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 Monday, 30th November, 2009
The building of minarets has been banned by law in Switzerland, following a 57-43 per cent vote by the public in a referendum on whether they should be forbidden. The far-right ‘Yes’ campaigners – who plastered billboards with provocative images of minarets ranged up like nuclear missiles and a woman in a niqab (an extremely rare form of ultra-modest dress among the predominantly Balkan Muslims who live in Switzerland) — used the familiar lies of their ilk, about how minarets on mosques are political, not religious, symbols and that they would inevitably lead to shariah or Islamic law being thrust on the Swiss as part of the Islamisation of Europe. All this would be laughable, if it were not so serious. There are at present precisely four minarets in the whole of the country. Muslims make up just five per cent of the Swiss population and most of them are well integrated. But they have now been unjustly portrayed as threatening aliens and their religion branded as dangerous. Similar foul things are being spouted in some other European countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark. Don’t people remember what happened when the Star of David was so maligned in the 1930s?
From the racists’ and Islamophobes’ point of view, it was of course o.k. for Europeans to build not hundreds but thousands of churches with steeples all over Asia and Africa — including in majority Muslim countries such as Kuwait and Iran — but this cannot be reciprocal, apparently. Are steeples not a danger to the Muslims of the rest of the world, then? Like most fascist and racist arguments, this one does not stand up to scrutiny. But the likely consequences are all too predictable. Muslims in Switzerland will feel in danger and there is bound to be an angry reaction in various parts of the Islamic world. Churches in countries such as Indonesia (already the target of Islamic zealots on some islands) are put at risk and Switzerland can expect to be subjected to various economic boycotts, as Denmark was after the disgraceful publication in a Danish newspaper of crude caricatures of the Propher Muhammad. Doubtless the perpetrators of the Swiss referendum will claim that they were defending Switzerland and European values, but in reality, they are likely to have achieved just the opposite.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Danish cartoons, Islamisation of Europe, minarets, Swiss referendum, Switzerland | 1 Comment »