Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Cathy Ashton’

Ukraine and the EU’s CFSP

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd March, 2014

EU three pillarsOver the past few weeks I have been commenting regularly on developments in Ukraine/Crimea for an Arab TV channel, Al Etejah*. And while much of the attention rightly has been on Russia and what exactly Vladimir Putin has in mind from day to day, one of the broader aspects I’ve been mulling over is the implication the whole affair has for the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which between 1995 and 2009 was one of the “three pillars” of the EU (see diagram). CFSP is one area of European integration that has not progressed very far, and although the EU 28 usually vote as a harmonious bloc at the United Nations quite strong policy differences often emerge between member states, some of the larger of which (including Britain) still see their foreign policy as a matter of fundamentally national concern and competence. The EU has been united in condemning Russia’s effective annexation of Crimea and in extending the hand of accelerated friendship to Ukraine, but there have been divergent views about what sort of sanctions to impose against Russia, how strongly one should fall in line with what Washington is doing (London’s default position) and to what extent European economies should try to reduce their dependence on Russian energy supplies. There has been agreement that the EU should move faster to embrace more warmly Georgia and Moldova — both of which could eventually aspire to EU membership and are vulnerable to Russian expansionism. But on other international issues — such as how friendly Europe should now be to Iran, and how disapproving of Israel’s activities in the occupied West Bank — there often appear to be irreconcilable divides. Of course, the EU is not a single state and maybe never will be, but if it is to be taken more seriously on the global stage it really needs to present a more coherent Common Foreign and Security Policy. And although the High Representative Cathy Ashton has performed better than I dared hope when her appointment was announced, her successor in charge of the EU’s external action needs to be a figure with more political clout.


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Europe in the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th October, 2012

There is a real danger that the European Union will slide into irrelevance, like the Venice Republic. That was the grim warning from Professor Richard Whitman from the University of Kent at a Federal Trust seminar on Europe in the World, held at Westminster yesterday, and his gloomy prognosis was shared by other panel members. Prof Whitman deplored the fact that there is no guiding light to the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP): “We are muddling through rather than articulating what our core objectives are. We are also not sure what our relationship with the United States should be.” He placed the blame for this incoherence squarely on the shoulders of the governments of the EU member states, which have demonstrated an inability to agree on everything from last year’s intervention in Libya to how we should relate to Israel/Palestine. “The member states have done little to support Cathy Ashton in her job as High Representative, and the EU’s External Action Service is resource-constrained,” Prof Whitman added. The Director of the Global Policy Institute, Professor Stephen Haseler, argued the federalist case, declaring that the eurozone countries are going to have to work towards a United States of Europe if they are going to overcome the ongoing financial crisis. “Only through a super-state will we be able to deal with things,” he said. “The global financial crisis may have destroyed the old model of Europe; now we need essential integration. A common foreign and security policy will then follow.”

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EU Action on Human Rights

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th July, 2012

When Cathy Ashton was appointed High Representative in charge of the EU’s external action service, she declared that she wanted human rights to run like a ‘silver thread’ through the service’s policies. But as Edward McMillan-Scott — Liberal Democrat MEP and a Vice President of the European Parliament — said at  a roundtable at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime, human rights have sometimes played second fiddle to trade matters and other practical concerns. He, the Labour MP Michael Connarty (the senior Labour figure on the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee) and Nicholas Beger (from Amnesty International’s Brussels office dealing with the European institutions) were therefore not surprisingly all in favour of the proposed appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, whose specific job it would be to focus on human rights concerns, wherever they occur in the world, irrespective of other considerations. As Nicholas Beger pointed out, there is currently often a lack of balance in the EU’s stance regarding the transgressions of other states; Belarus rightly comes under criticism for its many shortcomings, but why not Azerbaijan? Oil is a sad but obvious answer, but the putative Special Representative must be above such considerations and look at the world’s nations objectively. I said that I thought the litmus test for the new human rights action plan — of which the Special Representative would be the most high profile part — will come with regard to Israel/Palestine. Michael Connarty rightly touched on Israeli violations in his introductory remarks, but I believe the EU’s credibillity on human rights will only be proven when it does take an objective stand and condemns various elements of the occupation, house demolitions, administrative detention and so forth — though the wide divergence of views among member states relating to Israel could prove to be a problem. By coincidence, while our roundtable was discussing these matters, the House of Commons was getting ready to debate to desirability of appointing the EU Special Representative. Michael Connarty was worried some eurosceptic Tories might use this as an opportunity to further their prejudices, but it is to be hoped that the British parliament will indeed give the initiative its blessing. It would be shameful otherwise.


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Europe at the Gateshead LibDem Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th March, 2012

The agenda of this weekend’s LibDem spring conference in Gateshead has been almost entirely devoted to domestic matters, from tax to the NHS. But this morning, Conference overwhelmingly passed an important motion reaffirming the Party’s belief in the future of the European project and how Britain needs to be right at the heart of the European Union, not on the margins to which David Cameron foolishly propelled us at the Brussels Summit last December. I’ll be writing up the debate of the motion in next Friday’s Liberal Democrat News, including the recognition of necessary reforms in the way the EU functions. But in the meantime I offer here the speech I gave in the debate this morning:

Way out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean there is a small island, called Little Britain. A strange tribe known as the UKIP lives there, and over the last few weeks several Conservatives — notably the MEP Roger Helmer — have swum out to Little Britain, to help the UKIP repel foreign boarders. Alas, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, seems to dream of moving there himself — or at least that’s the impression he gave our European partners at the Brussels Summit in December. He thought they would be impressed, but they weren’t. And Cameron has done a grave disservice to the British people.

Let’s be brutally honest. Britain is no longer a first rank global power. Just recently, Brazil leapfrogged Britain in terms of GDP and India won’t be far behind. The world is moving rapidly towards a multipolar reality, in which Asia, Latin America and one day even Africa will assert their economic and political might.

For Europe to survive as a potent force in the 21st Century world, the European Union has to proceed with further integration. It must increasingly speak with one voice, not only on issues such as Trade and the environment but also in areas of common foreign and security policy. Currently, despite the best efforts of Cathy Ashton, the EU is punching below its weight. That situation must not continue, otherwise Europe itself will be marginalised.

So what does all this mean for Britain? At the moment, as so often during the past 60 years, the driving forces in Europe are France and Germany. But they would like Britain also to be at the heart of the European project. Because of our rich history and experience in international relations, Britain has so much to offer Europe. But there is a real danger that that opportunity is being lost. And the longer Britain positions itself on the margins of the European Union, the less the country will matter in global affairs. David Cameron needs to stop pandering to those in the Conservative Party who look through rose-tinted spectacles at the mid-Atlantic island of Little Britain  and instead face up to the real challenges ahead.

The world is changing fast and the EU must adapt to ensure that it keeps and indeed enhances its influence globally. It would be tragic if the United Kingdom were not a full partner in that development process. I do not want to live on the island of Little Britain, Mr Cameron — and neither should you.

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Sod the Lot!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th April, 2010

Tory blogger Iain Dale has given his readers a sneak preview of UKIP’s election poster, which, one has to admit, cheekily captures the mood of disenchantment with politicians that can be found amongst voters (and non voters) of every social stratum in Britain. It also has the merit of being funny, which most political propaganda doesn’t. However, Sod the Lot’s appeal is superficial and hides UKIP’s less attractive reality, most eloquently displayed by the party’s leader, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who has been issuing dire warnings about how, over the next five years, the ‘Brussels octopus’ will tighten its tentacles round Britain and suck us all into its bowels. Does an octopus have bowels, I wonder?  But let’s not digress. UKIP represents the worst form of Little Englanderism, at times bordering on hooliganism. The behaviour of some of UKIP’s MEPs (including Barbara Cartland’s grandson, the Earl of Dartmouth) when (Baroness) Cathy Ashton appeared before the European Parliament recently was nothing short of disgraceful. Moreover, last year UKIP wrongly benefited during the European elections from public anger over MPs’ expenses — despite the fact that a couple of its own MEPs had been the suject of criminal charges. The party’s most high-profile figure — and former leader — Nigel Farage has abandoned his duties as an MEP to try to oust the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, in Buckingham at the forthcoming general election. People who are tempted to vote UKIP bcause of its apparent anti-establishment nature should examine the nature of its policies and the behaviour of its representatives carefully, then maybe they will decide that they should ‘sod’ UKIP even more than the rest!

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European Parliament Vets the New Commission

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th January, 2010

Tomorow a series of Question and Answer sessions will begin in the European Parliament, to see if it will approve the nominees for the next European Commission. Each nominated Commissioner will have a three hour grilling, starting with Cathy Ashton from noon to 3pm tomorrow. Baroness Ashton — who was briefly Leader of the House of Lords before being catapulted over to Brussels to replace Peter Mandelson as EU Trade Commissioner, when he was brought back into the Labour government in Britain — was the somewhat suprising choice for the new High Representative for EU Foreign Policy; suprising given her relative lack of experience in foreign affairs. She will also become a Vice-President of the Commission, if approved. However, she has impressed quite a lot of people in Brussels with her quiet ability, so it will be interesting to see how she performs in the Parliament’s spotlight. It’s a good thing that the MEPs can block the nomination of the Commission if they don’t like what they see, though the grotesque situation at present is that if they have objections they have to reject the lot, not just one or two, which clearly needs to be changed.

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