This evening saw Round 2 of the Nick Clegg-Nigel Farage IN/OUT debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, this time hosted by BBC2 and that evergreen fixture of BBC political programmes, David Dimbleby. I made a short speech at the National Liberal Club before the screening there, highlighting what for me are the three greatest achievements of the EU: (1) peace in Western Europe, (2) the re-integration of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe into the European family, and (3) the European Single Market, including labour mobility, which we must resolutely defend. I also briefly touched on the three strands of Liberal Democrat campaigning in the current European elections: jobs (especially for young people), the environment, and crime & security — the last mentioned including the European Arrest Warrant, promoted by Sir Graham Watson, LibDem MEP for South West England but now threatened with being undermined by the Tories. As for the televised debate itself, I thought Nick performed really well for the first 40 minutes or so — much more strongly than last week — though Farage got the upper hand towards the end. As I said in a Q&A afterwards with Vince Cable and Michael Moore at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blackfriars — where a Liberal Business Forum event was in full swing — I think Nick missed an opportunity to counter Farage’s jibe about laws being made in Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Nick reposted that the number of European civil servants is on a par with those working for Derbyshire County Council, but he could fairly have argued that laws are actually passed by Ministers of the member states (most of them elected by popular mandate) and increasingly in co-decision with the European Parliament — directly elected, and surely something we should be pushing hard over the next eight weeks. Moreover, UKIP is vulnerable when it comes to the European Parliament as their attendance record at committees, in particular, is dire, and they often vote against Britain’s interest in plenary sessions. That fact needs reiterating time and again for people to realise that voting UKIP is actually wasting one’s vote if one wants to see the EU changing for the good.
Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Crowne Plaza Hotel, European Arrest Warrant, European Parliament, European Union, Liberal Democrats, Michael Moore, National Liberal Club, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Sir Graham Watson, UKIP, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th January, 2014
Nick Griffin, Leader of the British National Party and MEP for the North West of England, was declared bankrupt at his home town of Welshpool this week, but he announced that he will still be standing for re-election at the European elections on 22 May. He is legally entitled to do so, as bankruptcy is no longer a barrier to candidature and he will be entitled to a better redundancy package when he loses his seat in the polls, which I hope and believe he will. The BNP is a stain on multicultural Britain, but fortunately like most far-right groups it has been a hotbed of factionalism and personal rivalries. The other BNP elected as an MEP in 2009, for Yorkshire and the Humber, Andrew Brons — previously Chairman of the National Front — withdrew from the BNP and now sits under the label British Democratic Party. I suspect he will lose his seat as well, if he stands again. That is not just wishful thinking. Though far right fringe parties come and go in Britain, they are always a flash in the pan. The BNP had 12 councillors in the London borough of Barking & Dagenham, as well as a few in neighbouring Havering and Redbridge, for example, but subsequently lost the lot. It’s been a similar picture in the rest of the country, so that at the moment there are just three BNP councillors left in the whole of the UK. Given the way the party has imploded, how soon will be able to say farewell to them as well?
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Andrew Brons, Barking & Dagenham, BNP, British Democratic Party, European elections, European Parliament, Havering, Hope Not Hate, National Front, Nick Griffin, Redbridge | Leave a Comment »
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 Thursday, 20th June, 2013
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 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 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 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!