Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for June, 2013

The Truth about the CAP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th June, 2013

A useful briefing from the European Movement about the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, which has shrunk from about 70% of the EU budget in 1985 to about 30% today:

CAPAgriculture is the only sector entirely funded from the EU budget, imposing no further burden on national budgets. In 1985 70% of the EU budget was spent on agriculture. In the next EU budget CAP expenditure will represent about 30% of the EU budget (this decrease has taken place despite the EU having gone from 10 members in 1985 to 28 members today). CAP has been continuously reformed since 1992, with financial assistance no longer linked to production and moving towards income-support for farmers and projects to stimulate economic activity in rural areas. There are 13.7 million full time farmers in the EU with an average farm size of 12 hectares (the US has just 2 million farmers and an average size of 180 hectares). The farming and food sectors together provide 7% of all jobs in the EU. The average EU farmer receives in public support less than half of what the average US farmer receives.

 

British farmers received about £3.3 billion pounds in assistance from CAP in 2007-2011. 418.530 jobs in the UK depend on the farm sector. The CAP costs each EU citizen approximately €0.30 per day and represents less than 1% of all public expenditure of all EU Member States combined. According to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), fraud accounted on average to only 0.02% of the CAP’s budget in the period from 2006 to 2012. 20% of CAP goes to helping farmers modernise their farms and become more competitive while protecting the environment and helping rural communities.

 

CAP 2EU food standards are the highest in the world and provide EU consumers with safer and better food. Over 1.000 foods carry an EU quality logo. Imported products must meet the same standards as foods produced by EU farmers. The CAP helps provide a secure supply of affordable food. The average EU household devotes 15% of its budget to food, half as much as in 1960.

 

90% of CAP payments to EU farmers are classed by the WTO as non-trade-distorting. The EU absorbs 71% of the farm exports of developing countries (worth around €59bn in 2008-10). This is more than the other five major importers combined (the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). In 1991 the EU spent €10bn a year on export subsidies; in 2011 it spent just €160m. The EU has committed to eliminating export subsidies altogether by 2013, provided other developed countries commit to do the same.

 

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

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As the World Tipped

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st June, 2013

Wired Aerial TheatreThe Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) got off to a spectacular start tonight with an awe-inspiring performance by the Wired Aerial Theatre, directed by Nigel Jamieson: As the World Tipped. Despite a downpour in London in the late afternoon the gods were kind this evening; indeed, the Man in the (almost full) Moon beamed down brightly from above the Queen’s House next to the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, in front of which  a cosmopolitan and predominantly young audience of several thousand sat on the grass. The piece itself got off to a slow and rather didactic start, as the performers moved boxes of files around the broad stage and one of them intoned alphabetically a list of endangered animal species, against a background of exhortations and apologies from global statesmen at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. But the spectacle took on an entirely new dimension — literally — as the stage, suspended at the back from a giant crane, tilted, so that all the boxes and papers slid down and over the edge, until it was entirely vertical, the performers, now displaying their acrobatic skills, moving up and down what had turned into a vast screen on which various scenarios of environmental apocalypse were portrayed. The technical skill of the actor-acrobats and the black-clad puppet-masters who managed their guide ropes by striding up and down metal ladders at the side of the screen was literally breath-taking. Of course, the message of the piece — saving the planet — is hardly new, but that did not weaken its impact. In fact, because we know full well about the dangers and yet the international community has not managed to grasp the nettle of necessary changes to human behavior, the reminder is all the more important. The goal now must be to reach a global deal at the planned Paris Summit in 2015 — which itself should be creative grist to the Wired Aerial Theatre’s mill.

Links: http://www.festival.org and http://www.wiredaerialtheatre.com

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Behind the Candelabra

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th June, 2013

Michael Douglas as LiberaceI loathed Liberace, though I confess that when I was a teenager I succumbed to a morbid fascination and always watched him on TV when I saw he was coming on. I hated the way he played the piano, despite his obvious dexterity. His over-the-top costumes made me squirm, all the more so when the peroxide-blonde ladies of a certain age in the casino audience in Las Vegas cooed and drooled in appreciation. And most of all, I despised him for the way that he not only publicly denied his sexual orientation, but even sued a British publication for saying he was gay. Of course I was saddened when he died of an AIDS-related illness (though nowhere near as much as when the same thing happened earlier to Rock Hudson). But it was only this evening, watching Steven Soderbergh’s extraordinary film, Behind the Candelabra, that I felt some sympathy, even compassion, for the outrageous showman. The story of the film is based on the true life relationship that he had with an initially naive, animal-loving young man who was wowed by Liberace’s talent and fame, moved in with him and his many dogs and who, despite his bisexuality, becomes Liberace’s near-marital partner, until the relationship disintegrates under the pianist’s control freakery and the young man’s insecurity. Michael Douglas’s performance as Liberace is simply astonishing, far more than just an impersonation (though that it is): it is a brilliant interpretation of the complex man and his own demons, some appeased by his hanging on to his Catholic faith despite his sex life, his love of ‘adult entertainment’ and the apron-strings of his domineering mother. Matt Damon as his acolyte-turned-lover has a more difficult task, but captures well the confusion and internal contradictions of a person of limited intellectual or emotional maturity who finds himself well out of his depth. Absolutely a film to go to see, whatever you thought of the old charlatan Liberace in real life.

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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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England My England, Bulgarian Style

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th June, 2013

England My England 2Tony PalmerThe British author and film-maker Tony Palmer has had a lifelong passion for music, though unusually he straddles both pop and classical and has made a whole series of remarkable films covering both genres. Tonight, in the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Kensington he attended a screening of his 1995 masterwork about Henry Purcell, England My England, which he says he made for a mere £90,000 — amazing when one considers the length of the movie and its brilliance. Several days shooting took place in Bulgaria — hence the link, as well as there having been a Bulgarian associate producer for the film — including shots of medieval streets meant to conjure up the packed dwellings of seventeenth century London during the plague, as well as a set of building facades on fire representing the Great Fire of London. The film has some first rate acting by Simon Callow as Charles II (and the actor-playwright in a parallel contemporary story line) and Michael Ball as Purcell. But the thing that really makes England My England truly unforgettable is the sublime level of the performances of Purcell’s works, which are seen in the context of his life and British history, including both rehearsals and performances as if in the period. The ending aptly incorporates a stunning Dido’s Lament. The script picks up on the poetry of Dryden and other librettists in a skilfully controlled screenplay by the late John Osborne. Osborne’s quirkiness comes through at times, not least in a sudden blast against the Common Market, forerunner of the European Union, which Tony Palmer warmly endorsed, but struck some audience members as misplaced. In the Q&A session after the screening he described the EU as a ‘con’. But his most vitriolic remarks — and he is, as one might say, a plain speaker — were reserved for some members of the audience who had talked inanely almost non-stop during the film, repeatedly glancing at their mobile phones to see the time, before noisily leaving two thirds of the way through, and even more so for what Palmer called the idiotic presenters, all female as it happens, who front Arts programmes on both the BBC and the independent channels these days. I had better not mention the young ladies’ names as they might justifiably consider the criticism libelous. But Tony Palmer is right, of course, about the way that television talks down to viewers as if they are thick and need to have everything explained or made ‘relevant’and he was delighted that he got a handwritten note of solidarity from the acerbic Arts critic Brian Sewell who read some of the director’s opinions in yesterday’s Times.

Links: http://www.bcilondon.co.uk and http://www.tonypalmerdvd.com

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Ed Davey, the EU and Climate Change

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th June, 2013

Ed Daveyclimate changeThe European Union has been leading the way in the global fight against climate change, not least thanks to the efforts of Liberal Democrat Ministers in the UK’s Coalition government, Chris Huhne and now Ed Davey. The latter was guest speaker at Merton Liberal Democrats’ summer garden party in Wimbledon this afternoon and restated his determination that the Paris summit in 2015 must seal a meaningful new treaty, to build on achievements so far. There are some member states that are dragging their feet — notably Poland, which still relies heavily on coal for its energy needs. But the UK is part of a group of 10 EU member states — dubbed the Green Growth Group — which are on the side of the angels in the related debate. Moreover, Ed has been buoyed by the appointment of John Kerry as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State in his second term, as Kerry was ahead of Al Gore in recognising the problems of global warming. Even China is sending out some reassuring signals. The problems of air and water pollution in China are immense, as a result of the country’s rapid industrialisation and relatively lax environmental supervisory standards. But public opinion in China has become increasingly vociferous about the health consequences for children — all the more acute give China’s ongoing (though modified) one child policy. Accordingly, the Chinese Communist Party has started to take note of ecological protests, instead of just suppressing them, as it realises that its survival in government may be at stake. Back home in the UK, it is the Liberal Democrats who have been keeping the Coalition government on track on climate change issues, despite the scepticism of certain Tory right-wingers. In next year’s European elections (which in London will coincide with all-out borough council elections) the LibDems must champion this success. Furthermore, Ed argued, we should not hold back in attacking UKIP, which is not only the home of many climate change deniers but also tries through its lies and distortions to undermine European cooperation with all its beneficial aspects for our common future.

http://www.edwarddavey.co.uk and http://www.mertonlibdems.org.uk

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Turkey: Erdogan’s False Move

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th June, 2013

Recep Tayyip ErdoganGezi Park demoWatching events in and around Istanbul’s Taksim Square over the past few days, as well as in Ankara and some other Turkish cities, has been like seeing a slow-motion car-crash without being able to do anything about it other than shout a warning. And, alas, the driver — Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — has not been listening. What started out as a predominantly good-natured environmental protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park turned into a much wider challenge to Mr Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic style in the wake of high-handed police activity. Police and army brutality is nothing new in Turkey but one of the undoubted achievements of the AK Party’s 10 years in power had been a rejection of the State’s right to trample on people’s freedoms at will — or so the outside world was given to believe. Actually, those of us who covered trials of writers and journalists, or who watched the way Kurdish activists — including some members of parliament — were treated realised that the situation was not that clear-cut. It is true that Mr Erdogan has overseen an extraordinary period of growth in the Turkish economy, the stabilisation of the currency and the recognition of Turkey’s significance as an inspiration, if not quite a model, in the MENA region. That makes it all the more tragic that he has thrown away so much of the genuine international goodwill by ordering a crackdown by the security forces on demonstrators. These he has portrayed as “looters” and worse, despite the fact that the crowds in Taksim Square, in particular, were extremely heterodox, as not just leftists and trade unionists but ordinary citizens with no fixed political affiliation felt motivated to get out on the streets and to stand up for their freedoms. The Prime Minster obviously feels he has to show himself to be a man of steel, but that does not go down so well in 2013 as it often did in the past. I suspect the current move against the people in and around Taksim Square was deliberately planned for a weekend, when most of the world’s parliaments are not sitting and the leaders of the top Western industrialised nations are deep in discussion about the global economy at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. But I would wager that Mr Erdogan has miscalculated in this, just as he has made a seriously wrong move on the ground. The world will notice and decry what is happening — as will a significant proportion of the Turkish population.

 

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Ece Temelkuran’s View of “Turkey’s May 1968”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th June, 2013

Ece TemelkuranTaksim Square 2The past fortnight in Turkey has been transformative for many Turks, especially the young, as a protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park near Istanbul’s Taksim Square turned into a national uprising, with demonstrations in all but four of the nation’s cities. The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appears to have taken the protests as a personal affront and he has been caustic in his comments, describing the protesters as looters (“capulcu“) and worse, but those he has abused have embraced the term capulcu in the spirit of sarcasm and festival that has characterised so much of the outdoor activities, especially in Taksim Square — or at least until the police waded in with great brutality and a liberal use of teargas. The young demonstrators (75% of whom are estimated to be under 30) were tonight portrayed by the popular Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran, at a meeting in London’s House of Commons organised by the Centre for Turkey Studies, as frightened, bruised and humiliated, but the contempt with which they have been treated by Mr Erdogan and some of his supporters has only served to impel more people, of diverse backgrounds, into the streets. Ece Temelkuran said most of these people are not overtly political; in fact they are largely of a generation that was deliberately brought up de-politicised by the military governments of the past. Moreover, she asserted, those Western journalists who have tried to simplify what has been going on as a straight confrontation between secularists trying to keep alive the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Islamists backing Erdogan’s AKP have misread the situation. She also rejected the label “Turkish Spring” which some lazy commentators have tried to affix to the disturbances, as if it were all part of a pattern started off in Tunisia in December 2010. As the moderator of this evening’s event said in many ways it is more like May 1968, anarchic in its diversity and absence of leadership or indeed precise goals. For his part, Mr Erdogan this evening has called for a referendum on the fate of Gezi Park, but that is not the central issue, even if it sparked initial protests. And Ece Temelkuran was pessimistic about what may happen over the next 24 hours and beyond. “Before it gets better it’s going to get worse, 100 per cent,” she said.

Links: http://www.ecetemelkuran.com/en and http://www.ceftus,org

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Why Europe Matters!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013

Tower Hamlets logoEU free movementThe fightback starts here. Yesterday I blogged about the benefits of the ECHR and the insane campaign by certain right-wing Tories to get Britain to remove itself from the Convention (thereby putting itself in the sole company of Belarus). But this evening I was speaking about why Europe — i.e. the EU — matters, at a pizza and politics organised by my own local Liberal Democrat party, Tower Hamlets. I reminded members that the EU (in its various incarnations), together with NATO, had preserved peace on our continent for nearly 70 years — unprecedented in modern times. The way that formerly Communist countries have been integrated into the Union — rejoining the European family — has been particularly striking. On 1 July, Croatia will be the next. I also maintained that we should champion the free movement of people within the European Single Market, which has helped Brits working on the Continent just as it has helped other EU nationals who have come here. The three areas we shall focus on over the next 11 months will be jobs, the environment and crime, and on all of these the Liberal Democrats have powerful messages to convey, stressing both the local and European dimension (there will be all-out London borough elections on 22 May 2014, alongside the European elections). Moreover, these are areas in which the LibDems have distinct policies from our current national Coalition partners, the Conservatives. The Tories characterise membership of the EU as an impediment, rather than an opportunity; the right wing’s idea that the UK could somehow go it alone and try to arrange bilateral trade deals with major economic powers like the US, China and India is pure cloud cuckoo land. At long last, Prime Minister David Cameron has said as much, but sotto voce, and almost drowned out by the shrieks of UKIP and his own Europhobic headbangers, cheered on by the tabloid Press. Every day the British Press (with noble exceptions such as the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times) spews out lies and distortions about the EU (too often politely dismissed by Euro-realists as “myths”).  I was interested that the Bengali members of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (who made up about half of tonight’s gathering) expressed worries about immigration from Eastern Europe and the notion that these newcomers are taking local people’s jobs. That is of course the narrative of UKIP, which has gained some traction, and we need to stress how (a) immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they receive in benefits, and (b) young Brits (of whatever ethnic origin) really need to be getting appropriate qualifications to fill the jobs that are available and not turn their noses up at tasks which they feel are somehow beneath them. 

Link: http://www.tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk

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Why the ECHR Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013

European Court of Human RightsECHRThe 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.

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