Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Cyprus’

Brexit and the Commonwealth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th October, 2016

jf-speaking-at-upf-conference-smallYesterday I was a keynote speaker at a conference on Cultural Diplomacy and the Commonwealth hosted by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in London. My brief was to address the consequences of Brexit for the Commonwealth; some Brexiteers had argued that leaving the EU would enable the UK to forge closer links, especially in trade, with countries such as Australia. But they glossed over the fact that whereas trade with the rest of the EU accounts for 44% of total UK trade that with Australia is only 1%, and the potential for great expansion is not there. Moreover, Australia has in recent decades recalibrated its own trading relationships to focus more on China and South East Asia.

During the referendum campaign, some UKIP supporters in the North of England were telling Muslims of Pakistani origin that after Brexit, EU migrants would no longer be able to come to the UK as a right and that therefore more people could come from Pakistan. But that flies in the face of the fact that the Conservative government is determined to reduce numbers of immigrants across the board. The prospects for Commonwealth students are discouraging as well, as Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that she will make it harder for students to come, which incidentally is economically illiterate as they are a big boost to the UK’s economy and should not be included in immigration figures at all.

Parts of the Commonwealth have done well out of Britain’s EU membership as African, Caribbean and Pacific nations were able to benefit from the Lomé Convention aid and trade deal and its successors. That has been especially useful for small and island countries. When Britain leaves the EU it will no longer be a champion for Commonwealth countries’ concerns over such matters as sugar and bananas. Although Malta and Cyprus will still be able to speak up, being both EU and Commonwealth members, their voice is inevitably weaker than that of Britain, as the Cyprus High Commissioner, Euripides Evriviades pointed out in a speech following my own at the UPF/ICD event. The Conservative government appears not to have fully taken into account how significant the impact will be of not having a seat at the EU table at the myriad ministerial and other meetings that take place, thereby seriously weakening the country’s influence. Furthermore, the withdrawal process from the EU and the subsequent complex bilateral trade negotiations between Britain and its trading partners are going to consume most of the government’s time and energy for years to come, as well as costing a great deal of money.

[photo by Euripides Evriviades]

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Cypriots for REMAIN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th June, 2016

Norman Lamb CypriotsGiven some of the depressing opinion polls about the EU Referendum over the past few days it was uplifting to be in a hall packed with Cypriots in north London this evening cheering on the campaign for Britain to Remain in the EU. There was a first rate line-up of politicians, including MPs Nicky Morgan (Conservative), Secretary of State for Education, Norman Lamb (LibDem) and Catherine West (Labour), all singing from the same song-sheet. As Commonwealth citizens, Cypriots registered in London can vote in next week’s referendum (as can Maltese and Irish) unlike other EU citizens, alas, and there are enough of them to make a difference. It was good to see the Cypriot High Commissioner (one of the most engaged members of London’s diplomatic community) sitting in the front row, in an audience that struck me as predominantly made up of businessmen and businesswomen (no bad thing). Norman Lamb stressed the positive aspect of immigration (including EU migration), whereas Nicky Morgan highlighted how many young Brits have benefited from Erasmus+, studying or getting work experience on the continent. Catherine West pointed out that the Labour Party has come out wholeheartedly in favour of EU membership (even if not all Labour voters agree). There is only a week to go before the vote, which means that it is vital that meetings such as this happen all over the country, to motivate those who back Remain to actually go out to vote, otherwise the Brexiteers could win by default.

Nicky Morgan Cypriots.jpg

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Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Cyprus Banking Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013

Thoughtful piece from Petros Fassoulas of the European Movement on Cyprus, the banking crisis and the EU:

18 March 2013
Is the Cyprus deal the lesser of all evils?
In case anyone thought that the bank and sovereign debt crisis that has engulfed certain parts of the eurozone has produced all its dramatic twists, events this weekend came as a rude awakener. Eurozone leaders agreed early on Saturday morning a deal to bailout and restructure the Cypriot banking sector.
Bank in LimassolThe most controversial part of the deal sees a tax levied on depositors to raise about 5.8 billion euros, to add to the €10 billion committed by the Eurozone and (probably) IMF. A 9.9% levy will be imposed to deposits over 100.000, while deposits below 100.000 will face a levy of 6.75%. So for the first time depositors, who were considered sacrosanct until now, are forced to share the cost of a bail-out. A lot has been said about how this decision was reached. The blame shifts depending who one talks to, but the Financial Times give a good account. It seems that considerations about the future of Cyprus as an off-shore financial centre played a role when deciding how widely to spread the pain among depositors in Cypriot banks. It was feared that taxing only non-resident depositors would scare investors away. So the main bone of contention (in an overall contentious decision) is that smaller depositors are put on the firing line, in a move that is seen as unfair and dangerous. Asking working people and pensioners to sacrifice their savings in the service of a failed banking sector is indeed cruel. But WSJ’s Simon Dixon makes a fair point, there is an element of fairness when asking locals to contribute to the bail out of their country’s banking sector, especially when that sector represents such a huge part of the country’s economy.
Many argue that it should not have come to this at all, that depositors should have been spared all together. But as Hugo Dixon of the Reuters argues the Eurozone and the Cypriot government had very little choice. Imposing a haircut on government debt, like it was done in Greece’s case, was not possible because most of the country’s sovereign debt is held under English law (making a Greek-style restructuring hard) and the remaining is held by Cypriot banks, making a hair-cut self-defeating. Hence the decision to impose a tax on depositors, many of whom are non-resident, predominately Russian and in many cases suspect of money-laundering. It would have been a hard task politically to explain to taxpayers across the Eurozone why they should contribute more to a bail-out that would have, to some extent, helped Russian oligarchs.
Cyprus euroThe most important thing that one should consider is what would be the cost of an alternative. In the absence of a bail-out deal (one that the Cypriot government had delayed long enough) Cypriot banks (which are already under ECB life-support) would collapse, taking the Cypriot economy with them. Lest we forget that the banking sector in Cyprus is more than 5 times the Cypriot economy. The one good thing that can come out of this is the de facto reduction of Cyprus’ banking sector to a size closer to the EU average, as the Eurogroup statement, that followed the bailout agreement, calls for. As we have seen in other European countries like Ireland and the UK, an oversized financial sector holds huge risks for the host country, especially for one whose economy is as small as that of Cyprus. To a large extent this is a banking crisis, rather than a “euro-crisis” and no matter what the structural inefficiencies of Eurozone’s governance (and European politicians inability so far to separate bank from sovereign debt) what Cyprus is faced with is the collapse of a banking sector that grew too big for its own good and made far too many bad decisions.
There is still a lot to play for, not least a parliamentary vote to approve the bail-out deal. Until then there is time and room to reconsider how the burden will be spread among depositors, and there are many proposals on the table on how to shield small depositors and reduce their contribution to the bail-out pot of money. Some reports talk about reducing to 3% the levy imposed to deposits up to €100.000. One last thing. The situation in Cyprus shows that in an interconnected world we are not immune to what happens “over there”. Capital as well as people are mobile, the banking sector interconnected and as a result banks and people’s savings are affected, irrespectively whether we are part of the Eurozone or not. The fact that British citizens who live and hold deposits in Cyprus will have to be part of the bail-out levy shows how important it is for the British government to be as involved as possible in Eurozone governance and EU-wide efforts to address the systemic faults of Europe’s financial sector.
Petros Fassoulas, European Movement

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Andrew Duff on Britain’s Future in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th January, 2012

Twelfth Night is usually the time I take down the Christmas cards, but last evening I went instead to Cambridge, to hear the East of England LibDem MEP Andrew Duff give his verdict on the situation regarding Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU following David Cameron’s disconcerting performance at the Brussels Summit last month. A convinced federalist and constitutional supergeek, Andrew has been issuing doom-laden pronouncements about the current state of European affairs for several months, so it was a relief at last night’s Policy Forum of Cambridge Liberal Democrats (chaired by Julian Huppert, MP) to find him less morose, but nonetheless highly critical of the place the Prime Minister has landed Britain in. The PM’s refusal to endorse measures designed to introduce more financial discipline within the eurozone came as quite a shock to Andrew, as he had been phoned erlier in the day by 10 Downing Street assuring him that Cameron was not going to do anything dramatic — a message Andrew then duly passed on to the Brussels press corps. Maybe not surprisingly,  Andrew did not sleep that night after the reality became clear and like many of us in the LibDems, he was unhappy about the way the reaction to Cameron’s position from the Liberal Democrats gave very mixed messages over the weekend after the Brussels Summit. But the important thing is to look forward not back, and to see how much Nick Clegg and the LibDems can help row the Coalition government back from the position it now finds itself in regarding the EU. The next few months will be crucial as the other 26 — or 25, if Hungary distances itself further from the European mainstream — will have to work on a new Treaty relating to closer financial arrangements within the eurozone, but minus Britain’s signature. Denmark, which assumed the rotating EU presidency this week, has an unenviable task head, and Andrew Duff doesn’t believe Copenhagen is really up to it. But things could be even more difficult after 1 July, when Cyprus is due to take over the helm.

Links: http://andrewduff.eu and http://cambridgelibdems.org.uk

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Europe in 2061

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th July, 2011

I’m spending the weekend at Robinson College, Cambridge, at my first ever Federal Studies Conference, courtesy of the James Madison Trust. The theme is Europe in 2061: How will the European Union develop in the next 50 years? Proceedings began challengingly with the local LibDem MEP, my old chum Andrew Duff, giving an uncharacteristically downbeat appraisal of the mess he thinks the EU is now in, his own federalist dreams going up in a puff of smoke. I put his melancholy down to the fact that he has just returned from Cyprus, which remains an intractable problem both internally and with regard to Turkey’s aspirations to join the Union. But today’s sessions were much more optimistic, with contributions from former Tory MEP and climate change specialist Tom Spencer and Professor David Coombes. The dinner this evening will be preceded with Pimms in the College garden (glad to see that Cambridge shares this habit with my alma mater, Oxford) and an after dinner speech by the Hon Christopher Layton, lifelong Liberal and European.

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Understanding the History of Cyprus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th May, 2011

All conflict situations leave pain long after they have finished, as people remember family, friends and homes they have lost. In Cyprus, since 1974 the Green Line has been a border between two communities that used to live together, side-by-side, before conflict broke out in 1963; and much bitterness and anger remains. So it was refreshing and inspiring to see a 30-minute documentary film last night showing a group of four Cypriot teenagers — two Greek, two Turkish — accompanying three of The Elders (an informal grouping of former global leaders who have dedicated themselves to peace and reconciliation) on a visit to the island. In this case, the three Elders were the retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter, and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi from Algeria. With the young people they all visited places where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who had been killed in the conflict were buried in hidden graves, as well as an establishment where anthropologists have been piecing together the skeletons of the disinterred. After the film, Ersu Ekrem of  Embargoed!  (the Turkish Cypriot community organisation which hosted the event entitled Understanding the History of Cyprus in the Regency Banqueting Suites in Bruce Grove) gave a talk with slides describing the casualities on both sides. Then I spoke about how no one person, family, community or people has a monopoly of victimhood, but that we must acknowledge that pain is very real and can only be healed through facing up to the past, bringing out te facts, understanding the history, so that then one can move forward to reconciliation. There was some tough questioning from the predominantly Turkish Cypriot audience, underlining how deep some of the scars are. But as someone who regularly visits Cyprus for my work, I share the optimism of those who believe that there can and will be a workable settlement one day that gives full and equal rights to all Cypriots and that the current isolation of northern Cyprus (which has not yet been able to take advantage of the benefits of EU membership) can be negotiated to an end.

Photo of Ersu Ekrem, Jonathan Fryer and Cllr Gina Adamou (Mayor of Haringey) by Nefise Hussein 

Link: www.embargoed.org

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European Liberal Democrats Back Turkey’s EU Accession

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th November, 2009

European Liberal Democrats, meeting at the annual congress of the ELDR in Barcelona, this morning passed a resolution (which I proposed) stating clearly our support for Turkish accession to the European Union, providing Ankara fulfils all of the so-called Copenhagen criteria for membership. This is in sharp contrast to the negative comments about Turkey´s EU vocation made recently by conservative leaders such as President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, as well as the newly appointed President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

The resolution noted the progress that Turkey has been making with regard to the Copenhagen criteria — as acknowledged in last month’s report from the European Commission — while pointing out that more needs to be achieved in areas such as freedom of expression and the media. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s initiatives towards resolving Turkey’s longstanding Kurdish question were welcomed.

The resolution — which was finalised in consultation with the German Liberal FDP (now in charge of the Federal Republic’s Foreign Ministry) — also called on the European Union to do more to facilitate a settlement of the Cyprus dispute and to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

Link: www.eldr.org

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Greece Turkey Rapprochement

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd August, 2008

One striking feature in Istanbul these days is the number of Greek tourists, some of whom are actually wedding parties. Apparently it is the chic thing now for grand couples from Thessaloniki to get married by the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul, rekindling memories of times when the two communities, Greek and Turkish, were much more intermingled. After the First World War, there was a massive movement of population both ways and for much of the rest of the 20th century there was outright hostility between the two nations, especially after the Turkish intervention in Cyprus in 1974.

Indications of a possible thaw came with the Greek-Turkish ‘earthquake diplomacy’ after the disastrous 1999 Izmit quake, when Greece sent help, and since then there have been all sorts of bilateral contacts. Greece even switched its position vis-a-vis Turkey’s accession to the European Union, now actively suporting it at some time in the future. And most recently, there has been serious movement on Cyprus, following the change of president in Nicosia. It wasn’t all that long ago that a top Greek Cypriot orthodox figure was warning voters that if they supported the subequentrly scuppered Annan peace plan, they would not go to Heaven. But as we have seen in Northern Ireland, even intransigence is not a permanent condition.

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