Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 5th, 2020

We Haven’t Left Europe!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th May, 2020

Council of Europe accessionIn common with many Remainers I am still in a state of shock following the EU Referendum of June 2016, though Brexit pain has been slightly assuaged by the fact that although formally Britain left the EU on 31 January we are in a transition period scheduled to last until the end of the year, during which many of the advantages, as well as the rules and regulations, of the EU are still in place. I have, of course, supported calls for an extension of that transition period, ideally for two years, not because I am trying to hold onto the EU by my fingertips but because the double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit might be more than this country can handle. But on one thing I agree with the Brexiteers, namely that although we have left the EU we haven’t left Europe. Geographically that is obvious, however much the Trump-loving coterie of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Co. might wish to drag us into the mid-Atlantic. However, for me a far more important reason why we haven’t left Europe is that we are still a member of the Council of Europe, which has been celebrating its Europe Day today.

European flagIndeed, Britain was a founder member of the Council of Europe and British lawyers were instrumental in framing many of its statutes and purposes. Founded in 1949 — like a phoenix rising from the ashes from the Second World War — its stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. All European states except Belarus and Kosovo are members — that’s 20 more members than the current EU. Based in Strasbourg, symbolically near the Franco-German border in Alsace, the Council of Europe shaped the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including the abolition of the death penalty. It has a parliamentary assembly, whose members are appointed by national parliaments (MPs and Peers in Britain’s case). My old friend, the late Russell Johnston, was its President for several years, executing the office with panache. Though older and bigger than the EU, the Council of Europe has nonetheless been the Cinderella of European institutions, which is maybe something Britain should now try to remedy. So, yes, let us celebrate the Council of Europe’s Europe Day — and also the EU’s Europe Day four days later on 9 May. They may not share the same date, but the two institutions share the same European flag and indeed the same anthem, based on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. So let us Europhiles indeed be joyful and celebrate Europe Day twice this year and reassure ourselves that we haven’t completely left, nor should we ever!

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