Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘European Parliament’

The Second Nick versus Nigel IN/OUT Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd April, 2014

Nick Clegg 2Nigel Farage 1This 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.

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Bye Bye BNP?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th January, 2014

Nick GriffinNick 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?

Link: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk

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The UK’s Future in the EU

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.

Ben JonesNext 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.
LibDem ConbferenceSecond, 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?

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The EU and Media Freedom

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:
media freedomThe 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.
The resolution 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.
media freedom 2Acknowledging 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.
David Geary
European Movement policy officer

 

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UKIP’s Waifs and Strays

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013

Geoffrey BloomNigel FarageKen 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.

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Euro-elections Brought Forward

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013

European Parliament logoDirect 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.

http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/genaff/136041.pdf

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Montenegro’s EU Aspirations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th January, 2013

Montenegro flagAleksandar Andrija PejovicWhen 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.

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Andrew Duff’s Eurovision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th January, 2013

Andrew Duff 3While 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.

Federal Trust logo 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.

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20 Years of the European Single Market

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.

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My London Euro-hustings Speech

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!

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