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, 17th December, 2012
Tom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there will be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Britain in Europe, Conservative Party, EU, European Movement, European Movement in London, Norway, Switzerland, The Economist, The Observer, Tom Spencer | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th October, 2012
I confess that when I heard that the European Union had been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize I was somewhat surprised — and I was even more taken aback today when I learnt that it had won it, against competition from over 100 other organizations and individuals. Predictably Nigel Farage, UKIP and the Tory Euro-sceptics immediately went on the offensive, and they got far more coverage in the British media than they deserve. But such is the nature of the UK tabloid Press (and the Daily Telegraph). The more I thought about the award, however, the more I realised how well deserved it is. The EU and its various predecessors have made war between France and Germany unthinkable, which was the prime motivation of the founding fathers. And even more remarkably, the EU has enabled formerly Communist countries of central and eastern Europe to glide back into the mainstream of Europe where they belong, with astonishing speed. Of course the eurozone is going through a difficult patch, but let’s not forget that the global financial crisis began with the sub-prime mortgages in the United States, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and irresponsible practices by bankers, not least in the City of London. That is not the EU’s fault; on the contrary, a more cohesive EU offers the best possible route out of the current problems. It is also notable that the Peace Prize is decided by the Norwegian Nobel committee and that Norway is not a member of the EU. That is basically because Norway has a relatively tiny population and an enormous sovereign wealth fund based on its huge earnings from hydrocarbons extraction. But that did not stop the committee understanding what has been happening in the wider Europe. And I can see Norway one day joining the EU, just as one day Britain will probably be forced to join the euro, after the pound sterling slides into oblivion. But in the meantime, what the Norwegians have said is: ‘the EU has brought peace and stability to our often war-torn continent, and shows every sign of continuing to do so, once the current troubles are over.’
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: EU, euro, European Union, eurozone, Nigel Farage, Nobel Peace Prize, Norway, UK, UKIP | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th July, 2011
Like many people — and most Norwegians, I suspect — I observed a minute’s silence at 11am, to mark the death of 93 predominantly young people at the hands of murderous right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik. The dignity with which the tragic episode has been handled by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Royal Family is a lesson to us all. But there are other, more bitter, lessons to be learnt from the massacre. Details are emerging of the immensely long, rambling political self-justification that Breivik left behind. In the document are elements of the inspiration for his hatred and inhuman ideology, some of which will be uncomfortable for people elsewhere in Europe, including Britain. The Daily Mail’s ranter Melanie Phillips (no friend to Muslims) is one source quoted, and Breivik clearly had emotional and maybe physical links with groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), who spew out xenophobia, anti-immigrant bile and Islamophobia. These groups and individuals associated with them are poisonous and as we have just seen, potentially deadly. Just as men and women of principle stood up and spoke out against anti-Semitism in the 1930s, so now we should stand up and speak out against Islamophobia, xenophobia and all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Anders Breivik, anti-Semitism, Daily Mail, EDL, English Defence League, islamophobia, Jens Stoltenberg, Melanie Phillips, Norway, Oslo, xenophobia | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th January, 2011
The people of Norway have twice voted — by a narrow margin — to stay out of the European Union, even though many of the so-called opinion formers in Oslo favour membership. So it was interesting to get the (relatively new) Norwegian Ambassador Kim Traavik’s take on the matter when he spoke at an Association of European Journalists UK Section lunch at Europe House today. The Ambassador was speaking off the record, but that does not stop me making some background comments and personal observations. The bizarre situation Norway is now in is that it has to comply with EU law (being part of the European internal mrket, as well as the Schengen area), yet has no say in how such laws are formulated. Of course, Norwegians hardly look on their EU neighbours with envy. The country posts regular large surpluses thanks mainly to its oil and gas and has built up a massive sovereign wealth fund — investing some of that in Britain. But if Iceland is successul in its bid to join the EU, then Norway is going to find itself alone with tiny Leichtenstein in the rump European Economic Area. I don’t think that prospect bothers the Norwegians much, however. So whatever the EU’s fortunes over the next few years, I don’t think we will be seeing a third Norwegian approach re membership in the forseeable future.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Iceland, Kim Traavik, Norway | 1 Comment »