Given the recent stand-off between Spain and Gibraltar, in principle over an artificial reef dropped in the sea by the Gibraltarians, it was daring of the Spanish Embassy in London to host a two-day seminar on the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht, which, among other things, ceded the Rock to the British in perpetuity. Grabbing the bull by the horns, one might say. Ambassador Federico Trillo-Figueroa attended throughout, as academics from Spain, the UK and elsewhere delivered a series of papers, some strictly historical, others more political, before an audience that notably included a couple from the Argentinian Embassy, doubtless looking for parallels with the Falklands/Malvinas. As a journalist, I was invited only for the Ambassador’s closing speech, which was in effect a summary of what had been said over the previous 36 hours, followed by a light buffet lunch of appropriately delicious Spanish food and wine. The papers of the seminar will ultimately be published, but even without them it was an intriguing affair — and prompted me to read the Treaty of Utrecht for the first time (thoughtfully provided in both language versions). That document is a remarkable reflection of the different map of Europe 300 years ago, as well as a record of the transfers and concessions that followed the War of the Spanish Succession.
Posts Tagged ‘UK’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th October, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013
A useful article (which first appeared on the European Movement’s euroblog) by Matthew Donaher of the trade union UNISON on why it’s important to vote in next year’s European Elections — and how migrant workers benefiting from the EU’s freedom of movement of labour could influence the outcome:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th August, 2013
Britain’s armed forces are preparing themselves for an armed strike against Syria, following the recent use of chemical weapons inside the country, probably by the Assad regime’s forces. As I said in a live interview on the al-Etejah (Iraqi Arab) TV channel last night, the justification for the UK, US, France and maybe Germany taking such a step, along with sympathetic Middle Eastern countries including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, without UN approval, would be the relatively new concept within International Law, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), about which I have written extensively. This asserts that if a government is unable or unwilling to protect its own people, then the international community has a responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, providing there are reasonable prospects of success. Of course it would be preferable if the UN Security Council backed such a move, but that is currently impossible given the fact that Russia and to a lesser extent China are standing behind Bashar al-Assad — though in China’s case this is mainly because of its strong belief in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. The humanitarian need in Syria is self-evident. More than 110,000 Syrians have been killed, a high proportion of them civilians. There are now between four and five million Syrian refugees and whole swaths of cities such as Aleppo and Homs are a wasteland. Yet still Assad and his thugs continue to try to pound the people into submission. The situation is complicated by the fact that this is not a fight between good and evil, however. Evil the Assad regime certainly is — and has been for over 40 years — but the disparate rebel forces contain some pretty unpleasant characters and radical groups that seek to impose an alien, fundamentalist creed that is alien to the modern Syrian secular society. But things have now reached a stage at which the world cannot just sit by and watch a people and a country be annihilated. The problem is what exactly should be done, now that what President Obama described as the “red line” of chemical weapon use has been crossed? The imposition of a no fly zone is one obvious option, or carefully targeted use of cruise missiles against the regime’s military installations. But there is no guarantee of effectiveness. What certainly needs to be avoided is sending foreign — and especially Western — troops on the ground, which would not only lead to heavy casualties but also risks turning some of the anti-Assad population against the intervention. Russia meanwhile has warned the West against intervention. But I think the momentum now is unstoppable. Unless the Assad clique stands aside — which it has shown no willingness to do — Syria is going to be the latest in a string of Middle Eastern/North African Wars. And the poor United Nations will look even more impotent and marginalised than ever.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bashar Al-Assad, France, Germany, President Obama, Qatar, R2P, Responsibility to Protect, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UK, United Nations, United Nations Security Council, US | 6 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its associated Court in Strasbourg is a favourite Aunt Sally of right-wing Conservative MPs and Britain’s tabloid Press (which these days, alas, includes the broadsheet Daily Telegraph), but unjustly so. The Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as it is more formally known, has since its drafting in 1950 and later adoption by the Council or Europe done a huge amount of useful work in promoting the Rule of Law throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey; only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the fold), as well as providing individuals who feel their rights have been violated by their own State to seek redress. Despite the fact that the Court is a separate institution from the European Union it still gets tarred with the Brussels brush by virulent Europhobes, who seem to believe that the United Kingdom has completely abandoned its national sovereignty to foreigners — not that many of these anti-Europeans seem particularly worried about the fact that US influence is far more marked in various aspects of British public and foreign policy, not to mention our culture. Two things have been like juicy bones to these frothing xenophobic hounds. First, the Court’s ruling that it was wrong for the UK to deprive all prisoners of their rights to vote, no matter how short their sentence or trivial their offence. Theresa May could easily have got round that issue by accepting that prisoners with a sentence of less than six months should still retain their vote, but others not — a compromise that would have satisfied Strasbourg. The other even more famous ECHR “outrage”, of course, relates to the prolonged delay in the expulsion of the vile Islamist extremist Abu Qatada because there has not been up till now a credible assurance from his home country, Jordan, that evidence that might be used against him in any trial in Amman would not have been obtained by torture. Now I, like almost everyone in this country, long to see the back of Abu Qatada, who has milked the system here, including claiming benefits. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, oh well, as he is so wicked it does not matter if witnesses against him have been tortured. When we accept that, then we surrender our commitment to human rights (as the last Labour government alas did, with respect to extraordinary rendition). Moreover, it is utter nonsense for Theresa May to float the idea — seized on by relish by some of her backbench MPs and the right-wing Press — that Britain could temporarily withdraw from ECHR so it can expel Abu Qatada, then reapply once he is out of the way. Anyone who knows anything about International Law and diplomacy knows that is shamelessly playing to the gallery while undermining the very foundations of our credibility as a nation. What is really lacking, I believe, is a concerted campaign in Britain to champion what the ECHR actually achieves, in which politicians, NGOs and the enlightened media should participate. It is not just the future of our involvement with the Strasbourg Court that is at stake but our values as well.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th January, 2013
This afternoon I took part in a very lively and civilised debate at South Hampstead High School against the Chairman of London UKIP, David Coburn (who was standing in for London’s UKIP MEP, Gerald Batten). The audience were girls from the sixth form (as I tend to still think of those senior years) and David and my 20 minute presentations were followed by some extremely vigorous questioning. David is a very affable chap who has had a distinctly international business career, so there was good-natured sparring from our respective positions, which were pretty much at the opposite ends of the European political spectrum. It was clear from many of the girls’ questions that they were already well-informed on political matters and that they were ready and willing to challenge what they heard. So it was especially gratifying that when there was a vote at the end of the afternoon on whether the girls would opt to stay in the EU or leave if there were a referendum tomorrow, only one voted to leave.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th January, 2013
I have to agree with Petros Fassoulas of the European Movement UK that there was something distinctly schizophrenic politically in David Cameron’s much hyped Euro-speech. Read Petros’s verdict below:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2013
Any formal function at the Mansion House in London is normally the Lord Mayor’s show, but the annual London Government dinner — always held in early January — offers the incumbent Lord Mayor a challenge, as he is inevitably playing second fiddle to the Mayor of London, i.e. the man in charge of the whole city rather than just the City (financial district). The current Lord Mayor, Alderman Roger Gifford, acquitted himself far better than most, being skilfull in both cadence and content. That is no mean feat when one has the blond bombshell, Boris Johnson, to follow. What Boris had to say was hardly a surprise, as it had been extensively previewed in a leaked story to the Evening Standard. Basically, he was arguing that Britain should stay in the European Union — a rare bit of supportiveness for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is due to make what is billed as a “landmark speech” on Britain and Europe in the Netherlands tomorrow (how pleased he must be to be pre-empted by Boris) – but that we need to scrape the barnacles from the ship of Europe that are slowing us down. This is, frankly, bollocks, and I was pleased to see that many of the City figures predictably present on this occasion had their heads in their hands as Boris rambled genially on. It is simply not true, as Boris asserted., that the great outside world is just waiting for a dynamic Britain to go it alone, or at least situate itself in some far looser arrangement with our continental partners. As the Americans made abundantly clear the other day, they are interested in the UK precisely because it is a gateway to Europe. Close that door and we risk becoming an irrelevance. Of course Boris can be witty, and raise a laugh. But it was self-evident tonight at the Mansion House that he struck completely the wrong note. The City knows full well that it needs a prosperous Britain within a prosperous EU. And it is about time more City types stood up to be counted on the issue — and to blow Barnacle Boris a giant raspberry.
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 Tuesday, 8th January, 2013
A stringent and well-justified criticism of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s dangerous strategy in relation to the EU, by Petros Fassoulas of the European Movement UK:
Cameron’s EU strategy lies where arrogance meets absurdity.
Seldom does a Prime Minister display such lack of diplomatic common sense as David Cameron does when it comes to his EU policy. From lecturing in a patronising fashion from the side-lines to exercising an ineffective and unnecessary veto, Mr Cameron has managed to alienate and baffle in equal measure his European partners. But this time he has gone as far as to exclaim that he is “entitled” to threaten fellow EU Member States while they are engaging in a process of reform of the EU and the Eurozone. It beggars belief why he has chosen to employ such arrogant behaviour, at the very moment when Germany’s Finance Minister warned that the UK cannot blackmail its EU partners. The irony is that Mr Cameron has repeatedly stated that the wellbeing of the Eurozone is in the UK’s interest. He professes that the Eurozone needs to reform if it is to ensure its wellbeing. But in the same breath he says that he is prepared to block those reform efforts. There is something schizophrenic about his approach to EU policy-making.
So, he is adamant that the UK’s contribution to this process of reform will be limited to using it as an opportunity to “take back powers from Brussels” and create a new relationship with the EU, using a veto if necessary. He has based his approach to EU membership on that attempt and he then plans to put its outcome to the British people for a vote. But this strategy is doomed to fail, as previously argued. There is very little chance that the UK’s EU partners will allow it to abandon its Treaty commitments while affording it all the privileges of Single Market membership. The Single Market Act (and all the implementing regulations and directives) is a complicated set of rules, which ensure a level playing field for all participating states. Trying to unpick those agreements means the unravelling of the Single Market itself. What is to stop other Member States from asking exemptions from areas they consider cumbersome, areas dear to the UK? It’s like opening Pandora’s Box, which will undo the Single Market and cancel the many benefits it affords its members.
Employing threats while the EU is dealing with issues of an existential nature limits even further the chances of winning allies and achieving his objectives.
So, the Prime Minister will return empty-handed after having failed to “repatriate” powers and change the UK’s terms of EU membership. Even if other members states feel sorry for him and give him some token powers back they will never be enough to satisfy all those Europhobes in his party, UKIP and the tabloid press who he has been trying to appease with fantastical notions of “power repatriation”. He will then have to put to a vote that failed outcome and be forced to campaign against EU membership, since he has repeatedly stated that, even though he believes that the UK should remain in the EU, the status quo is not acceptable. Here lies the absurdity in his strategy. His failure will be complete.
Instead the PM should be joining other EU leaders in their efforts to improve the way the EU functions, deepen and widen the Single Market and improve those EU policies that need amending. A winning strategy is made up of constructive engagement, building alliances, providing a vision for the EU and participating in efforts to make that vision a reality. Threats, blackmail and the pursuit of self-interest belong to an area of national conflict, an era the EU replaced long ago with supranational co-operation and consensus building. Mr Cameron should read his history books before making his much awaited speech.
Petros Fassoulas, European Movement UK
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013
It’s 40 years since Britain joined the EU and siren voices among UKIP and the Tory right are arguing that it’s time to turn the clock back and pull out. They couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, this is the time for the EU to integrate more — as the eurozone now seems destined to do — and Britain should be an enthusiastic participant. In the 1950s it was clear to the Founding Fathers (sorry, ladies, they were all men) of what developed into the EU that a degree of economic integration, notably between France and Germany, was necessary to make wars between western European states impossible. That goal was so smoothly achieved that European peace is taken for granted, especially by the young. A second huge victory since 1989 has been the absorption of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe ino the EU. This year, Croatia will be the next. But there is an urgent reason why EU integration should move ahead, namely the way that the global economy is developing, with the rise of new heavyweights including Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRICs. As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rightly pointed out, by 2050 not a single individual European country will be among the world’s top 10 economies* — not even Germany. So in order to compete — indeed, to survive as an economic force — Europe must unite further and start operating more as not just a single market but also a single economic force. It would be madness for Britain to stay out of that, condemning itself to a form of offshore irrelevance. It is not the Europhiles in Britain who are unpatriotic, as some of our critics allege, but rather UKIP and the Europhobic Tory right who want to consign us to the role of an historical theme park.
*A new entry at number 10, however, could well be Turkey, which makes it all the more important that Turkey be embraced into the European family.