Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EPP’

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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A New Deal for a New Europe?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th September, 2015

imageimageSpending a gloriously warm, sunny late summer afternoon indoors in a lecture theatre is maybe not everyone’s idea of fun, but those people who signed up for the New Europeans’ debate on A New Deal for a New Europe but didn’t come this afternoon really missed a treat. Three major political groups from the European Parliament — the Socialists (PES), the Liberals (ALDE) and the European People’s Party (EPP, from which David Cameron, alas, withdrew the Conservatives) — were represented by the current President of the EPP group in the parliament, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Sergei Stanishev, the President of the ALDE Party (and former group leader) Sir Graham Watson, and Dirk Hazelll, Chairman of the UK Chapter of the EPP. There was a remarkable degree of agreement between the three, perhaps partly because all believe fervently that Britain ought to stay in the EU, both for the sake of Britain and for the sake of the EU. Graham Watson feared that in the current mood in the UK the referendum vote (on some still unspecified date in 2016 or 2017) could go the wrong way. That is why the “remain” campaign needs to fight hard. Sergei Stanishev (who was en route to the Labour Party conference in Brighton) spoke of the need for a truly European response to the great challenges the Union currently faces, including the refugee and migrant “crisis”.

imageDespite being a former Chairman of London Conservatives, Dirk Hazell lambasted David Cameron for his failure of leadership and the folly of the ambivalent Tory attitude towards Europe. Graham interestingly stated he thought that Britain ought to be part of Schengen, which got some murmurs of support from the predominantly young audience, and he argued that maybe Britain should have joined the eurozone when it had the chance, under Tony Blair. The whole history of the subsequent 15 or so years might have been different. Of course, there is not much to be gained (except as an academic exercise) in considering might-have-beens, and in principle the meeting was about the way forward. The eurozone is emerging from its own crisis, though one could be forgiven for not knowing so from reading the British press, but there needs to radical reform of the EU as a whole to make it fit for purpose. The big question for the UK is whether David Cameron can frame positive rather than negative demands for reform, and bring other member states onside through negotiation, rather than scaring them away with impossible demands.

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The ALDE Leadership Deal

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd February, 2014

Olli RehnGuy VerhofstadtThe Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) held a special congress in Brussels at the weekend, to elect the Party’s candidate for President of the European Commission. At least, that is what the meeting was originally intended to do, with delegates from all over Europe (paying our own way, incidentally) gathering to choose between the Finnish Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, and the head of the ALDE group in the European Parliament and former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt. The two men are as different as chalk and cheese, the former dourly northern European, the latter almost Mediterranean in his flamboyant enthusiasm. It would have been fun to have a proper, competitive debate between the two and then a vote (which I suspect the overtly federalist Verhofstadt would have won), but recently the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and a German colleague put a deal together according to which Vehofstadt would indeed be the ALDE candidate for Commission President and Olli Rehn would be put up for some other plum EU job. Verhofstadt is extremely unlikely to actually become Commission President, unless neither the EPP (centre right) nor the Socialists manages to get their candidate chosen), though Rehn should get something. UK Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg had made no secret that he preferred Rehn, as the “safe” alternative. Anyway, for us poor delegates, deprived of a real election, all we could do was say “yay” or “nay” to the deal. Many Brits voted “nay” (or abstained), in my case as a protest at the way the deal had been put together. But Verhofstadt was duly endorsed by a very comfortable margin. He’ll certainly add colour to the European election campaign, though not necessarily the sort of colour Nick Clegg and Co will appreciate.

Link: http://www.aldeparty.eu

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A Common EU Asylum Policy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th June, 2012

Immigration and asylum are twin subjects that are guaranteed to get  Daily Mail columnists’  blood boiling; add the word Europe and the mix is toxic. Except that of course, in the real world, it isn’t. And indeed both the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are hard at work on the construction of a common EU Immigration and Asylum Policy. This clearly makes sense for countries signed up to Schengen, as people can move freely between them. But the outsiders, including the UK, would do well to be fully involved. This afternoon, as the rainclouds delivered a Jubilee encore, Europe House (London HQ for the European Parliament and European Commission) hosted a seminar on the topic, asking the question ‘Is the UK in or out?’ I’m not sure we got a definitive answer to that, but in the meantime it was fascinating to hear from the very impressive Maltese MEP, Simon Busuttil, who is a leading EPP (centre-right) representative on the European Parliament’s committee dealing with Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. He pointed out that last month, Maltese authorities rescued and brought to land 600 African migrants (mainly from Somalia) from small craft floundering in the sea. On a per capita basis, that is the equivalent of Britain taking in 90,000 refugees/migrants. Malta, Italy and Greece have really received the brunt of the influx of asylum seekers, legal and irregular migrants arriving from North Africa since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring. Obviously these initial host nations cannot be expected to shoulder all of the burden, even though an agreement signed in Dublin means that in principle asylum seekers must apply in the first EU country they arrive at, rather than cherry-picking among the rest. A European resettlement Plan is being discussed, but there is a degree of urgency. According to the EU’s timetable, there is meant to be a Common Immigration and Asylum Policy in place this year, though I suppose any delay could be solved by the old ruse of stopping the clocks at 23.59 on 31 December.

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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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Germany’s Despair at Cameron

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th December, 2011

When Angela Merkel met David Cameron 10 days ago, she told him, ‘I want to help you!’ She understood that he had problems with his Europhobic backbenchers and was offering to work with him quietly to help sort out some way that last week’s EU summit in Brussels could help find a structure in which to strengthen the euro (and the eurozone with it) while meeting some of Britain’s particular concerns. But instead of welcoming this offer, when the summit’s opening dinner went on well into the night, the British Prime Minister threw his toys out of the pram, actually jeopardising Britain’s best interests in the process. He had of course already marginalised his party from the European mainstream by pulling it out of the EPP — to which Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and many of the EU’s other big hitters belong — so he wasn’t even present at the crucial EPP Leaders’ pre-meeting in Marseilles, or even properly plugged in to what was happening on the Continent in recent weeks. The Germans were aghast at his behaviour, I am reliably informed from the highest source — and not especially delighted that this allowed Sarkozy to prance around crowing like a cockerel ruling the roost. Nonetheless, the Germans have decided to keep schtum, as they believe that openly attacking Cameron would only make matters worse. They will remain silent while praying that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats manage to row the Coalition Government at least a little way back from the disastrous place that Cameron has landed us in. German banks based in the City are horrified by the way things are going; far from helping the City of London, they say, the PM risks undermining it. And a final comment from my high-level source from Berlin (with which I can only concur): ‘Those politicians and newspapers in Britain who describe themselves as Eurosceptics are not sceptical at all. Scepticism implies a healthy determination not to accept something until one has examined it thoroughly. They are actually Europhobes, who blatantly ignore or distort the truth unless it happens to fit in with their own prejudices.’

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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.

Link: www.aej-uk.org

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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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The Tories Just Don’t Get It on Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th October, 2009

George OsborneThe Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, looking all serious in long trousers at the party’s conference in Manchester yesterday, solemnly trotted out the new Tory mantra: ‘We’re all in this together!’  The deliberately Churchillian echo was designed to conjure up wartime nostalgia, of getting everyone to put their shoulders to the wheel at a time when Britain stood alone. The glaring flaw in this analogy is that in the current economic, rather than military, crisis, Britain does not stand alone — and it would be fatal if it did. On the contrary, the country’s best chance of emerging from the downturn strongly is to work more closely with our 26 EU partners. But the Conservatives are effectively doing the opposite. They have insulted and enraged the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, by leaving the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP, and they still mutter about torpedoing the Lisbon Treaty. Even Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who ought to be a natural Cameron ally, is instead championing former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair as the potential first President of the European Council (God help us). No, the Tories just don’t get it on Europe. And their Little Britain mentality on the world stage will not save these islands of ours, but rather risk sinking them in an increasingly competitive and globalised environment.

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