Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Association of European Journalists’

The Tories Just Don’t Get Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th February, 2010

The Conservatives’ Deputy Leader in the House of Lords and Foreign Affairs Spokesman, David Howell, was the guest speaker at the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) this lunchtime at the London office of the European Parliament. Though he asked to be off the record regarding his remarks about his party’s leaving the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, much of the rest of what he said was both interesting and reportable. In particular, he spoke of the tripod of Britain’s foreign relations: links to Europe, to the United States and to the emerging economies of Asia, not least India. He also picked up the refrain of the Queen in her last C hristmas Day broadcast, in which she described the Commonwealth as ‘the face of the future’. I am myself a strong supporter of Commonwealth ties and I believe we should be friends with the Americans too. But I am astounded that the Conservative Party should see our relationship with the EU as an aspect of foreign policy. David Howell even referred to Europe as ‘our backyard’, underlining the Conservative view that we are somehow outside and separate from (and, the implication is, superior to) our continental European partners, rather than being a committed member of the EU that is determined to see this association of independent member states develop in a positive way. Some Conservative MPs have told me off the record that the party’s public Euro-scepticism is partly to stop its voters switching to UKIP at the general election, and that if a Tory government does come into power, it will be far more accommodating to our European partners — including working closely with Angela Merkal and Nicolas Sarkozy, whose parties remain within the EPP. But I fear this will just mean more of the half-in, half-out strategy pursued by several former British governments — both Conservative and Labour — and that yet again Britain is going to be left behind as the European bus departs.


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Germany, Multiculturalism and the Liberals

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th July, 2009

Georg BoomgaardenThe German Liberals (FDP) are highly likely to form part of the next German government, according to the German Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. Speaking at an Association of European Journalists (AEJ) lunch at the London offices of the European Parliament, H.E. Georg Boomgaarden said that although it is always possible that the ‘grand coalition’ of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SDP) might continue after September’s federal elections, a more likely scenario would be a CDU/CSU-FDP coalition government, or even the so-called Jamaica coalition that has been mooted: i.e. CDU/CSU, FDP and the Greens (whose party colours are black, yellow and green, like the Jamaican flag). The Liberals traditionally were the junior party in German coalitions but have been in opposition in recent years. But they did extremely well in last month’s European elections. Being a diplomat, however, Dr Boomgaarden cautioned that opinion polls are often volatile in the run-up to a Germa election, so anything is technically possible.

On another matter, in the light of the appalling recent murder of a pregnant Egyptian woman by a racist German attacker in a courtroom in Dresden — an assault in which her husband was also wounded — I asked which model of multiculturalism Germany had adopted, if any. The Ambassador replied that Germany had lied to itself about what used to be referred to as Turkish guest workers (gastarbeiter), assuming that once they had finished their working lives they would return home, whereas many of them did not. The main problem for integration, he said, is related to the fact that most of the Turkish immigrants came from eastern Anatolia — many of them Kurds — and they have a more traditional and Asian lifestyle. This is exacerbated by the fact that Turks immigrants even of the second and third generation tend to marry girls from their home country, who then find themselves in an alien environment in Germany. However, an Islamic Conference has been functioning in Germany for some time and recently it brought out a paper stressing that Muslims should stand by the German constitution, while at the same time freedom of religion must be repected.


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Shami Chakrabarti and Toffs in Wigs

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th June, 2009

Shami Chakrabati‘Unelected toffs in wigs, be they in the Courts or in the House of Lords, have been the defenders of civil liberties in many cases, during the current government,’ according to the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, who was the guest speaker at a lunch given today by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists at the London office of the European Parliament. Because of the so-called War on Terror,  disturbing new powers have been granted to both the government and the police. For example, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act relating to stop and search requires no necessary grounds for suspicion at all. Tony Blair famously said that he would give the police whatever powers they needed. Shami opined that an ‘authoritarain arms race’ began in Britain when Michael Howard and Tony Blair became responsible for the Home Affairs brief in their respective parties — well before 9/11.

Liberty ID card bookletLiberty is currently celebrating 75 years of existence, having previously been known as the National Council of Civil Liberties (NCCL), in which, interestingly, several now prominent New Labour figures were previously involved. It’s always a spectacle to see them squirm when they try to defend the proposed introduction of ID cards in Britain, about which Liberty has been running a campaign. Shami Chakrabarti — who was a barister before working for six years for the Home Office — has no such ambitions to be sucked into politics with all its compromises. ‘I’d sooner be a rock-star before I’d be Home Secretary,’ she declared. She paid tribute to the work that Liberal Democrats have done in defending human rights (though she opposes the European arrest warrant, which the party has championed) and she sharply criticised Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, suspecting that their main objection to this important buttress to civil liberties is its essentially European origin.

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Journalists at Risk

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd November, 2008

Journalism has become a far more risky profession since I started out as a cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News and the Geographical Magazine in the Vietnam War. It is not only in war or conflict zones that journalists are often deliberately targeted these days. Just this week, in Yerevan, Armenia, Edik Baghdasarian, who heads the Armenian Association of Investigative Journalists, was violently assaulted by three men as he left his office and could easily have been killed. His ‘crime’ in the eyes of whoever orchestrated the attack was that he has crusaded against high-level corruption. The incident served as a salutory reminder to us members of the Association of European Journalists who have been been meeting in Linz for the past couple of days of the risks that we take.

In a scheduled session on the subject this afternoon, we had presentations fropm Neboysa Bristic (Serbia), Zdenko Duka (Croatia), Krzystof Bobinski (Poland) and Fabrice Pozzolli-Montenay (France), highlighting dangers of diverse kinds, from violent ultra-nationalists to interfering media owners, government attempts to control the media and some irresponsible members of our own profession who have little respect for truth, objectivity or integrity. My old Bush House colleague (and Chairman of the AEJ British Section), William Horsley, who chaired the session, also spoke of the role ‘dumbing down’ has had in contributing to the decline in media standarsd over the past 25 years.

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The Grey Danube

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st November, 2008

spiegelei_gebraten_de  I spent most of today in the Strauss Room of the Arcotel in Linz, Austria, at the Annual Assembly of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ). Picture windows looked out over the Danube, which was never blue, despite Strauss’s wishful thinking and indeed today was a particularly threatening shade of grey, matched by the heavy clouds that discharged rain, followed by snow. But the content of the day was worthwhile, including a long presentation and discussion this morning about Linz’s role as a European Capital of Culture next year. This would surprise anyone who knew Austria’s third city even 20 years ago, when it had a literally stinking reputation, thanks to all its heavy industry. But the place has been cleaned up and regenerated (there is zero unemployment, as a representative of the Upper Austria economic council crowed) and the place is full of cutting edge artistic establishments. Intriguingly, the city has decided to acknowledge its most notorious past fame as the adopted hometown of Adolf Hitler, an exhibition of whose ambitious cultural plans for Linz is taking place in the Castle. Whether visitors will be encouraged to visit Mauthausen is another matter, but Linz 2009 could be a welcome opportunity to help local people as well as the wider Europe face up to the realities of the not-too-distant past.

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Michael Connarty and European Scrutiny

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th September, 2008

Considering the precipice down which the Labour government is currently tumbling, Michael Connarty, MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, was remarkably chipper at the Association of European Journalists’ lunch at the European Parliament office in London today, but he was there in his role as Chairman of the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, rather than in his party political capacity. A convinced European — as well as a socialist who was against the Iraq War — Mr Connarty ruffled feathers earlier this year when he said that the Lisbon Treaty was basically the same as the European constitution that had been rejected by French and Dutch voters. Euro-sceptics, like his sparring partner (and fellow jazz aficianado) the Tory MP Bill Cash, agreed, but in Connarty’s case, it was a sort of compliment, as he believed — and still believes — that Europe needs the Lisbon Treaty, in order to be more efficient and more democratic.

Indeed, much of what he said today chimed in with Liberal Democrat policy. He was in favour of Britain joining the euro and speculated that the crisis over HBOS might have been averted within the sort of disciplined structure inherent in the eurozone. Moreover, he regrets the UK’s holding back from joining the Schengen area. ‘As you can see, I am not a Euro-sceptic,’ he said, ‘but rather a government sceptic — whichever government is in power!’

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Europe off the Record

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th July, 2008

I was at a lunchtime briefing at the European Parliament Office in London today, organised by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), addressed by the French Ambassador Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, to speak about the French presidency of the European Union. The session was ‘off the record’, which is disappointing in the sense that it means I cannot report what he said, but on the other hand, it was very useful for getting frank accounts of what is going on in President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governent (and indeed that of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, with whom Mr Gourdault-Montagne worked closely).

Such off-the-record sessions are in fact vital to good journalism in this country, as one not only gets ‘deep background’ but often learns the (directly unreportable) truth of a situation, which means one can avoid making some terrible gaffes. Alas, when it comes to EU matters, some organs of the British press are not interested in the truth. I prefer to work for those who do not have such an attitude. Be that as it may, British standards incapsulated in what are called ‘Chatham House Rules’ have become a template for much of the world. The rules are named after the Royal Institute for International Affairs, aka Chatham House, where the great and the good (and occasionally the downright wicked) come to talk to the highly-qualified membership, often ‘off the record’. When I’ve given seminars on government and media image, in countries as diverse as Ethiopia and Uruguay, I sometimes find government ministers there incredulous that such as a system could work. But I would argue that in a mature democracy, with a responsible press, it both can and should.

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Patrick Mercer’s Waterloo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th June, 2008

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ), being an intrinsically pro-European assemblage of hacks, does not normally celebrate Waterloo Day, but it was fitting that our guest for lunch at the European Parliament’s offices in Westminster today made reference to this military anniversary. Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP for Newark and Retford, served for 25 years in the army, before going into journalism (with the ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4) and then into Parliament. It is always refreshing to be in dialogue with an MP who has a genuine ‘hinterland’, rather than someone who goes straight from university to being a political researcher and then an eager-beever backbencher, hungry for a taste of power.

Patrick’s theme was terrorism, or more precisely, counter-terrorism, about which he knows a great deal. For four weeks last year he was actually enticed into Gordon Brown’s ‘big tent’, as an advisor on security issues, based on his experience in Northern ireland and elsewhere. This earned him some frowns from certain Tory colleagues, but he is not someone to be fussed about a detail like that. He is not, he insists, running David Davis’s maverick campaign in Haltemprice and Howden, contrary to a report in the ‘Independent’, but he not ony supports Davis’s objection to the prospect of 42 days detention without trial — he even thinks 28 days is too much (mainly because such measures play straight into the propaganda hands of extremist groups, as well as further alienating Britain’s Muslim community).

Patrick is also an unashamed Atlanticist, which is where I part company with him. ‘The only allies we must depend on and can depend on are the Americans,’ he declared at lunch today. He deftly side-stepped a question I asked about whether it would not be in Britain’s security interests if there were a more integrated European common foreign and security policy (CFSP). I believe so. And whereas it is important that Europe maintains close relations with the United States, I believe we will have a more equal and productive partnership with Washington if Europe is seen to be more united.


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