The European Union has a good story to tell; you don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize without one. But alas all too often the story gets lost in a mist of jargon and worthiness. Having covered the European project since Britain joined the then European Community in 1973 I am only too aware of the problem, even while being an ardent supporter of the European project myself. These thoughts came to my mind today at Europe House (the London HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representation in London) when the British Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) held a lunchtime event for Richard Corbett, special adviser to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy. Now Richard is a nice and intelligent man and it was a tragedy that he lost his seat as a Labour MEP in Yorkshire and the Humber in 2009 while UKIP noodle Godfrey Bloom hung on to his. Herman Van Rompuy is also a nice and even more intelligent man. But it is a sad fact that the vast majority of Brits ( and many other European citizens) have not the faintest clue what he does or indeed what the European Council is. Richard this lunchtime gave us a very fair and balanced appraisal of where things stand in the eurozone and the wider EU, stressing how Europe has avoided protectionism in no small part thanks to the single market. The major objection to putatative UK opt-outs is that it would mean Britain competing under unequal circumstances. Germany’s Angela Merkel has said she is keen to keep the UK in, but as Herman van Rompuy aptly commented re David Cameron’s position, when someone has one hand on the doorknob and is looking for his coat he can’t expect people to take him very seriously. Indeed, the message the Conservatives are giving, through the crackle of Cameron’s ambiguities, is not so much about an opt-out as about a walk-out. That is of course what UKIP wants. Now Nigel Farage has been getting more than his fare share of publicity recently, including on the BBC, but this is not because his rather vague policies are supported by the media. It’s because he fires witty rhetorical fireworks from every orifice; in short he entertains. So a big chunk of the public warms to him. What the proponents of the EU project — and defenders of Britain’s membership — need is to loosen up, to drop the jargon and worthiness and to present a narrative that will make people in the UK and beyond enthusiastic about being European citizens. Engage them!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th May, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: UKIP, EU, David Cameron, AEJ, European Council, Angela Merkel, Labour, Conservatives, Nigel Farage, Herman Van Rompuy, Europe House, Richard Corbett, Godfrey Bloom | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th May, 2013
While far too many Tory MPs were obsessing in the Houses of Parliament corridors and bars about the ins-and-outs of an in-and-out referendum on the EU just over the road in Westminster Abbey friends and supporters of the Wyndham Place-Charlemagne Trust were celebrating the EU’s achievements at a Europe Day service. The volume of propaganda against “Brussels” that people are subjected to in Britain often masks the Union’s real achievements. Quite apart from the fact that the EU (along with NATO) has guaranteed peace in most of Europe for over half a century (for which it was justifiably awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) it has established a single market that is good for business and for consumer protection. Most people in the UK have, alas, absolutely no idea what the EU actually does, though occasionally snippets of positive news do get into the Press. Last night’s Evening Standard, for example, mentioned in passing that the raid on a predominantly Russian gang that had been trafficking women for prostitution and running brothels in Kensington and Chelsea was the first police operation to of its kind to get assistance (including funding) from the European Commission. Yet there are Tories (not to mention UKIPers!) who want to do away with European justice and home affairs cooperation! After the Abbey service last night many guests repaired to Europe House, headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representations in London for an exhibition of paintings by Luxembourg artist Fernand Bertemes — seascapes that were almost symbolic of the freedom of movement enjoyed by someone from a tiny and locked nation. Every fortnight during most of the year there is a fresh exhibition at Europe House, as well as meetings and events of all kinds. If the average Eurosceptic went to only a few of them they might have the blinkers removed from their eyes!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th May, 2013
Tory Eurosceptics have been dominating the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union, riding on the wave of populist sentiment engendered by UKIP. But it is wise to remember that they are a minority — albeit a sizeable one — within the parliamentary party. It’s a pity that David Cameron is unable or unwilling to make the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU — a real failure of leadership, in my opinion. Fortunately there is some sanity re Europe around in the Conservative Party, as witnessed by recent remarks by figures such as Ken Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind. And Robert Buckland, MP — Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the EU and Joint Secretary of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee — has added his positive voice, in the form of an article on the European Movement UK’s Euroblog:
Britain must resume a positive role at the head of the EU table and be clear that we are in to stay.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th May, 2013
After the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) Council in Pula, Croatia, the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtables held a seminar on “Illegal Immigration: The Crossing Point” with a thought-provoking initial presentation by Felicita Medved, the (Slovene) President of the European Liberal Forum. Although the main purpose of the ensuing debate was to focus on illegal — or, as Commissioner Cecilia Malstrom has rightly encouraged people to rename it, “irregular” — immigration, in fact the whole issue of immigration in general got debated, with a sharp division emerging between more left-leaning Liberal parties including the UK Liberal Democrats, D66 from the Netherlands and the Swedish Centre Party on the one hand and more right-wing Liberal parties, notably the VVD from the Netherlands and Venstre from Denmark. I was so alarmed by the degree to which one VVD speaker, Mark Verheijen MP, seemed to have wandered on to the territory of Geert Wilders (just as a depressingly large number of British Conservatives have lurched into the openly xenophobic, even racist, anti-immigrant domain of UKIP’s Nigel Farage) that I argued passionately for the urgent need for a new alternative Liberal narrative and vocabulary on immigration. Of course levels of immigration have to be managed, but the positive side to immigration needs to be championed and due recognition given to how it has helped the economies of many EU member states, including Britain. Indeed, thanks to our greying population continued immigration is going to be a necessity if Europe is going to play a significant economic role in the globalised world of the future. The ensuing debate in Pula was so lively that it was fortuitous that the UK LibDems had already suggested the issue could be the subject of another session, associated with the ALDE Congress in London this November. I believe immigration will be the top issue in the European elections next May, thanks to UKIP, and it is essential we LibDems have a persuasive counter-narrative in place by then.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, D66, EU, European Liberal Forum, Felicita Medved, Folkpartiet, Geert Wilders, immigration, Liberal Democrats, Mark Verheijen, Nigel Farage, Pula, UKIP, Venstre, VVD | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th May, 2013
It was good to see Parliament Square in London ablaze with the flags of the 27 EU member states today; I hope some of more Eurosceptic MPs in the House of Commons opposite took note of where this country rightly belongs. Europe House (headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament offices in London, in the old Tory HQ in Smith Square, hosted a drinks reception before the traditional Europe Day concert at St John’s. The theme of the latter was appropriately Irish, given that Ireland currently holds the six month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers and indeed the Irish Ambassador, Bobby McDonagh — who is sadly coming to the end of his London posting — gave a fine and pertinent, succinct address at the beginning, reminding us all of how peaceful cooperation has transformed Europe, despite current economic woes. The concert that followed, performed by the European Union Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Laurent Pillot, was the best such event I can ever remember, with an eclectic mix of classical and more modern works by Percy Grainger, Charles Villiers Stanford, William Wallace and Aloys Fleischmann, as well as the more predictable Richard Wagner and of course ending with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. The singing was particularly fine, performed by soloists from the European Opera Centre: Elsa Benoit, Daire Halpin, Martin Piskorski and Wolfgang Resch. It’s true the musicians were playing and singing to the converted but nonetheless it is on occasions like this that I am once again reminded of the wealth and depth of European culture and how we, as European citizens, in our wonderful diversity, can be united in celebration of values and heritage that make Europe a living entity that has so much to offer the world.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Aloys Fleischmann, Bobby McDonagh, Charles Villiers Stanford, Daire Halpin, Elsa Benoit, Europe Day, Europe House, European Opera Centre, European Union Youth Orchestra, Ireland, Laurent Pillot, Ludwig van Beethoven, Martin Piskorski, Ode to Joy, Percy Grainger, Richard Wagner, William Wallace, Wolfgang Resch | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th May, 2013
The media frenzy over UKIP’s strong showing in Thursday’s county council elections has masked some important truths. Perhaps the most significant of those is that on the basis of Thursday’s votes, UKIP would not win a single seat at Westminster. Analysis by Rallings and Thresher, highlighted by Mike Smithson, concludes that the likely make-up of the House of Commons after the 2015 General Election, were those results to be repeated, would be: Labour 331, Conservative 243, Liberal Democrats 50, Others 26 — but not one single UKIP MP. I suspect the only way UKIP might get one seat — and probably just one seat — would be if Nigel Farage himself followed the Greens’ Caroline Lucas’s example and stood somewhere where UKIP polled well this week (maybe in Lincolnshire?) , though that would of course mean he would have to give up his seat in the European Parliament. Moreover, as just one MP in the House of Commons he would be unlikely to have much impact, once the novelty value wore off, as Caroline Lucas and Respect’s George Galloway have found. Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system is harsh to smaller parties that are not regionally based (unlike Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists). So even if UKIP does very well in the (proportionally-based) European elections next year — as it probably will — that does not mean it can make a Westminster breakthrough. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats can be pleased that according to the Rallings and Thresher analysis of Thursday’s results they would retain 50 of their 57 current Westminster seats in 2015 despite a serious slump in their national opinion poll ratings. Thursday’s results showed that in most areas with LibDem MPs the electorate remain supportive of the party. Or as the LibDem mantra goes, “where we work, we win”.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013
The strong showing by the United Kingdom Independence Party in this week’s county council elections and recent parliamentary by-elections has been causing shudders in Britain’s other political parties and strengthens the hand of right-wing Conservative MPs who have been urging David Cameron to drift towards the UKIP agenda in an effort to stop the haemorrhage of traditional Tory voters. I trust we will not hear any such nonsense from Liberal Democrat parliamentarians. Even though sizable numbers of traditional LibDem voters also probably opted for UKIP this time I believe that was mainly as a form of protest. All three main political parties are suffering from voter disaffection and in particular the LibDems, as unfortunately many people in the UK don’t understand Coalition politics and the fact that as a junior partner in government the Liberal Democrats have only a certain degree of clout. But the really important thing, I believe, is that the Liberal Democrats must be bold enough to confront UKIP’s two main policy planks — anti-immigration and anti-EU — and tackle them head-on. I deliberately put immigration first, despite the fact that withdrawal from the EU is UKIP’s most well-known USP, as I believe the scare-mongering by UKIP regarding immigrants was more effective in garnering votes for the party than Nigel Farage’s attempts to ridicule Brussels. Opinion polls consistently show that for the vast majority of British voters Europe is way down their list of political priorities. But Farage and his colleagues have been steering the anti-immigrant bandwagon in a way that used to be more the role of the BNP and National Front. Farage’s repeated warning about the UK “opening its doors” to 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians from 1 January not only ignore such realities as the fact that the more favoured destinations of Romanians who do want to emigrate are Italy and France, and for many Bulgarians Germany is seen as more desirable because of low housing costs and a growing economy but also propagate the distinctly racist implication that all Romanians — and particularly Roma — are criminals. The LibDems — who currently have a working group looking at immigration and related issues — need to stress how much the British economy has benefited from immigration (which of course has to be controlled but not in an arbitrary fashion). Moreover, with regard to the EU the Liberal Democrats need to be brave enough to stand up and proclaim why leaving the EU would be disastrous for Britain. Certainly some reforms of the EU are needed, but you do not reform an organisation by leaving it. The European debate has been hijacked by UKIP and it is urgent that the alternative case is put strongly — by the LibDems.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th April, 2013
Liberal Democrat peer Hugh Dykes sets out his (and mainstream LibDem) understanding of the vision that is needed for the whole of the European Union, not just filtered through the spectacles of apparent short-term national interest. This piece was originally published on the European Movement’s Euroblog:
What we need is a vision for the whole of the European Union.
by Lord Dykes
A few weeks after the PM sadly refused to attend the Nobel Peace Prize award to the European Union in Oslo, I had the chance to ask my noble friend Baroness Warsi, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, what further opt-outs we would now seek in Brussels. She very kindly stated that ”the Government always seek outcomes that are in the national interest … our priorities include … the single market and … fair competition”. I spend a lot of my time in France and have the opportunity to observe public life and politics there at close quarters. It is interesting that such a proud, indeed, sometimes overly patriotic country, sees absolutely no contradiction between its own direct interests and those of the European Union. It considers them intimately connected and pursues one as an expression of the other. As in Berlin and Madrid, and most other EU capitals, the EU flag flies proudly in Paris alongside the national tricolour. They do not feel the one cancels out the other. The UK is the only major member state where government buildings never, ever fly the European flag. Why are we so nervous about the EU? Why are we so immature?
It is very self-defeating if leading Conservative Ministers and politicians refer to the over-repeated phrase “the British national interest” as if that were wholly different from our membership of the European Union and in opposition to that of all the other member states. The explanation for the use of such language is simple; an unusually large number of old-fashioned nationalist Conservative MPs have a notion of national sovereignty which is, literally, at least 100 years out of date. The fundamental premise upon which the European project is based is one which argues that pooling sovereignty by way of signing EU treaties, achieved by unanimity, is not a loss of real sovereignty, it is a means to protect it and enhance it. We have done so through other international treaties and membership of international organisations like the UN, WTO, NATO, even FIFA, all over the world, to no ill effect. It is quite extraordinary that the blind commitment in our so-called “special relationship”, which has led us to go into rather questionable military adventures in the not so distant past (which we usually later regret), is rarely questioned, while we suffer hot flushes when confronted with a perfectly sensible measure of consensus-based EU co-operation.
Mr Cameron is now launching a risky plan which is designed to appease these wilder anti-EU MP colleagues, and which could quickly get out of control. His wish to renegotiate our terms of membership, in effect to get Britain out of its Treaty commitments, which have been voluntarily agreed and dully ratified by our own Parliament, can only cause resentment across the EU and raise questions among our international partners about how committed we are to our membership of the biggest economy in the world. It comes after Mr Cameron made himself unpopular through a series of tactical mistakes. The bitterness felt by the European People’s Party, the biggest, and incidentally, centre-right political family in the EU, about the Conservatives deciding to set up their own group in the European Parliament still lingers. Vetoing the Fiscal Compact and complicating efforts to address the sovereign debt crisis in certain parts of the Eurozone has not been forgotten either.
As Peter Ludlow said recently “The argument that the rest of Europe will simply acquiesce in whatever kind or arrangement (we) opt for, because … our partners need us … more than the UK needs them, is a total illusion”.
The European Movement UK is Britain’s longest standing pro-European organization, campaigning for decades to inform the debate around the benefits of EU membership.
We are a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization, funded exclusively by our members. Visit http://www.euromove.org.uk to see how you can join us and help keep Britain in the EU.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013
The Langham Hotel, just opposite BBC Broadcasting House, claims with justification to be one of the oldest top-end hotels in Europe. Crown Prince Edward presided over the opening of its grand function room in 1865; this evening, almost a century and a half later, it welcomed the massed ranks of London’s diplomatic corps, at what has become a key date in the capital’s annual social calendar: Diplomat Magazine’s Awards for diplomats of special note, nominated by their peers. It’s true that in the interim the hotel went through some barren years, especially after the Germans dropped a bomb through the roof and the BBC then occupied it for offices. But now it is back to its former glory (despite recently hosting Justin Bieber, on the less than glorious London led of his concert tour). The Awards were presented tonight by Sir Christopher Meyer, former UK Ambassador to to Washington and head of the ill-fated Press Complaints Commission; he is now sucked into the corporate sector and performed with immense slickness and occasional wit. The laureates included the Christian Lady Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bahrain (Middle East), the German Ambassador (who sent a deliciously subversive pro-European Unity message in his absence), the Ambassador of Brazil (South America), the Ambassador of Indonesia (Asia) and the High Commissioners of Mozambique (Africa) and Trinidad & Tobago (The Americas). The hotel and various sponsors certainly did us all proud and it is a credit to the Diplomat’s owners/editors Hugo and Venetia de Blocq van Kuffeler that they manage to keep the whole enterprise going in these difficult economic times. With over 160 diplomatic missions London as a posting remains one of the highlights of any diplomat’s career and indeed for some being accredited to the Court of St James’s is the crowning of a professional lifetime, even if on occasions (as Sir Christopher wickedly reminded us, in the words of Henry Wotton) they are being sent abroad as honest men (and women these days) to lie for their country.
[photos show HE Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador of Germany, and HE Carlos dos Santos, High Commissioner of Mozambique]
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bahrain, BBC Broadcasting House, Brazil, Carlos Dos Santos, Diplomat Magazine, Georg Boomgaarden, Germany, Henry Wotton, Hugo de Blocq van Kuffeler, Indonesia, Justin Bieber, Langham Hotel, Mozambique, Press Complaints Commission, Sir Christopher Meyer, Trinidad & Tobago, Venetia de Bloacq van Kuffeler | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013
Ken Clarke — the thinking man’s Conservative — has aptly described UKIP as a rallying point for waifs and strays. Though some of its members — and presumably its MEPs — are genuinely motivated by a belief that the European Union is the worst thing since the Third Reich a great many of its supporters are essentially people who look at a ballot paper marked Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and respond “None of the Above”. One reason for that is that none of the three major British political parties manifests xenophobia as overtly as does UKIP. It’s no use party leader Nigel Farage pleading that UKIP is not racist: the party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, including the latest demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, is distinctly racist in tone. Some of the motley crew who have been signed up to stand for UKIP in this Thursday’s County Council elections have expressed openly homophobic opinions as well; one described gays as “termites”. Farage himself has admitted that the party has not had time to vet these newbie candidates thoroughly and that there might indeed be some members of the BNP and convicted criminals among them. It is significant that the hateful English Defence League (EDL) urged that other far-right parties, including the BNP, should not stand against UKIP candidates so as not to split the vote. As Geoffrey Bloom, one of UKIP’s more colourful MEPs, has warned, the party has not had time to draw up a clear manifesto of policy either. Mr Bloom, you may recall, is the gentleman who argued that women should spend more time cleaning behind the fridge. Feminism is almost as sinful as homosexuality in the lexicon of many “Kippers”. It is a fact that several of UKIP’s MEPs later walked out of the party after they got elected, and I won’t go into the criminal activity that landed certain people in jail. But Farage is a good comedy turn and is getting blanket coverage in the media so is an attractive nanny for the “waifs and strays”. For me the most alarming thing, however, is the way that the right-wing of the Conservative Party is cosying up to UKIP because it is afraid the party is taking away Tory votes. It’s a very dangerous strategy, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider that the Tories are in a group in the European Parliament that contains some pretty intolerant and offensive right-wing parties. UKIP’s intervention could lead to some very interesting results on Thursday, with the Conservatives likely to be the biggest casualties. The number of UKIP councillors elected might be small, thanks to Britain’s quirky electoral system, but the party’s bubble needs to be burst — and its shortcomings highlighted — before next year’s European elections, when a sizeable UKIP vote under a proportional system could make them the biggest contingent, doing incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation amongst our continental partners.