Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th February, 2014
UKIP and other European populist parties have been crowing about the recent referendum in Switzerland, by which the Swiss very narrowly voted to introduce immigration quotas, which will put the country in conflict with several aspects of its relationship with the EU, notably regarding the principle of free movement. Although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it is part of the Schengen area and accepted many EU laws and regulations in order to be able to benefit from the European Single Market through a whole series of bilateral agreements. All of the main Swiss political parties except for the nationalist Swiss People’s Party opposed the call for immigration quotas, as did the business community, as they understand the complex implications of the decision. The result is bad for Switzerland and bad for the EU and highlights the dangers of referenda on populist issues such as immigration controls. Lukas Schuerch, Secretary General of the New European Movement Switzerland, has written a very helpful account of what the vote means:
On Sunday the 9th of February Swiss voters narrowly accepted a right-wing initiative to curb immigration. It demands to reintroduce quotas to control immigration to Switzerland. All the international treaties that contradict the new article the Swiss constitution must now be renegotiated within three years. If no solution is found that will allow Switzerland to amend its international treaty commitments in a way that Switzerland can reintroduce contingents on migration, then the Swiss government is obliged to break those treaties. The exact rate of the quotas will have to be fixed by the parliament.
There was a rough campaign and a fierce debate already before the vote. The Swiss government, a clear majority of the parliament and the business community campaigned against this initiative, given the negative impact it may have on the attractiveness of Switzerland as a business location. Only one major party, the nationalist Swiss People’s Party was officially in favour of the quotas. They exploited concerns among the people such as housing shortage, low-wage dumping or congestion of the infrastructure. The political and business coalition that campaigned against the reintroduction of quotas failed in convincing by offering other – effective – solutions.
The initiative was approved by just 50.3% of the votes and was passed by a majority of cantons. We can see a clear gap between cities and the countryside. In metropolitan areas where a lot of immigrants live and work, the initiative was defeated. But in rural areas, where we find a significantly smaller number of foreigners, the acceptance of the initiative was much higher. There was also a gap between the often more open minded French speaking part and the rest of Switzerland.
The adaption of the initiative puts the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union in danger. Quotas are not compatible with the «Free Movement of Persons Agreement» which Switzerland adopted in 1999. The agreement is linked to six other bilateral agreements, which concern directly the access to the EU’s single market. Should any of those fall – and since last Sunday we are no longer sure they will not – all the others become invalid within six months. The EU clearly stated that there is no possibility to reintroduce quotas along with the «Free Movement of People Agreement».
There are immediate effects that challenge the general relationship and Switzerland-based international (or at least exporting) companies have with the European Union:
First, a legal uncertainty occurs. Nobody knows how the relations with the European Union will evolve and when companies will be able to engage in long term business planning. Even if all persons without a Swiss passport who currently live and work in Switzerland are not directly affected until their visas will expire, Switzerland will face problems attracting talent from all over Europe and the world. It is also not clear how Switzerland will be able to participate in the single market. The image of the country as an open community with a successful economy will suffer for a long time.
Second, the adoption of this initiative creates a new bureaucratic burden for companies: While the principle of free movement of people stipulates that everybody within the European Union is entitled to work in any EU country without discrimination (including Switzerland as a non-EU Member State), the referendum initiative demands a prioritization for domestic persons. These two principles cannot be combined and will lead to difficult negotiations with the EU without any prospect of solution. In the not so distant future Swiss companies will be obliged to prove that there is no Swiss employee with similar qualifications for the job before hiring a non-Swiss worker.
Third, Switzerland’s «bilateral way» with the EU is brought into question. All the market access agreements of the «Bilateral-one-package» method employed between Switzerland and the EU (dating from 1999 and have come into force in 2002) are at stake. Furthermore, it is completely unclear how to proceed with the dossiers that are still in negotiation (such as energy, financial market, agriculture, food and participation on EU programs on research, education, culture). The EU has already suspended the negotiations of a framework agreement to resolve the “institutional questions” between Switzerland and the EU (implementation of EU legislation, interpretation, supervision, dispute settlement) and those of the electricity agreement.
Fourth, Switzerland is sending a dangerous signal to Europe and eurosceptic politicians and is thereby harming the system of free movement of people in the EU as a whole.
We all know that the implementation of the principle of free movement of persons is not perfect. But nevertheless we all profit from a fruitful exchange within Europe. We should therefore altogether work hard to improve the framework of the free movement of persons instead of just closing the borders.
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Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014
Harriet Harman once notoriously referred to Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander as a “ginger rodent” — a remark she later regretted and withdrew, though Danny had the last laugh by sending out a Christmas card the following Michaelmas featuring a red squirrel. Alexander 3, Harman 0, as London’s Evening Standard likes to summarise these political spats. But this evening, at the Chinese Liberal Democrats’ annual Chinese New Year dinner in London’s Chinatown, at which he was guest speaker, Danny made himself a further hostage to fortune to the political sketchwriters by admitting that he discovered recently that in Chinese terms, he is a Rat (having been born in the year starting 15 February 1972). According to the Chinese zodiac, the strengths of Rats include being smart and wealthy and successful (all great Chinese virtues). Rats are also sanguine and very adaptable, and popular. I shall leave others to research the Rats’ weaknesses. This year, of course, is the Year of the Horse, which Liberal Democrats in London hope will lead to the Party galloping to victory in the local and European elections on 22 May. Certainly, Britain’s economic and financial position — for which Danny must share some of the Coalition’s responsibility — is in a far healthier state than when the new Government took over in 2010, and the steady rise of the income tax allowance to £10,000 is indeed something for all to celebrate. Moreover, as tonight’s dinner attendance showed, the LibDems’ reach into both the Chinese and Korean communities in the UK has been impressively extended.So which Labour MP will be the first to tease Danny the Rat? Not Harriet Harman, I’m sure. Once bitten, twice shy. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’m a Tiger. Doesn’t it show?
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Chinatown, Chinese Liberal Democrats, Danny Alexander, Harriet Harman, Year of the Horse, Year of the Rat | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014
Victorian Britain was associated with gunboat diplomacy and there are still some people in this country who think of power in terms of military might. But since the Second World War, Britain’s “soft power” has been more in evidence, not least through the work of the British Council and the BBC World Service. The Council’s Director, Sir Martin Davidson, was the guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime and underlined how the teaching of English abroad and the fact that so many foreign students come to the UK to study both help this country’s economy as well as its global presence. Without overtly criticising the Government for not increasing the Council’s presence around the globe (in stark contrast to China’s Confucius Institutes, for example) Sir Martin did nonetheless point out that the negative coverage in the Indian Press of the immigration and visa debates in the UK had directly led to a fall in the number of students from India applying to study here. I asked him what the British Council is doing or could be doing to counter the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and UKIP on our reputation not just in India but globally, without getting an entirely satisfactory answer; but of course to be seen publicly to criticise influential British media might be difficult in Sir Martin’s position. Politicians and journalists need not operate under such constraints, however, which is why I spend so much of my time offering an alternative British narrative to that served up in the right-wing red-tops or the Faragistas’ pubs. The UK does still have a degreee of soft power, though it is redcued because of reductions to the budgets of the British Council and the ludicrous decision to integrate the World Service into the main BBC new and current affairs output. That soft power is increased by our membership of the European Union and is often a force for good in the wider world, which is why those of us who believe that need to stand up and say so.
Links: http://www.britishcouncil.org and http://www.globalstrategyforum.org
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: BBC World Service, China, Consfucius Institute, Global Strategy Forum, India, National Liberal Club, Sir Martin Davidson, The British Council, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th February, 2014
Party political broadcasts are all too often toe-curlingly bad, but this evening’s LibDem PPB on “Why I am IN” (the EU, that is) is a corker. It gets across a simple but crucial message powerfully, with a stellar performance by Nick Clegg (really!) in his best relaxed but authoritative style, and three nice vignettes of engaging people explaining in just a couple of sentences why Britain’s continued membership of the European Union is important. I have been arguing for some time that we need to polarise the debate in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May: if you want to leave the EU, vote UKIP; if you realise that to do so would be folly, vote LibDem. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that is unequivocally pinning its European colours to the mast, and therefore should be a rallying point for all those who understand that we are better together in Europe if we are going to thrive in an increasingly competitive, multipolar world. The EU has delivered so much that has benefited this country and its people. Of course there need to be some reforms, but those can be achieved more effectively from the inside, as a constructive member, not by sniping from the sidelines. Nick Clegg promised us that this time the European elections would be different, that the Liberal Democrats would not hide their European light under a bushel and that they would stand up to the doomsayers and scaremongers of UKIP and the Tory Right. Tonight’s PPB shows he really meant it. We now have little over three months to get that message across.
In case you missed it, here is a link to the broadcast: http://t.co/2v3Rgljk4T
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: European elections, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, UKIP | 4 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th February, 2014
Slovenia is one of the smallest member states of the European Union, but also one of the most enthusiastic. It was impressive how, at the time that former Yugoslavia was falling apart, the Slovenians asserted their Central European identity (as opposed to the Western Balkans) and celebrated, rather than lamented, their historic links with Italy and Austria. As a youngster I’d passed through Slovenia several times when it was part of Tito’s Yugo-Communist realm, without stopping, but I first got to know it not all that long after independence when I was invited to attend a workshop organised by the writers’ organisation PEN, in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Bled. Bled really is as picture-postcard perfect as the tourism brochures show, and one can happily walk round the lake for hours. I particularly enjoyed a dinner reception that was offered by our hosts in the rather severe official residence of the late Marshal Tito not so far away. The fact that I worked with an Anglo-Slovenian at BBC Bush House for several years helped to cement the ties, and I remember some very convivial dinners at the residence of one early Slovenian Ambassador in a mock-Spanish villa in New Malden tat ten served as his official residence. Later the country was understandably chuffed at acquiring Embassy premises in Westminster, a very short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and literally round the corner from the then Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street. So it was good this evening to get a taste of that rather slick “I Feel Slovenia” promotion of culture, food and lifestyle once again at the Slovenia Day event at the European Commission/European Parliament’s London representation at Europe House in Smith Square. I’ve never been back to Slovenia since the Bled visit — which did also include a British Council reception for literary folk in Ljubljana — but I am sure I should: to visit Greenwich’s twin town, Maribor, for example, and in particular the jewel of an Adriatic port, Piran — just along the coast from James Joyce’s Trieste. Yes, I can feel those travel juices starting to flow.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bled, Europe House, Greenwich, James Joyce, Lake Bled, Ljubjana, Maribor, New Malden, PEN, Piran, Slovenia, Tito, Trieste, Westminster, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd February, 2014
The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) held a special congress in Brussels at the weekend, to elect the Party’s candidate for President of the European Commission. At least, that is what the meeting was originally intended to do, with delegates from all over Europe (paying our own way, incidentally) gathering to choose between the Finnish Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, and the head of the ALDE group in the European Parliament and former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt. The two men are as different as chalk and cheese, the former dourly northern European, the latter almost Mediterranean in his flamboyant enthusiasm. It would have been fun to have a proper, competitive debate between the two and then a vote (which I suspect the overtly federalist Verhofstadt would have won), but recently the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and a German colleague put a deal together according to which Vehofstadt would indeed be the ALDE candidate for Commission President and Olli Rehn would be put up for some other plum EU job. Verhofstadt is extremely unlikely to actually become Commission President, unless neither the EPP (centre right) nor the Socialists manages to get their candidate chosen), though Rehn should get something. UK Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had made no secret that he preferred Rehn, as the “safe” alternative. Anyway, for us poor delegates, deprived of a real election, all we could do was say “yay” or “nay” to the deal. Many Brits voted “nay” (or abstained), in my case as a protest at the way the deal had been put together. But Verhofstadt was duly endorsed by a very comfortable margin. He’ll certainly add colour to the European election campaign, though not necessarily the sort of colour Nick Clegg and Co will appreciate.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, Brussels, EPP, European Commission, Guy Verhofstadt, Mark Rutte, Nick Clegg, Olli Rehn | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 30th January, 2014
Last evening I took part in a panel debate at King’s College London on what political parties are offering young people in May’s European elections. The event was part of KCL’s Europe Society’s European week, and attracted more than 50 students of diverse nationalities. UKIP had failed to nominate a spokesman, but the EPP (from which David Cameron withdrew the British Conservatives) was represented by the Finnish Chair of its youth wing. Labour and the Greens both sent Euro-candidates, but the Conservatives were represented by someone from the Beau Group. My message that the Liberal Democrats are the only party of IN regarding the UK and the EU went down well — and was unchallenged, even by Labour, who frankly don’t seem to have made their minds up about how they will play the European elections. I concentrated on the three key themes of the Liberal Democrat campaign — jobs, the environment and combating crime, but also highlighted the paradox that whereas young voters in Britain are the most supportive of the European project (and Britain’s rightful place in it), their voting participation is lower than older age groups. It is therefore crucial for a successful LibDem Euro-campaign that we motivate young people, first to register to vote and most importantly to go and vote, or agree to have a postal vote. As well over half of the audience were citizens of other EU member states I emphasized the fact that they can vote in the UK if they get on the register and sign a form saying they will not vote in their country of origin as well. I got the impression I was speaking to the converted as far as Britain and the EU was concerned, which is as it should be. But the message needs to be got out that this year’s Euro-elections are going to be rather like a mini-IN/OUT Referendum and the forces of youth, as well as of common sense, need to be mobilised to make their voices heard.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: European elections, King's College London | 4 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014
It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”
Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Big Brother, big data, China, Cyprus, Europe House, GCHQ, George Orwell, Gus Hosein, Iran, Israel, North Korea, NSA, Privacy International, Russia, sabotage, surveillance society, tailored access operations, UK, upstream collection, USA | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 26th January, 2014
I guess many people go into politics out of a sense of frustration; I know that’s true in my case, in particular frustration that the debate about Europe in the UK is so skewed by the ignorant and at times malicious content of rags such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and, more recently, the unrestrained rants of UKIP and the Tory right. That sense of frustration has been heightened further recently by the disgraceful prejudice that has been whipped up in this country against EU migrants from Romania and Bulgaria by those same culprits. Nigel Farage — who is a dangerous political menace behind his jolly man-in-the-pub facade — famously warned that 29 million such migrants were eligible to come to Britain (and other EU member states, of course) from 1 January. In fact, according to statistics provided by the Romanian Embassy, in consultation with the UK Border Agency, precisely 24 Romanians have arrived in the UK this month to date. Not a flood, not even a trickle. Moreover, the stigmatisation of Romanians in particular in the popular right-wing Press, as if all are those minority of Roma who beg and sleep out at Marble Arch, has helped lead to unpleasant acts of discrimination and voiced hostility to Romanians working here, the vast majority of whom contribute to British society, and I don’t mean just by paying their taxes. They work in a whole range of jobs from dentists to nurses, fruit pickers to waiters, in some cases doing jobs that indigenous Brits don;t want to do. So the next time you meet a migrant worker from Romania — or from Bulgaria — remember that it is highly likely that they have borne the brunt of prejudice that has been orchestrated against them, so please smile and make them feel welcome.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bulgaria, Daily Express, Daily Mail, EU migrants, Nigel Farage, Romania, UKIP | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th January, 2014
This afternoon I addressed a boisterous but very good-natured, mainly young crowd of Egyptians rallying outside their London Embassy in Mayfair, in commemoration of the 25 January 2011 Revolution. As I said in my short speech, on that day — and for many days afterwards — I sat glued to Al Jazeera watching with emotion what was happening in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. There were highs and lows during the Revolution, on the one hand a magnificent example of people of different ages, genders, religions and political persuasions, united in their determination for change. For a while it seemed as if Hosni Mubarak would not go, and on one terrible day, a large band of thugs on horseback and on camels, came charging into the square, whipping and slashing around them. But then Mubarak did accept defeat and stood down, to widespread euphoria. But there is little euphoria among Egyptians today, particularly since the coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi and the introduction of laws that ban protests and curb other civil rights. As I said to today’s crowd, Mubarak was not ousted in order for another military-led regime to take office. Egyptians, like the British, deserve freedom and justice and true democracy, in which they can express their opinions without fear of arrest, and in which they can vote for who they want, not just those they are told they are allowed to support. Revolutions are rarely easy and it would perhaps have been too much to expect that in three short years Egypt could have made a satisfactory transition to a fairer system, after decades of effective dictatorship and repression. But I urged people not to lose hope. Change will come, soon, if people strive for it: bukra, inshallah
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 25 January, Cairo, Egypt, Egyptian Revolution, Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi, Tahrir Square | Leave a Comment »