Sir Graham Watson

Sir Graham Watson

Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy


Sir Graham Watson was born in March 1956 in Rothesay on the Scottish Island of Bute. The son of a Royal Naval Officer and a Teacher, he was educated at the City of Bath Boys’ School and at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, from which he gained an Honours degree in Modern Languages.

His political career started with the Scottish Young Liberals, of which he was the International Officer and later Vice-Chairman. In 1997 he was elected to the Bureau of the International Federation of Liberal and Radical Youth; from 1999 to 2001 he served as its Secretary General. He was a founder member of the Liberal Youth Movement of the European Community (LYMEC) and of the European Youth Forum.

From 1983 to 1987, Graham Watson was Head of the Private Office to UK Liberal Leader the Rt Hon Sir (now Lord) David Steel. From 1983 to 1993 he was a Council Member of the European Liberal Democrat Party and an active participant in Liberal International meetings. Elected as the first UK Liberal ever to the European Parliament in 1994, he served as Chairman of the Parliament’s Committee on Citizens Rights and Freedoms, Justice and Home Affairs from 1999 to 2002 before being elected as Leader of the ELDR (later ALDE) Group. Under his

leadership it became the largest third party ever in the European Parliament. He served as Leader from 2002-09.

In 2010 his tenth book, Building a Liberal Europe, was published by John Harper Publishing and in 2011 he was knighted in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

Elected to the ELDR (now ALDE) Party Bureau in 2011, Sir Graham became Party President in 2012 and served until 2016, stepping down to devote his energies to the EU referendum campaign in the UK.

During his twenty years in the European Parliament Sir Graham was particularly active in the foundation and development of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats and in the accession of central and eastern European countries to the EU. He is also a co-founder and former Chairman of The Climate Parliament, a global network of legislators committed to accelerating the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Sir Graham remained active in politics at international level until January 2020, serving as a Member of the European Economic and Social Committee and taking part in activities of the ALDE Party and the Liberal International. He is currently Distinguished Visiting Fellow 2020-22 at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and is researching to write a biography of Lord Russell-Johnston for Birlinn Books.

His papers are archived at the European University Institute in Florence.

Sir Graham Watson is fluent in English, French, German and Italian and speaks a little Chinese.

He and his Italian Liberal wife, Dr Rita Giannini, live in Edinburgh and in Brussels.

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