Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament’
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.
Next year marks the centenary of the First World War: that cataclysm that opened up the darkest decades in European history. We should be grateful that – for all our concerns – the Europe of today enjoys an unprecedented peace: its peoples among the most free and prosperous on earth.
Without the sacrifice of our ancestors we would not have that freedom.
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.
In fact it was a soldier – the great American General, George Marshall – who surveyed a broken post-war Europe, and saw that without common endeavour, there would be no prosperity and therefore no security to speak of. He, like Churchill, Schuman and others, understood that old Europe had failed – and, unchanged, would fail again. The mould had to be broken.
So, when that centenary comes next year, let’s not be complacent about what we have today. Let’s be glad that Europe was re-founded on common endeavour – on democracy, human rights and the rule of international law. Glad that Britain supported and became a part of it. And glad, that we Liberal Democrats have never wavered from that vision – always the party of In. The EU has faced big tests in its history and yet the challenges of the future will be – in many ways - just as formidable as those of the past. The world is changing rapidly – a global shift in economic power the like of which has not been seen for centuries. Globalisation gathers pace – across trade, new technologies, people and ideas. We should welcome the opportunities this new world offers. But neither can we ignore the tests it will bring: tougher competition, cross-border crime, fragile states, instability on European borders, and unprecedented environmental challenges, not least climate change.
Certainly, no nation today can tackle all this alone. But the question for the EU remains – can it meet the challenge and continue its historic purpose of prosperity, sustainability and security? Our firm view is that it can. But as reformers and critical friends of the EU, we believe that only by focusing ruthlessly on those areas where it can really make a difference will the EU win back the trust of all its citizens. So in our motion:
First, if the EU does not stand for prosperity and jobs, it stands for nothing. In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, getting the single currency on to a firm footing will be a long and difficult process, but it remains as vital for the UK economy as any other, and we must support it. But setbacks must not blind us to the opportunities of the single market. The world’s biggest marketplace – Britain’s biggest market. An 11 trillion pound economy linked to millions of British jobs, and a pre-requisite for billions of pounds of inward investment into our country. Without it, we would be poorer. And we still need to unlock that market on our doorstep – in services, digital and green technology. We need to work hard for EU trade deals with the US and others to unlock billions in GDP and deliver more jobs. But only as part of the world’s biggest single market can the UK hope to get the best deal from tough negotiations with trading giants. And, let’s be absolutely clear, the only way to influence and determine the rules of the single market is through EU membership – the Norwegian and Swiss models are either undemocratic, ineffective or both and none cut it for the UK.
Second, sustainability – we want ambitious new EU targets to reduce greenhouse gases. We want continued radical reform of fisheries and agricultural policies including a complete end to wasteful fish discards.
Third, a more secure Europe. Police and prosecutors must have the tools they need to catch the criminals who slip across borders. But we want a fair Europe too – ensuring common-sense use of the European Arrest Warrant and levelling the rights of suspects up – not down – across Europe.
And it is vital that the EU speaks with a more coherent voice in the world – combining diplomacy, trade and development more effectively, and pooling and sharing military capability to get value for money and meet our commitments. Deeper Eurozone integration is a necessity. But it must not compromise the coherence of the single market. Future treaty change should guarantee equal voice for euro ins and euro outs in single market rules. And, if the EU is to win back the trust of its publics, it needs to work harder to demonstrate accountability, efficiency and transparency in all that it does. That means more effective scrutiny from national parliaments on subsidiarity. And it means greater transparency – secret ballots on budget and policy in the European Parliament are unacceptable. But when it comes to reform – let’s be clear. Tory hopes for a swag-bag of unilaterally repatriated powers are an illusion – a huge waste of diplomatic capital. Yes the EU needs renewal and reform – but you only do that by leading and building alliances for change with like-minded countries. And – as we have argued consistently – the next time the UK signs up for a significant transfer of powers, triggering the EU Act, we should have an In Out referendum, giving the public a say on the whole relationship.
Sceptics will say this agenda is too ambitious. But our record shows it can be done: Chris Davies MEP leading a historic reform of EU fisheries policy. Ed Davey MP working with like-minded states to win an opt-out from regulations for small businesses. Sharon Bowles MEP negotiating hard to ensure non-euro states like the UK have a strong voice in future decisions on financial services. This is the winning approach. Getting stuck in, leading the agenda, building coalitions for change. Renewing and reforming the EU for the 21st Century. No surprises then that a recent survey found Lib Dem MEPs to be the hardest working. And no prizes for guessing who are the laziest… There’s a wonderful double meaning in the name UKIP. It’s not just what’s written on the ballot, it’s their daily approach to politics: You get up. You get your expenses. You kip.
With the right attitude, we can ensure a reformed EU delivers – on jobs, on crime and the environment. But we have a fight on our hands. There is a new isolationism creeping into our politics – a delusion that Britain can simply pull up the drawbridge and escape all the demands of the modern world. It is hurting our influence in Brussels. The fact is without EU membership we can’t have a stronger economy and a fairer society. This country would matter less in the world. That’s why President Obama – like each president before him for sixty years – insists that we walk taller in Washington when we count for something in Europe. No offence Geneva – but I don’t want the UK to be a big Switzerland. I’m proud that this country fought for freedom in Europe, drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, pioneered the biggest single market in the world, is a UN Security Council member – a country that wants a say on our children’s future in this world, and – when push comes to shove – will stand up and be counted.
Does anyone really believe that we can be that same country if we leave the European Union?
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 Thursday, 20th June, 2013
A useful briefing on the European Parliament’s recent resolution on standards of media freedom across the EU, from David Geary of the European Movement UK:
The European Parliament adopted recently a resolution on standards for media freedom across the EU. In the context of recent debates in this area from media ethics to political collusion to the debate about privacy and the fallout from the Levenson Inquiry, this resolution is both timely and relevant.
on the EU Charter: standard settings for media freedom across the EU, was passed 539 votes to 70 (with 78 abstentions). The Rapporteur was Romanian Liberal Democrat MEP, Renate Weber. The text calls for the governments of all member states to ensure that threats to media freedom, such as attempts to influence, pressurise or otherwise interfere with the view of restricting the ability of the media to function freely within a state, are prohibited. It also suggest that legal mechanisms must be established to ensure that senior appointments to public media organisations safeguard that candidates selected are best enabled to maintain the independent integrity of the respective media organisations. The text covers both public and private media, because both outlets play their own significant role in society and seeks to make sure that both are provided with the same rights, such as those derived from the media plurality clause of the Charter on Fundamental Rights. The Parliament calls for full implementation of the rights established under this Charter.
Acknowledging current challenges to media freedom, especially in cases where governments have cited security concerns, the Parliament requests that such moves should not be abused or used to exercise a degree of political control over the media. Bureaucratic processes such as broadcast licensing were also identified as potential areas of concern which might be manipulated to limit access to the media market for political or partisan reasons. The Parliament requests that both the Commission and Member States take action to address and prevent dominant positions by establishing lower competition thresholds in the media industry than in other markets. The European Parliament establishes two factors which give rise to a dominant position within a media market. First is the ability to benefit from monopoly pricing power. Secondly, the ability to benefit from political influence, especially when that influence creates the opportunity to implement regulatory practices and changes which can offer a competitive advantage. Both characteristics of a dominant media power make it difficult to combat or regulate and the European Parliament identifies this as a critical issue for member states to address. In accordance with previous requests on the Commission to establish a legislative framework governing media ownership, Parliament once again calls for a set of concrete measures to provide a legal oversight to media ownership, establishing minimum standards for Member States.
The independence of journalists is at the centre of the European Parliament’s effort to protect medial plurality. Noting that journalistic independence requires that journalists must not be prevented from accessing public documents and information, Parliament calls on Member States to establish a comprehensive legal framework protecting and promoting freedom of information requests. Alongside access to public information, Parliament notes that true journalistic independence cannot be achieved as long as members of the security services of Member States infiltrate the offices of public and private media organisations. Parliament calls on Member States to stop such activity. The Parliament also notes the effect of poor working conditions and the lack of security of tenure can have on journalistic independence. So it calls for regulation in this area as well as safeguarding journalists from undue pressure from publishers or owners.
Parliament identified the need for promoting ethical journalism and the establishment of professional standards for ethics and conduct, notably the obligation to identify the difference between a fact and an opinion, to ensure that the accurate, impartial and objective media content becomes the standard by which media organisations are assessed. Parliament calls for the establishment of a regulatory authority independent from government which can ensure compliance with standards and ethical codes and provide an avenue to consider complaints from affected parties.
Having the entire range of media operating across the EU in mind, the European Parliament considered developing standards for social media and internet based media providers alongside the more traditional print and broadcast media. In addressing online media, Parliament called for the Commission to include internet media operators in the EU Regulatory framework when the time comes to revise the Audio-visual Media Services Directive
The importance of monitoring media freedom in the Member States is of critical importance and the European Parliament called on the Commission, the Fundamental Rights Agency and/or the EU Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom to publish an annual report on media freedom, which would then be presented to both Parliament and the EU Council for their consideration and with the intention of having the two co-legislators make proposals to follow this report.
European Movement policy officer
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Geary, EU, European Movement UK, European Parliament, Levenson Inquiry, media freedom, press freedom, Renate Weber | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013
Ken Clarke — the thinking man’s Conservative — has aptly described UKIP as a rallying point for waifs and strays. Though some of its members — and presumably its MEPs — are genuinely motivated by a belief that the European Union is the worst thing since the Third Reich a great many of its supporters are essentially people who look at a ballot paper marked Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and respond “None of the Above”. One reason for that is that none of the three major British political parties manifests xenophobia as overtly as does UKIP. It’s no use party leader Nigel Farage pleading that UKIP is not racist: the party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, including the latest demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, is distinctly racist in tone. Some of the motley crew who have been signed up to stand for UKIP in this Thursday’s County Council elections have expressed openly homophobic opinions as well; one described gays as “termites”. Farage himself has admitted that the party has not had time to vet these newbie candidates thoroughly and that there might indeed be some members of the BNP and convicted criminals among them. It is significant that the hateful English Defence League (EDL) urged that other far-right parties, including the BNP, should not stand against UKIP candidates so as not to split the vote. As Geoffrey Bloom, one of UKIP’s more colourful MEPs, has warned, the party has not had time to draw up a clear manifesto of policy either. Mr Bloom, you may recall, is the gentleman who argued that women should spend more time cleaning behind the fridge. Feminism is almost as sinful as homosexuality in the lexicon of many “Kippers”. It is a fact that several of UKIP’s MEPs later walked out of the party after they got elected, and I won’t go into the criminal activity that landed certain people in jail. But Farage is a good comedy turn and is getting blanket coverage in the media so is an attractive nanny for the “waifs and strays”. For me the most alarming thing, however, is the way that the right-wing of the Conservative Party is cosying up to UKIP because it is afraid the party is taking away Tory votes. It’s a very dangerous strategy, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider that the Tories are in a group in the European Parliament that contains some pretty intolerant and offensive right-wing parties. UKIP’s intervention could lead to some very interesting results on Thursday, with the Conservatives likely to be the biggest casualties. The number of UKIP councillors elected might be small, thanks to Britain’s quirky electoral system, but the party’s bubble needs to be burst — and its shortcomings highlighted — before next year’s European elections, when a sizeable UKIP vote under a proportional system could make them the biggest contingent, doing incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation amongst our continental partners.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: BNP, EDL, European elections, European Parliament, Geoffrey Bloom, Ken Clarke, Nigel Farage, UKIP | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013
Direct elections to the European Parliament every five years have usually been held in Britain on the first Thursday in June, with most of the other EU member states voting on the following weekend. But next year the elections will be brought forward slightly to May (22 May in the UK’s case). The EU Council press release below explains why. It is therefore highly likely that British local elections (including the London all-out borough council elections) will be put back three weeks, to be held on the same day.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: European elections, European Parliament | 1 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 Friday, 11th January, 2013
While far too many people in Britain are pondering the question “Should the UK leave the EU?”, our continental neighbours are more concerned with debating the issue of how the European Union should now evolve. Evolve it must, as the prolonged crisis in the eurozone has highlighted that the current methods of governance are no longer fit for purpose. Probably they never were. Instead, there will have to be a form of fiscal and banking union, though that is something Britain is likely to remain detached from for the forseeable future. Last night, at a Federal Trust seminar at Europe House in Westminster, arch-federalist and LibDem MEP for the East of England, Andrew Duff, set out his vision for the future, arguing that the EU’s treaties need to be revised as soon as possible, as the Lisbon Treaty is being stretched to breaking point by the current crisis. He predicted that there will be a Convention kicking off the new treaty process in the Spring of 2015 (once the European elections are out of the way and a new Commission is in place). It falls to the federalist movement to draft a new constitutional treaty for a federalist EU, Andrew said — and of course he would normally be part of that, having been intimately involved in preparations for the last draft Constitution, which had to be dropped because of public opposition in several member states.
Andrew also once more floated the idea that in future there will need to be a group of MEPs in the European Parliament who are elected from transnational lists. And more controversially, he developed his concept of associate membership of the EU, describing four possible categories: (1) Norway and Switzerland, (2) Serbia and other aspirant member states which still have a lot of changes to make domestically, (3) Turkey, and (4) the UK and any other member state which feels it does not wish to be part of a federal union. This all led to a lively debate; as ever Andrew was thought-provoking and the discussion was far more intelligent than what one hears in the House of Commons or reads in most of the British Press.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Duff, EU, European Parliament, eurozone, Federal Trust, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey, UK | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012
When people ask me ‘What has the EU ever done for me?’ my answer usually relates to the Single Market, which has given individuals and businesses four basic freedoms of movement throughout the 27 member states, relating to goods, people, services and capital. The EU is now celebrating 20 years of the Single Market, though given the current problems in the eurozone it is not, as Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier has said, the right moment for a birthday party. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to take stock of what the Single Market has achieved and what still needs to be done. So in member states across the EU events have been going on bringing together interested parties from government, business and civil society to discuss the Single Market 20 Years On. Today the EU Commission’s London Representation has been hosting a conference subtitled ‘ What’s in It for the UK?’. The star speaker this morning was Lord (Leon) Brittan, a former Vice-President of the Commission and one of the leading pro-Europeans in the parliamentary Conservative Party. Unlike many of his colleagues he sincerely believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe; indeed, he says Britain will probably join the euro one day, when the eurozone has sorted out its problems and, alas, the UK is experiencing its own. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was a Tory peer and Commissioner, Lord Cockfield, who largely designed the Single Market and persuaded Margaret Thatcher to endorse it. And of course it was another Conservative, Ted Heath, who took Britain into the EU in the first place. The Europhobic headbangers of the Tory right should ponder on that more often. Interestingly, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Markert and Consumer Protection Committee, Malcolm Harbour, is also a British Conservative; he spoke constructively this morning too. But I’ll leave the final word to Leon Brittan who declared that ‘we have to sell the EU of consumers and citizens and that is done through stories’. We pro-Europeans have some very good stories to tell and it would be good to hear more of them out in public discourse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Conservative Party, EU, EU Commission, euro, European Parliament, European Single Market, eurozone, Leon Brittan, Lord Cockfield, Malcolm Harbour, Margaret Thatcher, Michel Barnier, Ted Heath | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th November, 2012
For the benefit of those who weren’t there but who have asked what I was going to say, this is the speech I gave at the European candidates’ selection hustings meeting in central London today:
Good afternoon everyone. I know it can be quite tiring listening to a whole series of speeches, but this hustings meeting is important. It’s crucial that we have a credible, committed team in London for the 2014 Euro-elections. And we need to have the right leadership at the top of the list. 2014 isn’t going to be easy. The Euro-poll will probably be on the same day as the London borough elections. So we need to have a twin-track strategy. By that I mean we must target hard in the locals to ensure that we hold what we’ve got – and maybe pick up a few new seats, if we’re lucky. But we also need to deliver a strong London-wide Euro-campaign so we can harvest votes efficiently in our weaker areas.
In that Euro-campaign, we LibDems must be the Euro-realists. The Tories will be vying with UKIP in their Europhobia. And Labour seems to be repositioning itself to become Eurosceptic, as it was in the bad old days under Michael Foot. So we’ll be the only major party setting out honestly how Britain benefits from being a member of the EU – and how the world benefits from a more united Europe. One thing I’ve been focusing on recently is how European funds help create jobs and promote regeneration in deprived areas of London such as Newham, North Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. Of course, not everything about the EU is perfect. Far from it. There needs to be more democratic accountability. And excessive bureaucratic delay must be tackled. But the shortcomings in the EU do not outweigh the fact that in an increasingly competitive, globalised world European states are better off together than alone.
In this selection campaign, my team and I have been using the slogan “Expert – European – Liberal – Campaigner”. This sums up neatly in four words what I’m offering you.
Expert: because I spent seven years in Brussels as a journalist covering the EU institutions. And I’ve been writing about what’s being going on in the EU ever since.
European: because being European is an important layer of my identity, along with being a Londoner and a Brit. I speak several European languages, which comes in handy. And my work has taken me to all twenty-seven EU member states.
Liberal: because from the day the late Jo Grimond came to speak at my school, I’ve shared in the values and principles that lie at the heart of Liberalism. We Liberal Democrats believe in an efficient mixed economy that rewards creativity and endeavour. And we care passionately about social justice. We are also firmly internationalist.
Campaigner: Like many of you in this room, I’ve flown the flag for the Liberal Democrats at local, national and European elections, not just as a candidate but as a member of a hard-working team. I served for a while as a borough councillor – in Bromley. And I’ve lost count of the number of local and parliamentary by-elections I’ve helped in across London over the years – right up to the Action Day yesterday campaigning for Marisha Ray in Croydon North.
I can honestly say that I have joined in activities, both political and social, with all the local LibDem parties in London. And of course as Chairman of London region for the past three years I’ve played a key role in making the regional party more professional. Now, as I hand over my administrative responsibilities, I can concentrate full-time on campaigning in the run-up to 2014. Many of you will know that in the last two Euro-elections I was number 2 on the London list and just missed actually getting elected to the Parliament. Someone the other day asked me, “Jonathan: how do you keep up your stamina? You’ve devoted so much time, effort and money to European campaigns and all you’ve achieved is to get someone else elected!” Well, I have three answers to that. First, I’m fully committed to delivering the best possible result for London LibDems in 2014. And that means working hard to ensure maximum representation in Europe. Second, it’s essential that we have people at the top of the list who really know what they are talking about on Europe. And last but not least: I’m as determined as ever to become a London MEP. It’s the only full-time job I’ve ever really wanted. And with your help, I can make it this time! Thank you!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: European elections, European Parliament, Liberal Democrats | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012
Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.
I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bexley, Bromley, Brussels, Dublin, ELDR, European elections, European Parliament, Greenwich, Liberal Democrats, London, Strasbourg, Tower Hamlets, Yerevan | 3 Comments »
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 »