Until the 1990s there was no parliamentary scrutiny of Britain’s intelligent services; they reported directly to the Prime Minister and in principle were answerable to him alone. That changed with the Intelligence Agencies Act pf 1994, but as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, explained at an AEJ UK Section lunch at Europe House, until 2010 MPs could only request information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. However, the Coalition Government changed all that; these days the agencies are required to provide information to his parliamentary committee and indeed on Thursday next week, for the first time ever, evidence presented by agents will be televised. The Committee reports to Parliament and the Chairman is elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister. Moreover, the operations of the security agencies, which were previously not part of the scrutiny remit now are. Only the most sensitive information with national security implications is withheld or else shared on a strictly confidential basis. In the Q&A session after Sir Malcolm’s presentation I highlighted the anger felt in Germany by revelations that the NSA in the US has been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for the past decade and asked for an assurance that the UK’s special relationship with America in the intelligence sphere did not mean that we are in on that sort of activity with regard to our allies too. Sir Malcolm expressed surprise that the Americans would do such a thing, given the obvious likelihood of negative diplomatic fallout if, as happened, the bugging came to light, and he felt it should have been a matter for a political decision at the highest level, not an initiative of the US secret services, as seems to have been the case. He also explained the use of “selectors”, which are key words or other indicators which a computer system tracking phone calls or emails will recognise and then sound an alarm; otherwise the mas of traffic is not even read or listened to, he said. He obviously takes a dim view of the way that the Guardian newspaper has used some of the material that came to light because of the work of Edward Snowden but insisted that the intelligence work done was essential, especially in combatting terrorism. As it costs the British taxpayer £2 billion a year it had better be worthwhile.
Posts Tagged ‘Europe House’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd November, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013
Each person can be an explorer. So says the Clipperton Project (TCP), an Arts endeavour which believes that through multidisciplinary initiatives people can use notions of exploration, journey and discovery in order to face some of the great issues of today in a more positive way. In case that all sounds very theoretical, airy-fairy even, works by two Scottish artists who have collaborated with TCP are currently on show at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, headquarters of the London representation of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in Smith Square, Westminster, until 27 September. Enge (Charles Engebretsen) is a young sculptor, originally from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides; inspired by a trip by small boat to the French overseas possession of Clipperton Island, an uninhabited coral atoll in the eastern Pacific, he produced three dimensional visuals in white, using common building materials to emulate natural processes and patterns, some mirroring the coiled traces of lugworms in the sand; he is very much involved in the new Glasgow Sculpture Studios which I hope to visit when I am up there later this week. His co-exhibitor, Hamer Dodds, is a little older, and maybe more settled, residing in Edinburgh, and works two dimensionally, distinctly complex at times with his geometrical, repetitive, forms, echoing the form and function of elements of bioscience and reaching out to grasp aspects of evolution and unity. The opening night tonight drew an eclectic crowd and it is one of those exhibitions whose works at first might seem slight, even superficial, until one surrenders to them and allows oneself to be drawn in.
[Photos: left - work by Enge; right - Hamer Dodds]
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th September, 2013
Citizens of other European countries who come to live in England are often perplexed by the hysterically anti-EU tone of much of the tabloid Press. It’s been going on for years and continues unabated, lately supplemented by the propaganda drive for a “Brexit”: leaving the European Union as a result of what proponents hope would be a decisive vote in an In-Out referendum, currently envisaged by Mr Cameron’s Conservatives as taking place in 2017 (on the assumption that they will still be in power). This is not the most helpful atmosphere in which to run up to the 2014 European elections, which will take place in the UK on 22 May, the same day as the London borough council elections and many other local contests. So it was timely of Europe House — headquarters of the European Commission Representation and European Parliament London office — to host an event yesterday on the British Media and the EU. Interestingly, though there is no lack of journalists paid by their newspapers to write negative stories about the EU — not least for the Daily Express and Daily Mail — none of them had been able or willing to take part in the event’s two panels, chaired by David Aaronvitch of The Times. So there was a bias in favour of the shocked and dismayed that was equally evident in the large audience. We heard from members of the French and Dutch Press, as well as the Economist, with more political speeches from Catherine Bearder (LibDem MEP for South East England) and Evan Harris (former LibDem MP, representing Hacked Off). I suggested that some of the anti-EU bile produced by the British tabloids was attributable to xenophobia: the insular Little Englander’s contempt for The Other, “them” rather than “us”, Brussels being the ultimate “them”. A young man from YouGov polling agency made the sensible point that whereas a sizable proportion of the British electorate says it does want a referendum and the Outs currently outpoll the Ins, unless there is some sort of renegotiation/reform, Europe is way down the public’s list of priorities. Jobs, the economy, public services etc are much more of concern, and even if the EU is indeed related to the former, the public does not necessarily make the connection.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2013
When I was a boy there were two types of English: British and American. In England there was an attempt to wipe out regional accents and dialects (as a Lancashire lad, I was given elocution lessons, to speak all BBC. Shudder). And in Wales, where I spent a lot of weekends and holidays, there was an attempt to wipe out Welsh too. How times have changed! Over the past four decades or so a whole family of Englishes has developed round the world, from Jamaican to Singlish, and many more in between, and even the BBC these days celebrates regional and ethnic diversity. This subject was inevitably touched on by Professor David Crystal, when he gave the opening lecture to a week of studies for translators and people involved in the publishing industry at Birkbeck College today. I draw heavily on his English as a Global Language (Cambridge University Press, 2003) in the relevant module of my own Humanities course at SOAS, and I have enjoyed watching videos of some of his lectures. So it was a great pleasure to see him perform in the flesh — and perform he does, seated on a high metal backed chair, rather like the 1960s/1970s Irish comedian Dave Allan, sparkling in his fluency, playful and witty. His lecture was entitled “Language -blank- Literature” and he used well-chosen extracts from the works of William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard to illustrate how writers can bend and break the rules of English (having first grounded themselves fully in the language). He naturally also paid homage to James Joyce. I asked him in the Q&A afterwards how he could reconcile precision with intelligibility, citing the jargon of Brussels Euro-speak — an English laden with foreign borrowings and obscure terminology that is alienating to most ordinary Brits. And I say that as someone who is deeply pro-European. Prof Crystal replied that what was needed is something like the Plain English campaign that has resulted positively in the UK in making HMRC and others phrase forms and letters in ways that make sense to any man or woman in the street, more user-friendly. At the reception after the lecture — kindly sponsored by Europe House — he (and therefore subsequently I) was informed that there is such a group or movement already in existence, called “Clarity”. I shall investigate!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Birkbeck College, Clarity, Dave Allan, David Crystal, English as a Global Language, Europe House, Harold Pinter, Humanities, James Joyce, Singlish, SOAS, Tom Stoppard, William Shakespeare | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th July, 2013
Almost 75 years ago, when talkies were taking the cinema world by storm but dubbing techniques had not yet been finessed, there was a period in which film companies made several versions of the same movie, shot with dialogue in different languages, sometimes using the same actors (with varying degrees of linguistic ability) but often employing completely different casts. The Ufa studio outside Berlin, with its distinctive four wings, became a veritable multi-lingual film factory in the early 1930s; German, English and French versions of the same scene in the same sets would be shot before everyone moved round to the next wing and carried on with the next. It was a cumbersome process, but better than trying to make do with the title cards that had been feasible in the days of silent movies. This evening, at Europe House in Westminster, the British film historian Geoff Brown gave a fascinating illustrated talk on that brief period of multi-lingual film-making, including some hilarious shots of Laurel and Hardy hamming it up in Spanish and a revealing comparison of the German and English versions of Marlene Dietrich singing in the seedy Blue Angel nightclub. As became clear, there were sometimes cultural differences that had to be catered for, the Anglo-Saxon world in general being far more prudish than the continental Europeans. And when completely different actors were used in effect two quite different films emerged. I particularly savoured a clip of the German version of Anna Christie (1930), in which Greta Garbo vamps it up with my old friend Salka Viertel in a cameo role as a drunken older woman; the two actresses later became bosom pals in Santa Monica. Geoff Brown’s enthusiasm for the period and the multi-lingual film phenomenon was infectious and his particular style of lecturing, during which his slender frame seemed at times to wish to clamber up the metal latticed lectern, inimitable. It was perhaps tempting fate to hold an event called Tales from the Tower of Babel in the London headquarters of the European Commission, as there are now (with last week’s entry of Croatia) no fewer than 24 official languages in the EU. But as the EU’s Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has pointed out, it is the richness of the linguistic diversity of Europe and the growing mutli-lingualism of its citizenry that is one of the greatest joys of the European Union.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Androulla Vassiliou, Anna Christie, Berlin, Europe House, Geoff Brown, Greta Garbo, Laurel and Hardy, Marlene Dietrich, Salka Viertel, Tales from the Tower of Babel, The Blue Angel, Ufa | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th July, 2013
David Lidington, the (Conservative) Minister of State at the Foreign Office with special responsibility for Europe has lasted much longer in the post than most of his Labour and Tory predecessors, which has given a welcome degree of continuity at the countless ministerial meetings of the now 28 member states of the European Union. Moreover, he has already been on working visits to all of the UK’s EU partners so has relevant experience under his belt. This lunchtime, he was the guest speaker at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) British Section lunch at Europe House in Westminster and gave a pretty upbeat overview of the situation regarding the future of the EU and Britain’s role within it. He echoed the Cameroonian line that the UK is better off inside the EU, while nonetheless maintaining that the British public deserves a say about whether to continue that relationship, as so much has changed since the last European Referendum in 1975. Mr Lidington stressed the strong contribution the UK has made to the EU’s development, not least in the creation of the Single Market (under a Conservative government, incidentally). However, he argued strongly that many of our EU partners appreciate the way that Britain has been raising awkward questions and has been pushing for EU reform. He also endorsed Theresa May’s strategy of wanting to withdraw from European Justice and Home Affairs arrangements, with the option of opting back in to the best of the bunch. I have always felt that such cherry picking runs the risk of alienating many of our EU partners , as well as weakening our European legal benefits. I asked him head-on what he intended to do, as a Conservative Europe Minister, to tackle the Europhobia of so much of the traditionally Tory-supporting UK Press, notably the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the ghastly Daily Express. He riposted that he would champion the benefits of EU membership while stressing that the current UK government argues for significant reform of the EU and its institutions. Good luck to him on that, but I fear the subtleties of such arguments may go over most voters’ heads. With UKIP and Tory Eurosceptics screaming daily and loudly “EU bad; let’s get out!” what is needed is a clear government campaign to respond “Better in than out — and here’s why!”
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th May, 2013
The ancient Greek tragedian Euripides (c484BC-c406BC) was a prolific writer with a distinctly political bent and he was composing his dramas during a period of outstanding achievements — but also risks — for his home-state, Athens. We know that one of his most forceful serial works was the Trojan Trilogy, though only the final part, The Trojan Women, survives. However, last year, the Brighton-based theatre company Actors of Dionysus (aod) performed an imaginatively reconstructed version of the first play of the trilogy, Alexandros, reworked and directed by David Stuttard, at Europe House, the headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representations in London. This evening, David and his colleagues from aod completed the resurrection with a menacingly staged reading (by torchlight) of a piece that took the few surviving fragments of the second play of the trilogy, Palamedes, and worked them into a coherent whole, again at Europe House. The scene of the action in Palamedes is a Greek army camp, well into the long siege of Troy. The area is blanketed by fog (effectively reproduced in the performance space by having all the lights turned off); the general whose name is the title of the play is stitched up in a story employing many of the themes that would become classic in drama, through William Shakespeare and beyond: jealousy, vengeance and betrayal, foremost. The sense of foreboding was admirably intensified by a dissonant musical score by Hannah Quinn, played very softly, with the aid of a laptop computer. The company aod — currently celebrating its 20th anniversary — has ambitious plans for the future, including performances of Medea, Helen and Lysisrata next year and the complete Trojan trilogy in 2015.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexandros, Ancient Greece, aod, Athens, David Stuttard, Euripides, Europe House, Hannah Quinn, Palamedes, Trojan Trilogy, Trojan Women, William Shakespeare | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th May, 2013
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 in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Angela Merkel, Conservatives, David Cameron, EU, Europe House, European Council, Godfrey Bloom, Herman Van Rompuy, Labour, Nigel Farage, Richard Corbett, UKIP | 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 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 »