Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Croatia’

Why Europe Matters!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013

Tower Hamlets logoEU free movementThe fightback starts here. Yesterday I blogged about the benefits of the ECHR and the insane campaign by certain right-wing Tories to get Britain to remove itself from the Convention (thereby putting itself in the sole company of Belarus). But this evening I was speaking about why Europe — i.e. the EU — matters, at a pizza and politics organised by my own local Liberal Democrat party, Tower Hamlets. I reminded members that the EU (in its various incarnations), together with NATO, had preserved peace on our continent for nearly 70 years — unprecedented in modern times. The way that formerly Communist countries have been integrated into the Union — rejoining the European family — has been particularly striking. On 1 July, Croatia will be the next. I also maintained that we should champion the free movement of people within the European Single Market, which has helped Brits working on the Continent just as it has helped other EU nationals who have come here. The three areas we shall focus on over the next 11 months will be jobs, the environment and crime, and on all of these the Liberal Democrats have powerful messages to convey, stressing both the local and European dimension (there will be all-out London borough elections on 22 May 2014, alongside the European elections). Moreover, these are areas in which the LibDems have distinct policies from our current national Coalition partners, the Conservatives. The Tories characterise membership of the EU as an impediment, rather than an opportunity; the right wing’s idea that the UK could somehow go it alone and try to arrange bilateral trade deals with major economic powers like the US, China and India is pure cloud cuckoo land. At long last, Prime Minister David Cameron has said as much, but sotto voce, and almost drowned out by the shrieks of UKIP and his own Europhobic headbangers, cheered on by the tabloid Press. Every day the British Press (with noble exceptions such as the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times) spews out lies and distortions about the EU (too often politely dismissed by Euro-realists as “myths”).  I was interested that the Bengali members of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (who made up about half of tonight’s gathering) expressed worries about immigration from Eastern Europe and the notion that these newcomers are taking local people’s jobs. That is of course the narrative of UKIP, which has gained some traction, and we need to stress how (a) immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they receive in benefits, and (b) young Brits (of whatever ethnic origin) really need to be getting appropriate qualifications to fill the jobs that are available and not turn their noses up at tasks which they feel are somehow beneath them. 

Link: http://www.tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk

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Croatia, New Kid on the EU Block

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th April, 2013

Croatia flagcroatia mapOn 1 July, Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union, having cleared all the accession hurdles. It may come as a surprise to British Eurosceptics that there is still a queue of countries wanting to join the EU, but despite the ongoing economic and financial problems of the eurozone the EU project remains something to which newly democratic countries of eastern Europe, in particular, remain committed. This point was stressed by Croatia’s Ambassador to London, Ivan Grdesic, when he spoke at a lunch hosted by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) British Section at Europe House in Smith Square today. Croatia will be one of the smaller EU states, with a population of under 5 million (even including Croats living in Bosnia Herzogovina, most of whom hold joint citizenship), but it recognizes that being part of the EU brings not only the benefits of being part of the Single Market but also should strengthen democratic transparency inside Croatia and the fight against corruption, which remains a factor in several Balkan nations. Of course there will be some downsides; when Croatia becomes a full member of the Schengen Agreement it will have to consolidate its borders with non-EU states, and it is going to have to introduce visas for tourists from countries such as Russia and Turkey. However, Croatia will be a significant beneficiary of EU funds, helping develop its infrastructure, industry and agriculture. There was some lively discussion with the Ambassador about the legacy of not only Communist Marshal Tito but also the distinctly right-wing and authoritarian President Franjo Tudjman, who was in power during the 1990s, not to mention the unfortunate earlier period of Croatia’s existence as an “independent” state during the Second World War when the fascist Ustasha ruled. It is a remarkable tribute to how far Croatia has come from those dark days on 70-odd years ago that now it is on the doorstep of EU membership. And who is next waiting in the wings? Probably Iceland!

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Why the EU Needs to Integrate More

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013

José Manuel BarrosoIt’s 40 years since Britain joined the EU and siren voices among UKIP and the Tory right are arguing that it’s time to turn the clock back and pull out. They couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, this is the time for the EU to integrate more — as the eurozone now seems destined to do — and Britain should be an enthusiastic participant. In the 1950s it was clear to the Founding Fathers (sorry, ladies, they were all men) of what developed into the EU that a degree of economic integration, notably between France and Germany, was necessary to make wars between western European states impossible. That goal was so smoothly achieved that European peace is taken for granted, especially by the young. A second huge victory since 1989 has been the absorption of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe ino the EU. This year, Croatia will be the next. But there is an urgent reason why EU integration should move ahead, namely the way that the global economy is developing, with the rise of new heavyweights including Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRICs. As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rightly pointed out, by 2050 not a single individual European country will be among the world’s top 10 economies* — not even Germany. So in order to compete — indeed, to survive as an economic force — Europe must unite further and start operating more as not just a single market but also a single economic force. It would be madness for Britain to stay out of that, condemning itself to a form of offshore irrelevance. It is not the Europhiles in Britain who are unpatriotic, as some of our critics allege, but rather UKIP and the Europhobic Tory right who want to consign us to the role of an historical theme park. 

*A new entry at number 10, however, could well be Turkey, which makes it all the more important that Turkey be embraced into the European family.

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Mladic, Serbia and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th May, 2011

The arrest of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic is a significant step towards the normalisation of Serbia’s relations with the rest of Europe and the country’s eventual accession to membership of the European Union. Belgrade had come under considerable criticism from some quarters for allegedly not doing enough to track down the man accused of responsibility for war crimes, notably the killing of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995. Following the discovery of Mladic — looking considerably aged and weakened — in a village in northern Serbia (some of whose residents must have known he was there) opens the way to his being tried in The Hague. Mladic’s son insists his father was not guilty of ordering the Srebrenica massacre. It will be for the Court to decide. Certainly, there are some Serbian nationalists who still believe Mladi to be a hero, not a war criminal, as witnessed by the crowd which demonstrated outside the parliament building in Belgrade this evening. Meanwhile, to the relief of Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, the end to the 16-year manhunt removes an obstacle in the way of Serbia’s EU membership. European integration has been a top priority for the Serbian government since it was elected in 2008. The following year, the European Commission in Brussels proposed visa liberalisation for Serbs. Just how many years it will take for Serbia to be allowed into the EU, however, is another matter, not just because of the rate of progress in accession negotiations but also because of the outstanding issue of Serbia’s non-recognition of the independence of the breakaway, predominantly ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. There is also a certain enlargement fatigue among some of the EU’s current member states. Moreover, some other countries in the Western Balkans — notably Croatia — feel that they deserve to be let in first. One way or another, though, it does seem that most constituent parts of former Yugoslavia will follow Slovenia’s lead and inegrate into the Union, which is a development that should be welcomed.

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Bulgaria under the EU Spotlight

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.

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Europe after Ireland’s ‘No’

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th June, 2008

The Irish voters’ rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is a disappointment, but not a great surprise. The No Campaign was more effective, despite the disparate nature of the groups involved, and there was always going to be a substantial number of people who would vote ‘no’ simply because they didn’t understand what the treaty was all about. I imagine a referendum in Britain would produce a similar outcome, though probably with a larger No majority. UKIP and the anti-Europeans are of course crowing over the Irish result and it was interesting to see David Cameron firmly aligning himself with them. No-one can be in any doubt now that in the run-up to next year’s European elections, the Cameron-led Conservative campaign is going to be deeply negative. I suspect we will see some more of the few remaining pro-Europeans within the Conservative Party leave for a more congenial home.

In the meantime, the European Union will endure. It’s surprising how relatively smoothly it has functioned ove the last couple of years or so even without a constitution or a revising treaty, though I have no doubt that the Lisbon Treaty would improve the efficiency and speed of decision-making, as well as making the institutions more democratic. It will doubtless take several months for political leaders to work out what should happen next, during which most of the other EU member staes will ratify Lisbon (as 18 have already done). It’s rather hard luck on Croatia and other aspirant countries, which had hoped that some progress might be made on their accession to the Union, as that will almost certainly be put on hold. In the meantime, things will carry on as they have been doing recently; not ideal, but infinitely better than not at all.

 

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