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!
Posts Tagged ‘Europe House’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th May, 2013
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 »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th April, 2013
On 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!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Bosnia Herzogovina, Croatia, EU, EU enlargement, Europe House, eurozone, Franjo Tudjman, Iceland, Ivan Grdesic, Marshal Tito, Schengen Agreement, Ustasha | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 4th April, 2013
2013 is the European Year of Citizenship, though you could be forgiven for not knowing, especially as so much of the recent related discourse in Britain and several other EU member states has been about national identity, restricting immigration and questioning the right of free movement of people within the Single Market. But an exhibition currently running at Europe House in London’s Smith Square — the offices of the European Commission’s and European Parliament’s representation in Britain– challenges the visitor to face head on the relationship between Cultural Citizenship and Mobile Loyalties, focusing on the shifting self-perceptions of immigrants and workers away from their original home and the often conflicting concepts of self in communities made up of diverse peoples. The most powerful (in my view) of the various contributions in the exhibition is a series of black and white photos by a Togolese woman artist living in Brussels, Hélene Amouzou, shot on film rather than digitally, and blurring both her physical reality and the transience or impermanence of her situation; in one image she is entering or emerging from an empty suitcase, reflecting her insecurity as she waits for papers that will allow her to remain. Less obvious at first glance is Magda Fabianczyk’s “Blocks”, a set of personalised playing cards laid out on a small green card-table, which was installed in a recreation room at Folkestone Harbour that was used by both international lorry drivers and artists who had largely not communicated with the each other until the cards attracted the drivers’ curiosity. One other notable work is a 19-minute film by an exact contemporary of mine and fellow Lancastrian, the Blackpool filmmaker and former architect Patrick Keiller: The End, which uses post-War footage of border posts, half-empty motorways, train stations and other glimpses of a Europe now disappeared; the viewer becomes a wanderer surveying these often forlorn scenes, including the Atomium Park in Brussels, once the height of post-modernity but now so very dated. I reviewed Patrick’s 1997 visual journey round some of the bleakest vistas in Britain, Robinson in Space, when it was shown in East London some time ago. The Europe House exhibition was put together by the new UK branch of the Association of Creative Professionals and the Brussels-based Société Mutuelle pour Artistes EU and is running until 12 April.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th February, 2013
I had a distinct sense of déja vu all over again at Europe House in Westminster this evening at the screening of a short documentary film “The Human Chain” (directed by Riccardo Russo). The film was co-produced by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Commission, to highlight their joint response to the 2012 drought and consequent hunger in the region that forms the southern belt to the Sahara. The déja vu was because I was in the Sahel in 1979, researching a report for the World Council of Churches (WCC) on The Use and Abuse of Food Aid and more than 30 years on this all seemed achingly familiar. I kept in touch with region, being the founder-Secretary of a British NGO SOS Sahel, and then later (1991-2000) being Mauritania’s Honorary Consul to the Court of St. James’s. The Sahel is still subject to cyclical drought and famine, despite worthy efforts to stop soil erosion through tree-planting and the like. Climate change has certainly not helped. Greg Barrow of the WFP (a former BBC East Africa correspondent) moderated the debate after the film screening this evening, with a panel made up of current BBC correspondent Mark Doyle (hot foot from the mayhem in Mali), Maya Mailer from Oxfam and the new Head of the European Commission’s representation in London, Jackie Minor. There were a number of old Africa hands in the audience who made contributions, including a radical blast froma colleague of my Food Aid past Benny Denbitzer, who was fairly hostile to the film. I spoke sharing his depression, not because because the film is bad — on the contrary, it is very good, using some really well-chosen and sympathetically portrayed vox populi. I was depressed because so little has changed and I don’t see how the Sahel can escape from the spiral of deprivation unless there is a holistic approach to the region’s challenges by both the region’s governments and the European Union (and its constituent Member States), as well as international organizations such as WFP and aid agencies, but extending further than mere aid and even conventional development. Europe does have to take a certain responsibility for the Sahel, for both historical and geographical reasons, and that needs to be embraced in a spirit of equal partnership with the countries and people concerned. All this needs to go far beyond the security and anti-terrorism partnership proclaimed by David Cameron or Francois Hollande. Otherwise the Sahel will be condemned to suffer for eternity.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: European Commission, David Cameron, Oxfam, Europe House, Sahel, SOS Sahel, Mali, Mark Doyle, Greg Barrow, Maya Mailer, Jackie Minor, WFP, The Human Chain, food aid, Mauritania, Riccardo Russo, World Council of Churches, Benny Denbitzer, Francois Hollande | Leave a Comment »
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 Thursday, 12th July, 2012
When Cathy Ashton was appointed High Representative in charge of the EU’s external action service, she declared that she wanted human rights to run like a ‘silver thread’ through the service’s policies. But as Edward McMillan-Scott — Liberal Democrat MEP and a Vice President of the European Parliament — said at a roundtable at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime, human rights have sometimes played second fiddle to trade matters and other practical concerns. He, the Labour MP Michael Connarty (the senior Labour figure on the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee) and Nicholas Beger (from Amnesty International’s Brussels office dealing with the European institutions) were therefore not surprisingly all in favour of the proposed appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, whose specific job it would be to focus on human rights concerns, wherever they occur in the world, irrespective of other considerations. As Nicholas Beger pointed out, there is currently often a lack of balance in the EU’s stance regarding the transgressions of other states; Belarus rightly comes under criticism for its many shortcomings, but why not Azerbaijan? Oil is a sad but obvious answer, but the putative Special Representative must be above such considerations and look at the world’s nations objectively. I said that I thought the litmus test for the new human rights action plan — of which the Special Representative would be the most high profile part — will come with regard to Israel/Palestine. Michael Connarty rightly touched on Israeli violations in his introductory remarks, but I believe the EU’s credibillity on human rights will only be proven when it does take an objective stand and condemns various elements of the occupation, house demolitions, administrative detention and so forth — though the wide divergence of views among member states relating to Israel could prove to be a problem. By coincidence, while our roundtable was discussing these matters, the House of Commons was getting ready to debate to desirability of appointing the EU Special Representative. Michael Connarty was worried some eurosceptic Tories might use this as an opportunity to further their prejudices, but it is to be hoped that the British parliament will indeed give the initiative its blessing. It would be shameful otherwise.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Amnesty International, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cathy Ashton, Edward McMillan-Scott, Europan Union, Europe House, European Parliament, human rights, Israel, Michael Connarty, Nicholas Beger, Palestine | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th June, 2012
For an exhibition entitled ‘Jamaican Men’, there are an awful lot of naked women in the show that opened at the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Smith Square, Westminster, this evening. But the title refers to the artists, not the subjects, and Jamaica is a famously macho country. Its music (think reggae, think Bob Marley) and its sport (think Usain Bolt) have given the Caribbean island a renown that belies its small size, but its Art is less well known. So the assiduous collector and promoter of all things Jamaican, Theresa Roberts — who divides her time between Britain and Jamaica — is to be congratulated for loaning for display a selection of her own collection.Lest anyone think her sexist, she also supported an exhibition of Jamaican women artists in Cambridge recently. Inevitably, given the large number of painters and sculptors represented, there is a wide spectrum of styles. Being rather conservative in my tastes where pictures are concerned, I naturally found Ken Abendana Spencer’s ‘Maggoty – St Elizabeth’, with its tranquil tropical village green and neat little figures dressed in white, particularly appealing. Carl Abrahams’ ‘Schoolgirls with Prophet’ is both enchanting and mysterious, not least because the skull-capped prophet is staring not at the young, smiling girls in their canary yellow uniform but out into the distance behind their backs and beyond the right hand side of the frame. Among the sculptors on show, there is also an extraordinary variety of moods and modes: Gene Pearson’s bronze ‘Mother’ is distinctly African in heritage, whereasRaymond Watson’s dynamic bronze maquette ‘First Child’ could easily pass as European.
The exhibition runs until 29 June.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: 12 Star gallery, Bob Marley, Carl Abrahams, Europe House, Gene Pearson, Jamaican Men, Ken Abendana Spencer, Raymond Watson, Theresa Roberts, Usain Bolt | 2 Comments »