovereignty of the member States and left the Council of Europe, as its name suggests, with only a consultative role. This arrangement offered parliamentarians very little scope for exercising their power to shape policy in the Council of Europe and therefore continued to make the national parliaments the focus of their political activity.

Moreover, the role and importance of the national delegations in the Assembly remained for many years an obstacle to strengthening the power of the political groups. For example, national delegations were given the privilege of appointing members to the individual committees and of nominating candidates for the Vice-Presidency of the Assembly. Although the political groups have been referred to in the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure since 1964, it was not until summer 1995 that the Council of Europe responded to pressure from the Clerk of the Assembly and the Secretary General to give an official status to the political groups.

The rapid expansion of the Council of Europe has brought new responsibilities for the political groups. Between 1990 and 1995 alone, the Council of Europe was enlarged to include Albania, Andorra, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia and additional delegations with special guest status regularly take part in the sessions in Strasbourg. The political groups have shown that they have the potential to play an effective introductory role, especially with regard to parliamentarians from the new member States as well as for those with guest status. While the Council of Europe currently comprises 46 member States, the policy of the Assembly, with its 630 members (315 representatives and an equal number of substitutes) is formulated principally in conjunction with the five political groups: Socialist Group (206 members), Federation of Christian Democrat Parties of Europe (EPP) (182 members), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) (98 members), European Democrat Group (EDG) (78 members) and the Group of the Unified European Left (UEL) (32 members). The rules of Procedure have also taken account of the growing importance of the political groups. The Ad Hoc Committee of chairmen of Political Groups which assists the President of the Assembly in reaching decisions was created in March 1993. Since January 1995 the Group Chairs have had the right to sit and vote in the Bureau and the Standing Committee of the Assembly.

The earliest minutes of Liberal Group meetings in the archives date from 1974. At that time Frederik Portheine (Netherlands) was leader of the Group which comprised 30 members, no more than 13 of whom attended the meetings. It was customary for Liberal Group members to hold only one meeting during the week of the Strasbourg part-session. In those days the Bureau was composed of the Chairman and the Secretary General. In August 1978 a secretary was appointed; until September 2010 Peter Kallenberger was responsible for dealing with administrative matters. After his retirement, the group appointed a new secretary. In autumn 1980, Manfred Vohrer (Germany) was elected to succeed Frederik Portheine. Having acted as Secretary General of the Group since becoming a member of the Council of Europe in 1973, he was well qualified to take over the post of Chair. In 1983 Manfred Vohrer decided not to stand for re-election and left the German Bundestag. Bjorn Elmquist (Denmark) was elected by the Group to succeed him. Under Bjorn Elmquist’s chairmanship, membership increased significantly in the space of a few years, rising from 35 to 50 members. At the end of 1990 Bjorn Elmquist lost his seat in the Folketing. In May 1991 the Group elected Daniel Tarschys (Sweden) as its new Chair. A leading expert on east European questions, the high esteem in which he was held both within the Assembly and by central and east Europeans led to a further increase in Group membership. Since his election as Secretary General of the Council of Europe on 12 April 1994, the Group has been led by Sir Russell-Johnston (United Kingdom). In 1999 Lord Russell-Johnston was elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly (1999-2002). The Group supported Kristiina Ojuland (Estonia) to preside the LDR Group. In 2002 she was appointed Foreign Minister in her country. The same year Matyas Eörsi (Hungary) gained support of the group members to become its seventh President. Anne Brasseur (Luxembourg) chaired ALDE since September 2009 to January 2014. Since January 2014 the group is presided by Jordi Xuclà (Spain).

Until the mid-1980s the Group’s official name was “Liberal Group”. As the word “liberal” does not have the same connotations in all languages, the new Group members in particular called for additions to the name which would make the Group’s political ideals universally and unequivocally recognizable. After lengthy discussion, it was finally agreed that the Group should be called the “Liberal, Democratic and Reformers’ Group'” (LDR). The “Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe” (ALDE) emerged on June 20, 2005 to become full legal successor of the LDR-Group. This title makes it clear that the Group’s members are not only convinced democrats devoted to liberal values but they are committed to creating better cooperation between european liberals to build stronger Europe respective of human rights in all its member states. Technological progress maintains society in constant flux so that individuals’ attitudes to society are also changing.

The history of the Group would not be complete without mentioning here a man who, by a happy coincidence, joined the Assembly at just the right time. Hardly any other parliamentarian has had a greater and more lasting influence on the Council of Europe as a whole. The ALDE Group is still proud today that Peter Sager was a Liberal. A former member of Swiss National Council, Peter Sager was a member of the Council of Europe from 1984 to 1991. As founder and director of the Swiss Ost-Institut in Berne, he saw it as his principal task in life to combat all forms of totalitarianism. Those members of the Socialist Group in the Assembly whose position resembled too closely that of communism were the first to realize that he took this task seriously, that he was, in addition, a fearless protagonist of pluralist democracy and that he could not be blinded or misled by any form of propaganda. As a result he was quickly branded a mindless communist-hater. Yet, despite this, he quickly won an amazing degree of respect in the Assembly. When Michael Gorbachev took office as General Secretary in the Soviet Union in 1985 and the signs of glasnost and perestroika became clearer, Peter Sager emerged as a powerful optimist and eloquent advocate of opening the Council of Europe to the countries of central and eastern Europe. His thesis was that the Council of Europe was the only body with which the countries of Central and Eastern Europe could co-operate once they had decided to throw off communism. As an intergovernmental institution, the Council of Europe possessed the structures needed gradually to familiarize countries new to democracy with political pluralism, the principle of the rule of law, the laws of the market economy and respect for human rights. When Michael Gorbachev, the first east European Head of State to address the Assembly, set out, in one of the most memorable speeches ever given in Strasbourg, his concept of a Common European Home wherein conflict would no longer be settled through force or the threat of force and where all peoples would be free to choose their social system at their own discretion without having to face interference from an ally, the way was clear for closer co-operation between the Council of Europe and the countries of eastern Europe. What should this co-operation take, as these countries could not become members over night? In his time Peter Sager found an ingenious solution in the creation of ‘special guest status’, with Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Russia and Ukraine.
As some Countries of Central and Eastern Europe still have a tedious way to go towards democracy, the ALDE Group is proud that its members may play key roles in political institutions of these States, contributing to implementation of the important values of the Council of Europe. In October 2005, Serhiy Holovaty, Vice-President of the ALDE, was appointed Minister of Justice in Ukraine. The country is now facing crucial period of its independence. As we all hope that democratic values will win in Ukraine, we believe that appointment of dedicated liberals to key positions may contribute to further transformation and democratization in our member states.
As the third largest Group, the Liberals have a major voice in the appointment of the President of the Assembly and the Secretary General. Originally the Presidency rotated every three years: a Socialist was followed by a Christian-Democrat who in turn was followed by a Liberal. Under this system there have been three Liberal Presidents, each separated by a period of six years:

1960 – 1963 Per Federspiel Denmark
1969 – 1972 Olivier Reverdin Switzerland
1978 – 1981 Hans J. de Koster Netherlands

Following the appointment of a member of the conservative European Democratic Group, rather than a Socialist, to succeed Hans J. de Koster, the Presidency now rotates between four political groups on the basis of an agreement drawn up and signed in spring 1986 by the Socialists, the Christian-Democrats and the conservative European Democrats and joined to in 1994 by the LDR Group. The agreement provides for a rotation system whereby the President continues to be chosen from the larger groups (Socialists and Christian Democrats) at six year intervals and from the smaller groups (LDR and European Democrats) at 15 year intervals. Under this agreement, a Liberal president Lord Russell-Johnston, United Kingdom, (1999 – 2002) led the Assembly into the new millennium. Since 2008 the term of the presidential mandate was reduced to a maximum of two years, which lowered the rotation interval for small groups to four years. In January 2014, the ALDE Group had to stand an electoral battle to safeguard the principle of political rotation in the Assembly. In the first round of election, Anne Brasseur (Luxembourg), then chair of the ALDE Group, was elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly against the chair of the EDG group who ran for presidency in violation of the political agreement signed by the groups.
The most notable success in the history of the group has undoubtedly been the election in 1994 on the first ballot, by a very slim majority, of Daniel Tarschys to a five-year term of office as Secretary General of the Council of Europe. This was achieved thank to an agreement passed between LDR and PPE and EDG. It is becoming increasingly difficult for candidates from the smaller groups to win against candidates from the larger parties. In 2004 Kristiina Ojuland, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia at the moment, tried to run for Secretary General against candidates from the two largest political groups, Socialists and EPP. As she did not assure for herself strong support of allies, her mission did not succeed.

Although the ALDE is mainly composed of inveterate individualists, its work demonstrates that these individualists stand together and are capable of fighting for a common goal. They are especially strong and unyielding when it comes to defending democratic freedom and respect for human rights.
1.01.2005 with consecutive updates