Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June 15th, 2007

Rooting for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th June, 2007

european-flags.jpgTony Blair has made it clear that there will be no referendum on the new treaty that may emerge from next week’s European summit. I can almost hear the Euro-sceptic media sharpening their knives. Once more, Brussels (aided by those dastardly Germans) is shoving down our throats things that good, decent English men and women do not want — or so the venemous scribes will have us believe. This is, of course, bollocks. What is at stake is getting the 27-member EU to operate more efficiently. As Hugo Brady and Charles Grant argue in a new policy briefing from the Centre for European Reform, the new treaty will ‘probably improve the process of decision-making, but would not transfer substantive powers to the EU.’

Yesterday afternoon and evening, I attended a trio of events that gave me some reason for optimism, suggesting that the voices of Euro-reason are more numerous than one might imagine from the press headlines, and are to be found within all the mainstream political parties, as well as within the City. First, there was a brainstorming session organised by Zaki Cooper of the infant Business for New Europe, at which the Liberal Democrat European Group, Labour Movement for Europe and the Conservative Group for Europe were all represented, as well as the all-party group on Europe and various policy networks and NGOs.

Later, Dinti Blackstone hosted a delightful and useful networking reception at her home in Hammersmith, at which community leaders and media representatives of 21 of the 27 member states were present, as well as a selection of LibDems with European or London briefs. EU nationals (who have not taken up British citizenship) have the right to vote in both local and European elections, and it is important that a party such as the LibDems connects with them and their concerns — particularly in London, where they make up a significant proportion of the workforce, from French bankers to Polish plumbers and the large number of central and eastern Europeans working in the hospitality industry. They form an integral part of the complex social and economic fabric of what is widely reckoned to be the world’s greatest contemporary city, yet too often they have been marginalised from London’s political processes.

I finished the Euro-evening at St. Paul’s School in Barnes, where the Outer London European Group (OLEG West) was holding its AGM and summer party, at which two very bright 18-year-olds from the school, Barr Even and Oscar Schonfeld, reported back on their experiences this spring at the European Youth Parliament in Potsdam, where they had been sponsored by OLEG West. They displayed an impressive knowledge of how things work — and could work better — on a European level. If only the same could be said of some of those who revel in Brussels-bashing!

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