Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘ECR’

EU 2016: Dutch at the Helm

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd January, 2016

Dutch EU presidency 2On 1 January the Netherlands took over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, with pledges to facilitate Europe’s economic growth and competitiveness, to enhance the EU’s role in the world, to promote forward-looking energy and climate policies, to improve cooperation on security as well as migration and asylum, and last but by no means least to empower European citizens by making them more involved in EU decision-making. These are in summary the five pillars agreed for the next 18-month period by the so-called Trio which will be at the helm until 30 June 2017: the Netherlands and their successors Slovakia and Malta. The role of the EU presidency has changed somewhat in recent years with the appointment of a President of the European Council — the gathering of EU Heads of Government — rather than that job being rotated twice a year along with the EU presidency. The incumbent as President of the Council since December 2014 is Donald Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister. But the country that has the EU rotating presidency can still have a big influence in managing EU affairs, as well as hosting many meetings of the 28 member states. In the case of the Netherlands, well over 100 of these meetings will be held at the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, underlining the importance of the EU’s being outward-looking.

Cameron Rutte 4The elephant in the room, not specifically mentioned in the Dutch programme of works, is trying to keep Britain as a member of the European Union. At a European Council meeting next month, the UK’s EU partners will respond fully to Prime Minister David Cameron’s four demands for EU reform, which he hopes can be the basis for then recommending that Britons vote to remain in the EU in a referendum that is likely to take place later this year. This could well prove to be the most tricky Council over which Mr Tusk will have to preside, as at least one of Mr Cameron’s demands — considerably extending the period during which EU migrants are unable to access benefits when in another member state than their own — has met great resistance, not least from Poland. Mr Cameron foolishly took the Conservative Party out of the largest European grouping in the EU, the European People’s Party (EPP) several years ago, which meant that he sacrificed a valuable opportunity to lobby and negotiate with EPP leaders, not least the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Yet paradoxically one of his greatest allies is neither in the EPP nor in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which the Tories formed with a rag-bag of right-wing parties from a few other countries, but instead with the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte. Mr Rutte leads the more conservative of the Netherlands’ two liberal parties, the VVD, and is therefore part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), to which the British Liberal Democrats belong. But he has an excellent working relationship with Mr Cameron and as the Netherlands now has the EU presidency, 10 Downing Street will doubtless be hoping that the Dutch will facilitate a compromise that will deliver what Mr Cameron wants.

Link: http://english.eu2016.nl/

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The European Parliament’s New President

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th January, 2012

As expected. Martin Schulz of the Socialist Group (S&D) was elected by MEPs to be the new President of the European Parliament today, taking over from former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek of the centre-right Christian Democrats (EPP). But his majority was not a landslide, despite the traditional stitch-up between the two main political groups in the parliament. Two British challengers, Diana Wallis from the LibDems (and therefore ALDE) and Nirj Deva of the Conservatives (ECR) did pick up quite a a lot of support from disaffected main party MEPs as well as from members of their own minority groups. The system is a farce, and does nothing to enhance the already shaky reputation of the European Parliament amongst the electorate across the EU’s 27 member states. Sir Graham Watson, former ALDE leader and now President of the ELDR (European Liberal Democrats, which also also embraces parties from European states outside the EU) was one of the first to tilt Don Quixote-like at the windmills of the Euro-parliamentary structure and Diana Wallis deserves credit for picking up the baton with panache. Meanwhile, few people in Britain, other than Euro-political nerds, will have any idea who Martin Schulz is. After all, most of the British electorate cannot name a single one of their own MEPs, so why should they have heard of a German one? But this is a pity, to say the least. The British public is poorly served by domestic media coverage of the European Parliament and its doings, in stark contrast to the citizens of Spain, for example. Anyway, it is worth knowing something about the man who will be presiding over sessions of the Parliament for the next two-and-a-half years. Born in an area where the German, Dutch and Belgian borders meet, Martin Schulz is unusual amongst MEPs in being a bookseller by profession; he ran his own bookshop in Wuerselen from 1982 to 1994. But he was politically motivated from an early age. He joined the German Social Democratic Party at the age of 19, and 12 years later, he was elected Mayor of Wuerselen. According to his official European Parliament potted biography, this experience ‘shaped my enthusiasm for Europe and the conviction that I wanted to help build and advance the European project.’ So no doubts there about how the new President wants to further the cause of European integration. But it will be interesting to see how he handles debates as he is a more fiery character than Jerzy Buzek, who has aptly been described by Andrew Duff MEP as ‘gentlemanly’. A few fireworks might be no bad thing, as they might attract to the Parliament a little more of the attention that it definitely deserves as it accrues more powers and influence in the decision- and law-making processes of the EU.

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Diana Wallis’s Long Shot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 16th January, 2012

Tomorrow, members of the European Parliament will have the chance to vote for a new President — what in Britain we would normally call a Speaker or Presiding Officer (incidentally, there are too many presidnets in the EU set-up, which is one small reason among many larger ones why the British tabloids make fun of it). The contest rarely gets much coverage in the UK media, which is hardly surprising, as for some time it has been a stitch-up between the two big blocs in the Parliament, the EPP (Christian Democrats and allies) and the Socialists. So everyone is expecting that the German Socialist Martin Schulz will seemlessly take over from the Polish centre-right Jerzy Buzek. The two men are very different in character and style — Schulz is much more fiery and unpredictable than the urbane Buzek — but that won’t cover up the fact that this is a “buggins turn” situation, and yet another reason why the European Parliament and the EU in general are easy targets for the Eurosceptics’ fire. In keeping with the convention of the stitch-up, there is no EPP candidate challenging Martin Schulz. But there are two Brits who have put their hats in the ring, in the interests of true democracy. One is the maverick Conservative Nirj Deva, from the loopy right-wing ragbag European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), into which David Cameron exiled the British Conservative MEPs after breaking with the EPP. Deva should pick up some support from his colleagues in that. But the other contender, more significantly, is Diana Wallis, LibDem MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside (and therefore a member of the European Liberal Democrats Group – ELDR), who was a Vice-President of the Parliament in the last session. Though she knows she has little chance of undoing the EPP-Socialists’ cosy stitch-up, she has been campaigning hard, systematically working round as many of the 750-odd MEPs as possible, calling for more transparency in the EP system. As she defines it herself, her campaign has been in the pursuit of a more open and positive European Parliament. ‘I also wanted to reach out to show the possibility of a deeper engagement with all European citizens,’ she says. ‘The actions and decisions of the members of the European Parliament will always be insufficient if all Europeans do not feel that the Parliament belongs to them.’ Hear Hear! She won’t win, as the informal system is stacked against her. But she deserves a good vote and congratulations for standing up for democratic principles.

Link: http://dianawallisep.blogspot.com

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Edward McMillan-Scott Takes on the Tory Party

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th January, 2010

The Yorkshire MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who was expelled from the Conservative Party for opposing David Cameron’s unholy alliance with right-wing parties such as Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the European Parliament, is mounting a High Court legal challenge to his expulsion. Mr McMillan-Scott has been excluded from the party for a period of five years — the same punishment Lord (Jeffrey) Archer got after being sent to prison for perjury — despite the fact that he has been a hard-woking Conservative MEP for 25 years. His ‘crime’ was to stand against Michal Kaminski, a leading PiS MEP, for the post of one of the European Parliament’s Vice-Presidents — and winning — thereby putting a spanner in the works of the Conservative Party’s backroom bargaining with their unsavoury continental allies. Mr Kaminski then had to be appeased by the Tories by their agreeing to his becoming the leader of the new right-wing grouping in the Parliament, the European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR).

Edward McMillan-Scott’s line is that the Tory leadership has lost its way and that he has every right to be within the party to which he remains committed. He has accused David Cameron of having insufficient experience in dealing with European affairs and of making a serious mistake in promising to take the Conservatives out of the European Parliament’s largest political grouping — the centre-right EPP — as part of his domestic leadership campaign. In announcing his High Court action against the Conservative Party, Mr McMillan-Scott told a Daily Telegraph journalist, ‘The party seeks to prevent my candidacy in the next European election merely for taking a stand on matters of personal conscience. This raises very serious ethical, legal and poliical issues.’ It also highilghts how Cameron’s Conservatives are preapred to sacrifice their own stalwarts in their pursuit of miopic europhobia.

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What Some Tories Would Rather We Didn’t Know

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th October, 2009

Michal Kaminski ToriesToday’s ‘Observer’ has details of an attempted cover-up by someone who would prefer that the world doesn’t know the far-right past of Michal Kaminski, leader of the European Conservative and Reformist group (ECR) in the European Parliament, to which the British Conservatives belong. Mr Kaminski was formerly a member of the neo-fascist National Revival of Poland Party, before leaving to join the more mainstream but nonetheless ultra-conservative (and some say anti-Semitic and homophobic)  Law and Justice party (PiS). But this fact was recently removed from his Wikipedia entry by persons unknown, whom The Observer has traced to the House of Commons. What makes the affair even more remarkable is that someone else (this time operating out of Strasbourg, the main seat of the European Parliament) has doctored the Wikipedia entry of Edward McMillan-Scott, MEP,as well. Mr McMillan-Scott, regular readers of this blog will recall, was expelled from the Tory Party after he stood against Michal Kaminski to become a Vice-President of the Parliament, and won. Mr Kaminski was given the chairmanship of th ECR as a sort of consolation prize for this rebuff.

Edward McMillan-ScottSo what does Mr McMillan-Scott think of what is going on? He told The Observer, ”My record was … changed to paint me as a Euro-fanatic. More seriously, there is a systematic cover-up by the Conservative Party of Kaminski’s unpleasant political past.’ That ‘unpleasant political past’ didn’t stop the Conservatives inviting Mr Kaminski as a guest of honour at their recent party conference in Manchester. By their friends shall they be known. Nick Clegg’s take on all this is, ‘The Conservative Party should come clean. If this is the Tory party trying to airbrush the embarrassing past of their new friend in Europe from the record, they should have the courage to say so.’ That is the crux of the matter. Was this tampering with Wikipedia sanctioned by the party hierarchy, or was it some young researcher acting on his or her own initiative? We need to be told. Either way, this childish attempt to conceal the truth has spectacularly backfired.

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David Miliband Is Right to Berate William Hague

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th October, 2009

David Miliband 2British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has a right old go in The Observer today at the Tories — and especially his shadow opposite number, William Hague — for their alliance with Michal Kominski, of Poland’s innocuous-sounding Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Robert Zile of the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party, both of which have dodgy records on issues such as anti-semitism and homophobia, not to mention a general far-right past. Quite right too. Far from beng party political point scoring, this is a necessary move to show just what disgusting people the Conservatives have got into bed with in the European Parliament. They were even parading them at their party conference in Manchester the other day. It was depressing to see Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle coming out in Kaminski’s defence earlier this week. Zionists often accuse those who defend Palestinian rights as being ‘self-hating Jews’, but how self-hating can you get when you stand up and defend someone who refuses to apologise for the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne in Poland in 1941, as Kominski has refused to do?

Michal KominskiBut William Hague, far from admitting that the Conservatives have made a huge tactical error in their leaving the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP) to join up with these East European fruitcakes in the new  ‘European Conservatives and Reformists’ Group (ECR), has been stubbornly arguing that right is on the Tories’ side. Just look what happened to former Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott. He revolted at the prospect of supporting Michal Kominski as a Vice-President of the European Parliament, because of the Pole’s ‘anti-semitic, homophobic and racist past’ — and not only stood against him, but won. His punishment for this principled stand was to have the Tory whip wirthdrawn, then to be expelled from the Conservative Party, despite his long years of services to the cause, because — as William Hague explained it — he had made his allegations ‘against an individual who is a good friend of the Conservative Party and against a party (the PiS) allied to the Conservative Party in the European Parliament.’  By your friends you will be known, William. As a consolation prize, Kaminski was given the leadership of the ECR group in the Parliament. Pass the sick bag, Alice.

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The UK Conservatives’ European Hole Gets Deeper

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th August, 2009

Michal KominskiWilliam HagueAchilles had a heel, but Tory leader David Cameron has a hole: a continent-sized hole called Europe in which he and his mate William Hague keep digging deeper. In flagrant disregard for Britain’s best interests, the man who aspires  to be Britain’s next Prime Minister ordered his MEPs out of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, in which representatives of the parties of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sakozy sit, in order to form a new fringe grouping of Euro-sceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), alongside some pretty reactionary and non-inclusive Poles, Czechs and Latvians. As the biggest fish in this little pond, the Tories would normally have been awarded its presidency automatically. But because the dissident Conservative MEP Edward McMillan-Scott stood against his new Polish ‘colleague’ Michal Kominski to become a Vice-President of the Parliament and beat him, Kominski had to be made leader of the ECR as a consolation. McMillan-Scott subsequently had the Tory whip withdrawn. But that was not the end of David Cameron’s Euro-woes.  Kaminski then revealed in a Polish media interview that far from opposing the Lisbon Treaty — a key plank in the British Conseratives’ European policy — he thinks it will be very good for Poland. This certainly leaves Dave and William with egg on their faces. But Hague says that if the Lisbon Treaty has come into force by the time a Conservative government takes over in the UK, that won’t be the end of the story, whatever that might mean. Hague the Vague,  once more filling us with confidence that he will make the perfect Foreign Secretary to defend Britain’s interests on the European and world stages. But never mind, William. Just keep digging.

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