Jonathan Fryer

Archive for February, 2014

Press Freedom in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014

Yavuz BaydarWilliam HorselyLike many longstanding friends of Turkey I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent months, several of which seem retrogressive rather than progressive. The way the Gezi Park protests were handled by the police and security forces — water cannon to the fore — was cack-handed and the fact that most of the mainstream media in Turkey –not least the TV — ignored them at first was a worrying indication of the way that self-censorship in the country is now rife. Moreover, scores of journalists have found themselves sacked, imprisoned or with the threat of prosecution hanging over them, which has resulted in Turkey now figuring way down the list of states in the world when it comes to freedom of the Press. So it was timely that this evening the Zaman newspaper group organised a meeting on Press Freedom in Turkey in the House of Commons, which I chaired. The parliamentary sponsor was Simon Hughes MP, recently appointed as Justice Minister in the UK’s Coalition Government and therefore in a position to make important representations on an international level, though as I pointed out one of the most disconcerting things about the current situation is the way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the spectre of foreign plots and conspiracies, which is a narrative that resonates with his supporters when they reject criticisms from abroad. The main speakers at tonight’s meeting were the Turkish journalist and blogger Yavuz Baydar — who was sacked from his position Ombudsman on the newspaper Sabah for political reasons — and William Horsley, formerly Europe Correspondent of the BBC, currently Chairman of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section and a key player in freedom of press issues at the Council of Europe and elsewhere. All of us were distinctly downbeat in our analysis of the current situation, which is made more complex by the fact that Mr Erdogan is under heavy scrutiny because of allegations of corruption based largely on recordings which he declares are fakes. There is a common argument that maybe he has suffered from the Ten Year Test (a la Thatcher and Blair), but as I pointed out there will be a real power vacuum in Ankara if he falls or the AKP does really badly in upcoming elections, as no opposition party seems ready and able to seize the moment. I still love Turkey, but I worry increasingly for its short-term future, as the Prime Minister and his administration become more authoritarian and ever more removed from common European values.

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Arise James Naughtie, Novelist

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th February, 2014

Jim NaughtieMillions of Britons are used to waking up to or coming round to the crisp Scottish tones of presenter James Naughtie on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, but this evening Jim showed another side of his talents when he launched his first novel, a thriller called The Madness of July (Head of Zeus, £12.99), which I shall be reviewing shortly, at a packed gathering in Carlton House Terrace, at the back of the ICA.  Half of Fleet Street’s finest were there (these veteran hacks have survived that Press thoroughfare’s demise), as well as a goodly sprinkling of BBC types and members of both Houses of Parliament and the Garrick Club. After paying tribute to his wife — an author in her own right — Jim revealed that his publisher has in fact commissioned three novels from him, such is their confidence that they are on to a winner. He assured the throng that none of them was a character in the book, though there might be elements of them that some might recognise. I can imagine Lord Archer scurrying quickly home to see if he is one of those. The world Jim writes about in the book is a mixture of diplomacy, politics and trans-Atlantic skullduggery — all in a day’s work, one might think, for someone in his pole position in the agenda-setting Today studios. Of course, those of us who know Jim as a friend are well aware of the broad range of his cultural interests, not least regarding opera, but I suspect this new twist as Naughtie as novelist will take some by surprise — but a delightful surprise. In the meantime, Jim was well-launched at the party and won’t be in any hurry to get up at three o’clock tomorrow morning — his usual rising time on programme days — I imagine.

 

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MEPs and Small Businesses

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th February, 2014

Last week the Federation of Small Businesses launched its European Elections manifesto in Brussels and this evening I will be taking part in a panel discussion organised by the FSB at University College London (UCL). Here’s what the FSB Europe Team has to say, in brief:

MEPs must be the voice of small businesses
by Sietske de Groot and Jayne Almond, the Federation of Small Businesses.
FSB logoLast week the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) launched its manifesto for the 2014 European Elections in Brussels. In a packed room in the European Parliament, we presented our calls on MEPs, on candidates and on parties. The manifesto sets out our ideas for boosting the single market, improving the quality of regulation, and driving economic growth and jobs across Europe.The European market has been good for business. UK firms have benefited from the lifting of trade barriers and free movement of goods and services that stem from the creation of the Single Market. The benefits of 500 million customers and 23 million businesses on the doorstep cannot be underestimated. However, the EU needs reform and more flexibility for our businesses to compete with emerging powers in today’s global economy. The FSB has 200,000 members across the UK, representing a huge variety of sectors. A fifth of our members trade abroad, predominately within the EU, but all are affected by EU laws. Our members see real opportunities from ambitious trade deals which make exporting easier, from boosting e-commerce and trade in services. However, they also point out that laws which are complicated to understand or poorly enforced are a burden on business. Too often small and micro firms struggle with rules made for businesses with 200 or 2000 employees.
Economic difficulties have increased the pressure on MEPs to act – and sometimes they act without Thinking Small First. Some fail to see the importance of small businesses and propose impractical changes to draft legislation. So we are asking the next intake of MEPs to carefully consider the impact of regulation on the smallest businesses, to examine the evidence and challenge impact assessments. It’s not about blanket exemptions, but designing effective, proportionate regulation which is fair to small firms.We want important trade deals such as the upcoming Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to support the growth aspirations of small firms. For example, one member says she has to fill in forms by hand and needs to have a US bank account. Small firms can easily be deterred by such things.  A small business voice in TTIP is essential, not only to facilitate trade between US and EU small firms, but also as an example for other trade deals. We want to see a culture of entrepreneurship flourish so our home-grown start ups innovate, survive and thrive. Europe should be the natural home for those entrepreneurs with a quirky idea who develop, market and then sell it all over the world. With just under 100 days till the elections, we will be keeping the pressure on candidates to ‘Think Small First’ in everything they do – as they shape the manifestos, campaign in their constituencies, begin work in Parliament and scrutinise the proposed Commissioners.
(Sietske de Groot and Jayne Almond work in the EU team of the Federation of Small Businesses)
This article first appeared on the Euroblog of the European Movement UK: http://www.euromove.org.uk 

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The Kindness of Strangers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th February, 2014

The Kindness of StrangersThe Kindness of Strangers 1There’s a wonderful line in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanche Dubois declares: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” At one level this is an indictment of the disfuntionality of some families, but it is also an important affirmation of the fact that we can be affected positively by the behaviour or words of people we don’t know personally, in a very supportive way. I was prompted into this meditation this morning by a series of ministries at Quaker Meeting in Hampstead (to which I belong), started off by a lady aged 96 who said simply that she was grateful for the way people were kind to her. Of course, when the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) was in its infancy in the 17th century, Friends needed to support each other in the face of often terrible persecution and destitution. In the 21st century — in which people are often too busy to be kind, or else engrossed in their iphones — that is no longer the case, but I wonder whether part of the Quakers’ Peace Testimony these days shouldn’t be an awareness of how the way we move, speak and act can affect those around us, and that indeed even in small ways we may be of assistance to those who do depend on the kindness of strangers.

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Is Syria Completely Hopeless?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th February, 2014

Lakhdar BrahimiThe Geneva2 Syria peace talks have broken up without any agreement. Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran Algerian mediator, nobly apologised to the different parties for his failure to broker a deal, but he really isn’t to blame. There are people entrenched in their political positions on both sides who would rather the slaughter continues than concede that they cannot win an outright victory. According to the Syrian Observatory, 140,00 Syrians have died since the popular uprising began in March 2011, half of them civilians. Millions of others have lost their home or been forced to seek sanctuary outside the country. This is putting a huge strain on neighbours such as Lebanon and Jordan, while meanwhile Syria’s infrastructure and heritage and being destroyed. As I said in an interview on an Iraqi TV channel the other day, there are no angels in this conflict. But something has to be done to bring it to a close. The outside backers of Bashir al-Assad’s regime (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah) as well as the Gulf States arming the rebels (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) need to come up with some workable, comprehensive plan. No-one should doubt the evilness of the Assad clique, who have been killing and torturing for 40 years whenever they felt their hold on power was under threat. But several of the rebel groups are deeply unpleasant as well. I don’t have a magic solution, though choking off all arms supplies to both sides would be a step in the right direction. And as the Syrian parties themselves have failed to agree to a deal, it is now up to the outside world to concoct one. We cannot just sit idly by and say, “Well, Syria is completely hopeless.” Hope is what Syrians need, and quickly.

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Press Freedom in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th February, 2014

Zaman Turkey meeting

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The Significance of Switzerland’s Immigration Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th February, 2014

UKIP and other European populist parties have been crowing about the recent referendum in Switzerland, by which the Swiss very narrowly voted to introduce immigration quotas, which will put the country in conflict with several aspects of its relationship with the EU, notably regarding the principle of free movement. Although Switzerland is not a member of the EU, it is part of the Schengen area and accepted many EU laws and regulations in order to be able to benefit from the European Single Market through a whole series of bilateral agreements. All of the main Swiss political parties except for the nationalist Swiss People’s Party opposed the call for immigration quotas, as did the business community, as they understand the complex implications of the decision. The result is bad for Switzerland and bad for the EU and highlights the dangers of referenda on populist issues such as immigration controls. Lukas Schuerch, Secretary General of the New European Movement Switzerland, has written a very helpful account of what the vote means:

Swiss referendumOn Sunday the 9th of February Swiss voters narrowly accepted a right-wing initiative to curb immigration. It demands to reintroduce quotas to control immigration to Switzerland. All the international treaties that contradict the new article the Swiss constitution must now be renegotiated within three years. If no solution is found that will allow Switzerland to amend its international treaty commitments in a way that Switzerland can reintroduce contingents on migration, then the Swiss government is obliged to break those treaties. The exact rate of the quotas will have to be fixed by the parliament.

There was a rough campaign and a fierce debate already before the vote. The Swiss government, a clear majority of the parliament and the business community campaigned against this initiative, given the negative impact it may have on the attractiveness of Switzerland as a business location. Only one major party, the nationalist Swiss People’s Party was officially in favour of the quotas. They exploited concerns among the people such as housing shortage, low-wage dumping or congestion of the infrastructure. The political and business coalition that campaigned against the reintroduction of quotas failed in convincing by offering other – effective – solutions.

The initiative was approved by just 50.3% of the votes and was passed by a majority of cantons. We can see a clear gap between cities and the countryside. In metropolitan areas where a lot of immigrants live and work, the initiative was defeated. But in rural areas, where we find a significantly smaller number of foreigners, the acceptance of the initiative was much higher. There was also a gap between the often more open minded French speaking part and the rest of Switzerland.

Swiss referendum 1The adaption of the initiative puts the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union in danger. Quotas are not compatible with the «Free Movement of Persons Agreement» which Switzerland adopted in 1999. The agreement is linked to six other bilateral agreements, which concern directly the access to the EU’s single market. Should any of those fall – and since last Sunday we are no longer sure they will not – all the others become invalid within six months. The EU clearly stated that there is no possibility to reintroduce quotas along with the «Free Movement of People Agreement».

There are immediate effects that challenge the general relationship and Switzerland-based international (or at least exporting) companies have with the European Union:

First, a legal uncertainty occurs. Nobody knows how the relations with the European Union will evolve and when companies will be able to engage in long term business planning. Even if all persons without a Swiss passport who currently live and work in Switzerland are not directly affected until their visas will expire, Switzerland will face problems attracting talent from all over Europe and the world. It is also not clear how Switzerland will be able to participate in the single market. The image of the country as an open community with a successful economy will suffer for a long time.

Second, the adoption of this initiative creates a new bureaucratic burden for companies: While the principle of free movement of people stipulates that everybody within the European Union is entitled to work in any EU country without discrimination (including Switzerland as a non-EU Member State), the referendum initiative demands a prioritization for domestic persons. These two principles cannot be combined and will lead to difficult negotiations with the EU without any prospect of solution. In the not so distant future Swiss companies will be obliged to prove that there is no Swiss employee with similar qualifications for the job before hiring a non-Swiss worker.

Third, Switzerland’s «bilateral way» with the EU is brought into question. All the market access agreements of the «Bilateral-one-package» method employed between Switzerland and the EU (dating from 1999 and have come into force in 2002) are at stake. Furthermore, it is completely unclear how to proceed with the dossiers that are still in negotiation (such as energy, financial market, agriculture, food and participation on EU programs on research, education, culture). The EU has already suspended the negotiations of a framework agreement to resolve the “institutional questions” between Switzerland and the EU (implementation of EU legislation, interpretation, supervision, dispute settlement) and those of the electricity agreement.

Fourth, Switzerland is sending a dangerous signal to Europe and eurosceptic politicians and is thereby harming the system of free movement of people in the EU as a whole.

We all know that the implementation of the principle of free movement of persons is not perfect. But nevertheless we all profit from a fruitful exchange within Europe. We should therefore altogether work hard to improve the framework of the free movement of persons instead of just closing the borders.

This article was first published in the Euroblog of the European Movement UK. Link: http://www.euromove.org.uk 

 

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Danny Alexander Is a Rat

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014

Danny AlexanderChinese RatHarriet Harman once notoriously referred to Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander as a “ginger rodent” — a remark she later regretted and withdrew, though Danny had the last laugh by sending out a Christmas card the following Michaelmas featuring a red squirrel. Alexander 3, Harman 0, as London’s Evening Standard likes to summarise these political spats. But this evening, at the Chinese Liberal Democrats’ annual Chinese New Year dinner in London’s Chinatown, at which he was guest speaker, Danny made himself a further hostage to fortune to the political sketchwriters by admitting that he discovered recently that in Chinese terms, he is a Rat (having been born in the year starting 15 February 1972). According to the Chinese zodiac, the strengths of Rats include being smart and wealthy and successful (all great Chinese virtues). Rats are also sanguine and very adaptable, and popular. I shall leave others to research the Rats’ weaknesses. This year, of course, is the Year of the Horse, which Liberal Democrats in London hope will lead to the Party galloping to victory in the local and European elections on 22 May. Certainly, Britain’s economic and financial position — for which Danny must share some of the Coalition’s responsibility — is in a far healthier state than when the new Government took over in 2010, and the steady rise of the income tax allowance to £10,000 is indeed something for all to celebrate. Moreover, as tonight’s dinner attendance showed, the LibDems’ reach into both the Chinese and Korean communities in the UK has been impressively extended.So which Labour MP will be the first to tease Danny the Rat? Not Harriet Harman, I’m sure. Once bitten, twice shy. Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’m a Tiger. Doesn’t it show?

Link: http://chineselibdems.org.uk

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Britain’s Soft Power

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th February, 2014

Sir Martin DavidsonVictorian Britain was associated with gunboat diplomacy and there are still some people in this country who think of power in terms of military might. But since the Second World War, Britain’s “soft power” has been more in evidence, not least through the work of the British Council and the BBC World Service. The Council’s Director, Sir Martin Davidson, was the guest speaker at a Global Strategy Forum event at the National Liberal Club this lunchtime and underlined how the teaching of English abroad and the fact that so many foreign students come to the UK to study both help this country’s economy as well as its global  presence. Without overtly criticising the Government for not increasing the Council’s presence around the globe (in stark contrast to China’s Confucius Institutes, for example) Sir Martin did nonetheless point out that the negative coverage in the Indian Press of the immigration and visa debates in the UK had directly led to a fall in the number of students from India applying to study here. I asked him what the British Council is doing or could be doing to counter the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and UKIP on our reputation not just in India but globally, without getting an entirely satisfactory answer; but of course to be seen publicly to criticise influential British media might be difficult in Sir Martin’s position. Politicians and journalists need not operate under such constraints, however, which is why I spend so much of my time offering an alternative British narrative to that served up in the right-wing red-tops or the Faragistas’ pubs. The UK does still have a degreee of soft power, though it is redcued because of reductions to the budgets of the British Council and the ludicrous decision to integrate the World Service into the main BBC new and current affairs output. That soft power is increased by our membership of the European Union and is often a force for good in the wider world, which is why those of us who believe that need to stand up and say so.

Links: http://www.britishcouncil.org and http://www.globalstrategyforum.org

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The Why I Am IN Broadcast

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 5th February, 2014

Nick Clegg EUParty political broadcasts are all too often toe-curlingly bad, but this evening’s LibDem PPB on “Why I am IN” (the EU, that is) is a corker. It gets across a simple but crucial message powerfully, with a stellar performance by Nick Clegg (really!) in his best relaxed but authoritative style, and three nice vignettes of engaging people explaining in just a couple of sentences why Britain’s continued membership of the European Union is important. I have been arguing for some time that we need to polarise the debate in the UK in the run-up to the European elections in May: if you want to leave the EU, vote UKIP; if you realise that to do so would be folly, vote LibDem. The Liberal Democrats are the only party that is unequivocally pinning its European colours to the mast, and therefore should be a rallying point for all those who understand that we are better together in Europe if we are going to thrive in an increasingly competitive, multipolar world. The EU has delivered so much that has benefited this country and its people. Of course there need to be some reforms, but those can be achieved more effectively from the inside, as a constructive member, not by sniping from the sidelines. Nick Clegg promised us that this time the European elections would be different, that the Liberal Democrats would not hide their European light under a bushel and that they would stand up to the doomsayers and scaremongers of UKIP and the Tory Right. Tonight’s PPB shows he really meant it. We now have little over three months to get that message across.

In case you missed it, here is a link to the broadcast: http://t.co/2v3Rgljk4T

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