European Union Heads of Government met in emergency summit in Brussels today to discuss what to do about Ukraine. Although there was not complete agreement about how forcefully to react to provocative moves by President Putin and pro-Russian forces inside Crimea, everyone understood the need to prevent a further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. Interestingly, Romania offered to act as an honest-broker between the EU and Moscow, which is a promising development; certainly, diplomacy will remain Europe’s tack for the time being, though European Council President Herman van Rompuy warned that various economic sanctions will be imposed if Russia does not change its tune soon. As it is, preparatory talks for the panned G8 Summit in Sochi have been abandoned, and the mood in both Washington and London is in favour of cold-shouldering Russia from the G8, which could possibly revert to being the G7. Meanwhile, ominously, the state-oriented Russian TV channel Russia Today showed viewers a map of Russia into which Crimea had already been incorporated. And the Crimean regional government’s parliament voted to hold a referendum to secede from Ukraine, to be held on 16 March — i.e. in 10 days time. That not only violates Ukraine’s constitution but would also make any proper debate about the pros and cons of the status quo, independence, devo max or incorporation into Russia impossible. So the situation remains extremely tense. However, the EU is right to try to pursue the diplomatic route — while offering financial and moral assistance to the provisional government in Kiev — rather than inflaming the situation further.
Posts Tagged ‘EU’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 6th March, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th January, 2014
The Long Room at the Oval in London may normally be the scene for the relating of cricketing yarns, but last night it hosted a fundraising dinner for the London Liberal Democrats’ European elections campaign, at which Vince Cable was the keynote speaker. For a long time Vince was known as one of the least Euro-enthusiastic of LibDem MPs, but since being in Coalition government with a Conservative Party that seems ever more in danger of leading Britain to the exit door from the EU he has been one of the strongest champions of British membership. As Business Secretary that is hardly surprising. On a daily basis he has to deal with foreign companies and politicians, many of whom are getting increasingly alarmed by the possibility of a “Brexit”. As he said last night, this is seriously undermining investor confidence, and with the Tories failing to show proper leadership on the matter it is up to the Liberal Democrats to be unequivocally the party of “IN”. Of course, the Party recognises the need for certain reforms, but such reforms will only happen if we are fully engaged with our EU partners. Vince has been widely quoted as saying that there is a five per cent chance that the UK will pull out, but last night he acknowledged that the possibility was probably higher than that. UKIP is of course doing well in the European election opinion polls, and Vince acknowledged the conviviality of its leader, Nigel Farage. But he said we should be blinded to the fact that the “Faragists” appeal to some very unpleasant instincts, xenophobic and at time outright racist.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014
This evening, at an inaugural debate at the new Network of Students (NOS) building in Whitehall my fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Turhan Ozen and I debated the Consequences of the UK’s Euroscepticism with young people from Turkey, Russia (Chechnya), Ireland, the UK and elsewhere. I explained that when I was first sent to Brussels by Reuters soon after leaving university — and not very long after Britain joined the then European Economic Community — I was a bit of a Eurosceptic myself, but in the true sense of the word, i.e. examining critically and questioning what this evolving body and its institutions were all about. Seven years in the self-styled Capital of Europe really awakened me to the great potential of a more united Europe, as well as to the great richness and diversity of European culture. How much more so today, with 28 member states and a single market in which there is freedom of movement, which means young people can seek new opportunities for study, work or travel, and many older people find a place in the sun in which to retire. But all that is being put at risk by today’s Eurosceptics, who ought really to be called Europhobes. They hate the EU with a passion that at times spills over into xenophobia. Moreover much of the propaganda put out by UKIP, the Tory Right and their cheerleaders in the Press (Dail Mail, Daily Express et al) is packed with lies, distortions and myths, which means that those of us who are Euro-realists — acknowledging the validity of the European project, while recognising that some things need to be reformed — are forced to spend a lot of our time simply refuting rubbish. Like the “invasion” of Britain by millions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants this month, which simply hasn’t happened. Or the claim that EU migrants are a huge burden on our welfare system — even ripping it off — whereas all the evidence shows that they make a substantial net contribution to the national coffers through their tax and national insurance. As I said this evening, my fear is that in trying to placate the Europhobes in his own party in the forlorn hope that this will quieten them down, David Cameron is acually encouraging them to demand more. At the same time, our continental partners are getting increasingly pissed off with hokey-cokey Britain, with one foot in and one foot out, while trying to shake it all about. No wonder growing numbers of continentals now shrug their shoulders at the prospect of a UK withdrawal, as opposed to the expression of dismay of a few years ago. The run-up to the European elections in May are going to be a rum affair in this country, with the major Coalition partner singing from a very different hymn-sheet from that of its junior partner. But so be it. Nick Clegg and everyone else, from Party President Tim Farron through Ministers to MPs and most LibDem activists are singing the same hymn, which proclaims that the Liberal Democrats are the party of IN. We must shout that from the rooftops so fellow Euro-realists realise there actually is a mainstream party in the UK that is sane on the matter.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014
Early this morning I was interviewed on Voice of Africa radio countering some of the negative propaganda in Britain about migration from other European Union member states, notably from Bulgaria and Romania. On 1 January, the temporary restrictions on the free movement of labour from those two countries were lifted and there were scare stories in the more sensationalist newspapers — including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — warning that Britain risked being flooded. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, stoked fears by declaring that 29 million migrants would have the right to come. Disgracefully, some Conservative politicians have also jumped on the anti-migrant bandwagon, pandering to the worst sort of xenophobic impulses. In fact, in the first fortnight of 2014 only a handful of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania have arrived on these shores, and most of those already had jobs lined up. Conservative Ministers have hinted darkly that the principle of free movement within the EU should be over-turned, even though this is one of the greatest achievements of the European single market, which benefits British workers, retirees, students and others just as much as it benefits people coming here to make a new life. Any unilateral action by Britain would be illegal under current EU laws and invite retaliation, and it could potentially jeopardise the status of UK citizens abroad. There are a million Brits living in Spain alone. Moreover, as I told Voice of Africa listeners, the impression given by the popular press that EU migrants are milking the UK’s benefits system is a distortion of the reality. Only 3% of EU migrants claim benefits such as job seeker’s allowance and as a whole they pay far more into the system than they take out. It is reasonable that there should be a period before such benefits can be claimed by new arrivals, perhaps three months — but certainly not two years, as some politicians on the right have argued. Just as Britain benefits from EU membership, in areas such as jobs, environmental protection and security, so the country gains from freedom of movement and Liberal Democrats should not shy away from championing it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th January, 2014
With just five months to go before the European elections, the junior partners in Britain’s governing Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, have been showing just how much they differ from their Conservative partners when it comes to the country’s relationship with the European Union. The Party Leader, Nick Clegg, as well as its President, Tim Farron, have made abundantly clear why the LibDems are the party of “IN”, not “OUT”, as many Tories appear to be, aping UKIP. This weekend, the LibDem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, has a strong piece on Liberal Democrat Voice (Link here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/danny-alexander-mp-writes-we-shouldnt-fritter-away-our-eu-influence-when-we-can-lead-drive-for-jobs-and-growth-37788.html) arguing that Britain mustn’t fritter away its EU influence when it could be leading the drive for jobs and growth. Danny is well placed to comment, having followed EU affairs closely since working as a young man for the European Movement. But I would go further than him and say that without Tory shilly-shallying, Britain could be leading the EU, as an equal patrner alongside Germany. The Germans would love that, especially now that France has a rather flakey President in Francois Hollande. And we have so much to offer the EU. We could be championing reforms that do need to occur, but are franklçy unlikely to do so long as Britain has its coat on and one hand on the door to leave, as European Council President Herman van Rompuy once brilliantly put it. So in the run-up to May, the two Coalition government partners will be singing from very different hymn-sheets when it comes to Britain in the EU — and it is vital that that LibDem voice be amplified, in the best interests of this country.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th January, 2014
This year’s centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is, according to the British Government, going to be about Reconciliation, and of course that is a noble thing. But I can’t help feeling that reconciliation between the Brits and the Germans (and other parties to the conflict) happened long ago — even though a Second World War occurred in the meantime. So, Reconciliation itself is not enough. 2014 should be a year of Reflection, on a number of very serious subjects. The first is the folly of War — particularly the so-called Great War, of course — and the fact that humankind still hasn’t worked out a way to avoid it. The New Year was ushered in with ongoing hostilities and a humanitarian disaster in Syria, as well as more recent but extremely dangerous conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. It is interesting that most Wars these days are within states, rather than between states, though that does not make them any easier to avert or resolve. And since the horrors of the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Europe has remained free of War. Some would argue that has been as a result of the existence of NATO (though the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, among others, might raise their eyebrows at that). Certainly, the European Union has played its part, which is why it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The EU is not a perfect institution, but it has provided a framework in which European states can cooperate rather than confront each other, and disagreements can be resolved around a meeting table in Brussels rather than on the battlefields of Flanders. That is no mean achievement. So as Centenary-mania takes over in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May we should indeed reflect, not just on why we believe “never again” in Europe but also on how the EU can grow and reform itself to be a brighter beacon to bloodier parts of the world.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd December, 2013
Being Romanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s cannot have been easy in recent months, as the dreadful Daily Mail and even viler Daily Express have whipped up anti-Romanian feeling, cheered on by Nigel Farage and his UKIP nuts, as well as some Conservatives who ought to know better. However, H.E. Ion Jinga (who has been en poste for five years now) has handled the situation with dignity. This evening, during his customary short speech at the Romania National Day reception at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgravia he lamented the fact that the debate about freedom of movement in the European Union has got so skewed and pointed out that most Romanians here are working and of course paying taxes and national insurance. Indeed, all recent reputable surveys show that the nationals of other EU member states working here contribute far more to the UK economy than some of their compatriots receive in benefits. The Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Romania Lord (Quentin) Davies of Stamford lambasted the media scaremongering about migration and it was pointed out that that before the First World War, people could move around Europe freely, but it has taken us nearly a century to get back to that situation. It would be a seriously retrograde step to go back on that progress now. And as Ambassador Jinga mentioned, there are one-and-a-half million Brits enjoying freedom of movement by living and in many cases working in other EU member states. But no country’s media vilifies them. Of course there must be adequate provision to deal with aggressive beggars, criminals and “benefit tourists”. But the vast majority of Romanians (and Bulgarians) in this country do not fit into that category nor will most of those who come later to work.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th September, 2013
At the LibDem Conference in Glasgow this week, Ben Jones, Chair of the Party’s Europe Working Group successfully proposed a motion on the EU. Here is his text, first published in a blog piece for the European Movement (UK) euroblog:
The UK’s future is in a prosperous, sustainable and secure European Union.
But neither must we forget that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today did not glide effortlessly out of post-war Europe. Nor was it underpinned by the military might of NATO alone.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ben Jones, Chris Davies, Ed Davey, EU, European Movement, European Parliament, eurozone, George Marshall, Likberal Democrat Conference, Sharon Bowles, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013
A useful article (which first appeared on the European Movement’s euroblog) by Matthew Donaher of the trade union UNISON on why it’s important to vote in next year’s European Elections — and how migrant workers benefiting from the EU’s freedom of movement of labour could influence the outcome:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th September, 2013
A referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union isn’t expected until 2017, and may not happen then, but the arguments for both In and Out are getting more insistent. This evening, the magnificent Great Hall at the Guildhall in the City of London hosted a capacity crowd to hear a debate on the question “The City in Europe: Will the Square Mile Prosper if Britain Leaves the EU?”, organised by the Evening Standard newspaper and moderated by Jon Sopel of the BBC. The Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, left no doubts as to where his sympathies lay when in his introductory remarks he stressed London’s importance as a centre for financial and other services and how some banks and firms in the City would pack up and leave if the UK withdrew from the EU. The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, pursued the same theme in one of the most pro-EU speeches I have heard him make; unlike many Liberal Democrats Vince does not have a particularly strong emotional attachment to anywhere on the continent; if any one country is close to his heart it is India. Nonetheless, he argued that EU membership is crucial for Britain’s economy and jobs. The UK is the third largest recipient of direct foreign investment (after China and the USA) and many of those investments are linked to Britain’s position in the EU. Gisela Stuart is unusual in being a Labour Eurosceptic (and MP for Birmingham Edgbaston), despite being born in what was then West Germany; but her line was indeed Eurosceptic rather than Europhobe. She felt that if some powers were repatriated (as David Cameron hopes) and the Eurozone’s economy picked up well then the British public might be likely to vote to stay in the EU. Jesse Norman, the Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire (just sacked by David Cameron for voting against the recent Government motion on Syria) took a different approach, answering the question of the debate directly by asserting that the City was strong enough to withstand the effects of Britain joining the EU. He was coy about whether he would vote Out now, but mildly optimistic that the Government will win some concessions in a renegotiation. Vicky Pryce, the Greek economist (and LibDem member) also thought that there might be some repatriation of powers, mainly because several other member states were thinking along similar lines. But she, of course, believes strongly Britain should stay a member. Had I had the opportunity to put a question to the panel, I would have reminded them of Herman Van Rompuy’s remark about people not winning arguments in a meeting if they have their coat on and one hand on the door — and I would have asked them whether the City might not benefit if David Cameron heeded that advice.