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.
Posts Tagged ‘Bulgaria’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013
When the former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, the immediate concern of the new states created was to secure their boundaries and to establish the apparatus of a national government. But most also dreamed of the day when they could complete the transition from Communist province to full member state of the European Union. Slovenia — which has always thought of itself as being in central Europe rather than the western Balkans – was the first to achieve that goal, in 2004; Croatia will follow suit this year. But the next is likely to be tiny Montenegro, which only declared independence (from a rump Yugoslavia made up mainly of Serbia) in 2006. Last night, the tiny republic’s chief negotiator for Montenegro’s accession to the EU, Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, joined London Tory MEP Charles Tannock — who is the relevant rapporteur in the European Parliament — at Europe House to give a presentation on Montenegro’s progress. The government has managed to put together an impressive array of committees and structures in Podgorica to manage the adjustment of Montenegro’s laws and practices to fit in with the EU’s massive acquis communautaire. Interestingly, a sizeable majority of the key people in that process are women. Moreover, local NGOs have been integrated into the deliberations, which is a first. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Montenegro will complete the accession process before the end of the decade. This is partly because the EU is going through a difficult time at present but also because there is general recognition that Romania and Bulgaria were unwisely fast-tracked into membership in 2007 before they had sorted out some serious deficiencies. As Charles Tannock warned, Montenegro also needs to tackle some issues around corruption and organised crime. But it should become the 29th EU member state one day — or the 30th, if Iceland gets its act together and races past on the inside track.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Aleksandar Andrija Pejovic, Bulgaria, Charles Tannock, Croatiam, EU enlargement, Europe House, European Parliament, Montenegro, Podgorica, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th May, 2011
Next Tuesday, 24 May, is the Day of the Slavonic (early Cyrillic) Alphabet, but last night, a week early, the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, Smith Square, London, launched an exhibition in its honour: ‘Spirit of Bulgaria’. This featured some lovely bronze sculptures by Bulgarian artist Yanko Bonev and both paintings and icons by his compatriot Mila Moussakova. The contrast in style between Moussakova’s two genres is startling. Her icons respect the traditions of Byzantine Art, not surprisingly, when one learns that she graduated from Sofia’s School of Applied Arts specialising in Iconography and Restoration. The colours are often subdued, the expression on the figures faces melancholic — with the notable exception of a jaunty young St George on horeseback. But Moussakova’s oil paintings are much more impressionistic and in this exhibition, at least, largely inspired by the urban landscape of Paris. In a short speech at the opening of the show, the Bulgarian Ambassador Lyubomir Kyuchukov pointed out that when his country joined the EU in 2007, it brought a third alphabet into the union — the Slavonic one that is full of resonance of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 11th May, 2009
I took time out from Euro-campaigning the other day to attend a day-conference in Leicester on the Black Sea, hosted by the Department of Politcs and International Relations at the university there, with the support of a couple of European academic groupings and the British Embassy in Bratislava. The Black Sea is one of the regions in which I have lectured on cruise ships in recent years and the theme of the paper I delivered at the Leicester conference was ‘Black Sea Implications of Turkey’s EU Accession’.
The Black Sea is viewed by most Britons as more than peripheral, though when Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU two years ago, it became the Union’s eastern shore, just as the Mediterranean is the EU’s southern shore, the Atlantic the western and the Arctic the northern. However, if and when Turkey accedes to EU membership (as I believe it will and should, though probably only in about another 10 to 15 years time), the Black Sea will largely become part of the Union, with important implications for relations with Russia and the European aspirations of countries such as Georgia and Armenia.
The EU will suddenly acquire frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran and its centre of gravity will move sharply to the south-east. Moreover, I believe its character will inevitably change. When the old Mediterranean dictatorships, Greece, Portugal and Spain, joined, they were grasping democracy and human rights eagerly. Similarly, when the eight former Communist states of central and eastern Europe joined, they were turning their back on 40 years of an oppressive ideology and were embracing a free market economy. Even though the accession process is already the stimulus for positive economic and political reforms in Turkey, it will not fundamentally change when it becomes part of the EU. Instead, the EU will be even more diverse than it is already — a diversity which I beieve will be stimulating and should be celebrated.
(photo courtesy Carol Weaver)
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Armenia, Black Sea, British Embassy Bratislava, Bulgaria, Carol Weaver, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Romania, Syria, Turkey, Turkey's EU accession, University of Leicester | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st August, 2008
Sailing through the Bosphorus the other evening, with Europe on one side and Asia on the other, I wondered (not for the first time) exactly where Turkey is heading. So do many Turks. The events of the past week have included two terrorist bomb attacks in Istanbul and a judicial attempt to oust the democratically-elected government on the grounds that it is surreptitiously trying to introduce sharia and turn Turkey into an Islamic state. To say the country is divided is an understatement, as it balances the competing demands of redefining Islam, secularism, nationalism and internationalism within a complex, modernising society. The government is determined to keep on the path of accession to the European Union one day, despite opposition from some of the nationalist forces, not to mention some EU member states, including Austria and France (though interestingly not Greece). The next few weeks, months and years are going to be bumpy for Turkey, though at least the economy is growing at a rate of which most current EU member states can only feel envious.
I’ve just spent three days testing the water (metaphorically and literally) in three other Black Sea countries: Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania, and will be leaving Constanta this evening for Istanbul again, for more lectures, more journalism and more political temperature-taking.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd July, 2008
The European Commission has suspended €500 million in funds destined for Bulgaria because of concerns over persistent corruption and organised crime. Both issues were highlighted in the the lead up to Bulgaria’s joining the EU in January last year, during which Sofia promised to tackle the twin problems, but as the Bulgarian Prime Minister, Sergei Stanishev, admits, ‘there is a discrepancy between the political will, which is a fact, and the achievement of concrete results.’ The Commission is also withdrawing the right of two Bulgarian agencies to administer EU funds.
Brussels hopes these measures will serve as a wake-up call to the Bulgarian government to get its house in order. An earlier draft of the Commission report was even tougher, threatening the suspension of Bulgaria’s progression to join both the Schengen area and the eurozone, but this was toned down at Sofia’s request. The pressure is really on Bulgaria now to show it can clean up its act, otherwise future enlargement, to take in countries such as Croatia, could be put at risk. I’ll be in Bulgaria next week, so I will be asking some tough questions.