One of the striking characteristics of Britain’s current general election has been how very domestic the agenda has been: the NHS, job creation, the cost of living and so forth. Perhaps it is because I live in London, one of the world’s truly global cities, and write and broadcast about international affairs that I find so much of what the politicians are saying or putting in their leaflets dreadfully parochial. Of course local issues matter, but they need to be discussed in the wider context of what is happening globally, not just in economics but regarding the environment, migration, demographic trends and so forth. Moreover, despite UKIP’s higher profile than ever before in a British General election there has been remarkably little discussion about Britain’s role in the SU and the EU’s role in the world either, other than some very basic UKIP’s “we want to leave” and Labour and the Liberal Democrats saying “we should stay” (what the Tories say on the issue depends on which Conservative candidate you speak to). So it was a very welcome initiative on the part of the London branch of the European Movement, London4Europe, the other evening to put on a hustings for candidates from the five main parties at Europe House in Westminster. Interestingly, Mike Gapes for Labour and Dominic Grieve for the Conservatives were both more enthusiastically pro-EU and better informed than their national parties appear on the matter. Anuja Prashar for the Liberal Democrats (incidentally the only woman and only BAME candidate on the panel) not only stood up for the LibDems’ championing of our EU membership but was the only person really to contextualise the debate in 21st century global trends, not least the rise of the BRICS. Hugh Small spoke very competently from the Greens, whereas poor Robert Stephenson for UKIP was very much a fish out of water in this essentially pro-EU environment.
Posts Tagged ‘EU’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th April, 2015
Thanks to UKIP there has been a lot of discussion in Britain over the past year about a possible Brexit from the European Union. But there has been little realistic scenario-building about what would happen if the UK did leave (presumably after an IN/OUT referendum in which a majority vote OUT). However, the Italian film director Annalisa Piras has made a film imagining the fallout if a Brexit caused the EU to break up and be dissolved. The film was shown on BBC Four on 1 March (followed by a Newsnight discussion), but last night, at my lovely local Genesis Cinema in Stepney, and in conjunction with Cinema Italia UK and the NGO New Europeans, the full director’s cut was shown, followed by a debate including Ms Piras, the film’s executive producer, Bill Emmott (a former editor of the Economist) and others. The film itself mixes a fictional narrative centring on a British academic (played by Angus Deayton) explaining to a young girl sitting beside him on a plane going through a thunderstorm what the (now defunct) EU was all about. But most of the film is made up of news-reel material and interviews with politicians, journalists and others from a wide range of EU member states from France to Croatia. What happened in the Balkans in the 1990s reminds us that the possibility of War in Europe did not end completely in 1945, even if it is now unthinkable between EU member states. Indeed, footage from Kiev in Ukraine in the film underlined the point about the current dangers in the European neighbourhood; to confront them, Europe needs to be strong and united. Similarly, though the financial crisis nearly brought about the destruction of the euro and set back many member states’ economies only in solidarity can the 28 meet the challenges of global economic forces. Because there are so many interviews in the film the effect is kaleidoscopic, but my favourite without a doubt is one with a German lady of a certain age who proudly displays the iron crosses awarded to her ancestors over a century of conflicts, but who celebrates the fact that her children and grandchildren will never add to that collection by having to fight in a European war. The film’s ending is apocalyptic, as the plane is turned away from various airports and crashes (though the little girl parachutes out), which will doubtless reinforce criticism from Euro-sceptics that the movie is didactic and over the top. Despite that, it is in fact thought-provoking and deserves to be seen by a wider audience, not least students and other youth. They “get” the European project much more than their elders tend to do, and it is their future which is at stake.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angus Deayton, Annalisa Piras, Bill Emmott, Brexit, Cinema Italia UK, EU, Genesis Cinema, Kiev, New Europeans, The Great European Disaster Movie, UKIP, Ukraine | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th March, 2015
It is frustrating that so much of the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union is about the question “should we be in, or should we be out?” The Prime Minister, David Cameron, must shoulder some of the blame for this, for constantly trying to dance to UKIP’s tune, instead of standing up firmly on the side of most of British business (a natural constituency for him, one would have thought) to stress how important EU membership is for the UK’s economy and how risky leaving to “go it alone” would be. I wish Mr Cameron, and indeed other Tory government Ministers, could have been present yesterday at Thomson Reuters in Canary Wharf to listen to the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, give a masterly exposition of how the EU can steer itself through the next four or five years, by doing less better. The event was organised by the social democratic think tank Policy Network, focussing especially on EU reform as well as UK membership, but Mr Timmermans also highlighted the need for a more concerted European response to challenges such as Russia’s adventurism, Mediterranean migration and ISIS and related matters. I asked him if that meant that a recalaibration of the EU’s priorities might therefore be towards a stronger Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), at the expense of internal market regulation, but he responded by quoting Harold Macmillan’s classic remark about “events, dear boy” — in other words, the EU must be able to respond pro-actively as necessary. Meanwhile, Britain marginalises itself from EU action to the detriment of both London and Brussels; I have already blogged about my dismay that Mr Cameron stood aloof from the Merkel-Hollande mission re Ukraine. On that specific issue, Mr Timmermans said that even if the Minsk Agreement has not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion, Minsk must be the basis for taking things forward.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, Britain, David Cameron, EU, European Union, France, Francois Hollande, Germany, Kiew, Moscow, NATO, Riyadh, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UK, UKIP, Ukraine | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th January, 2015
Lord Oakeshott has often made himself unpopular with the Liberal Democrat leadership, not least for the way that he has criticised Nick Clegg’s handling of the Coalition with the Conservatives. While I think Matthew’s views are sometimes put across with an unhelpful stridency, I nonetheless feel he is sometimes right — as he is in his observation reflected in a piece he has written for LibDemVoice that one of the most crucial challenges of May’s general election will be how we engineer an outcome that will not lead to a Brexit from the European Union. He is fortunate to have the wealth to be able to back his analyses with cash, investing £20,000 each in a range of key seats (held and marginal, both Tory- and Labour-facing) where it is crucial that we retain sitting MPs — such as Jenny Willott and Martin Horwood — or make a good fist of electing a new one. I’m sad that sometimes what can appear to be personal animosity seems to flavour the differences of opinion between Matthew and Nick Clegg, but I hope the party is mature enough to recognise the very great assistance Matthew is offering for this election. Moreover, I agree with him that we need to ensure that a pro-EU government is in place after May. That is why, even though I think it was right to go into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 and I accept that many good things have been achieved (along with some unpleasant Tory-imposed horrors), I hope that any new Coalition in which we may be involved after May will be with Labour, who have unequivocally stated their belief that Britain must be at the heart of the European Union, in stark contrast to the Conservative position of standing with one hand firmly on the exit door, as right-wing backbenchers and UKIP supporters whisper anti-Brussels poison into their ear.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th December, 2014
Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the country has tended to look westwards to Europe. That was certainly the intention of Kemal Ataturk, who believed that Ottoman traditions and Islamic religiosity were impediments to progress. So it was no surprising that Turkey applied to join the European Union; in principle there should not have been any problem, when one considers how far into South Eastern Abd Eastern Europe the Ottomans stretched. Besides, Turkey was an early and valued member of NATO. But the passage to EU membership has not been as smooth. Some current EU member states were worried about Turkey’s relative poverty and large population. The former has been changing fast; the latter continues to increase. But then it became clear that some EU states were reluctant in principle, Germany largely for reasons of labour migration, Austria, more controversially, because Vienna sees the EU as an essentially Christian club. But Turkey continued to adjust its nature to meet EU demands, not just on economic and trade matters but also relating to multi-party democracy, abolition of the death penalty, respect for human rights, etc. So far, so good. But over the past decade, Turks have understandably got fed up of being on the EU’s waiting room and wonder whether it’s all worthwhile. Technically, the government in Ankara still thinks so. But at the same time, under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly paternalistic rule, Turkey has started to drift away from a European destiny, apparently feeling more comfortable in a Middle Eastern context. Worryingly, the government has been cracking down on expressions of political dissent and press freedom — both essential elements of the European matrix. As a regular visitor to Turkey, I am aware how the atmosphere is changing, and not necessarily for the better. President Erdoğan is increasingly establishing himself as the moral arbiter of the country, and when I was in Istanbul earlier this week I met several people who are nervous about expressing their views. I cannot escape the impression that Turkey is drifting away not just from the EU, but also from European, liberal and secular values. I find that very sad, but only Turks can realistically do anything about it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st September, 2014
My LibDem colleague and friend Giles Goodall’s take on the top EU appointments I blogged about at the weekend:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th August, 2014
I only met Herman Van Rompuy once, finding him courteous and professorial, which is maybe not surprising given his low-key personality and taste for composing haiku, but I always felt it unfair the way the British Press ridiculed the former Belgian Prime Minister once he became President of the European Council; even Jeremy Paxman on BBC2’s Newsnight couldn’t resist the red-tops sobriquet for him, “Rumpy Pumpy”. Anyway, his now nominated successor, Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, is an entirely different creature and should give added weight to the EU Council role. Even David Cameron approves of Mr Tusk (though I shan’t hold that against him). Moreover, it is a good move to have a Pole in this position, as Poland is something of a modern EU success story, as well as being firm on the EU and NATO’s need to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s outrageous Russian expansionism. The other big change to emerge from Brussels today is the replacement for Cathy Ashton, the (British) High Representative for Foreign Affairs (in effect, a putative EU Foreign Minister). Baroness Ashton also came in for some stick in the British media, not least because she was an unelected politician, having previously been Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords, as well as not having much of a foreign policy background. In fact, she performed better than I was expecting — for example, succeeding in visiting the ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in prison — but again I believe her successor will shine more brightly. This is Federica Mogherini, currently Italy’s Foreign Minister. It’s true she has only been in the job for six months, but at least she has political legitimacy. And it must help in her preparation for her new post that Italy currently holds the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Union. So these two new appointments are, I believe, largely to be welcomed, and may, possibly, stem some of the criticism targeted daily at the EU by the British media, which was far from happy at the accession of Jean-Claude Juncker to the presidency of the European Commission, where he might indeed find it difficult to make as much of an impression as the outgoing José Manuel Barroso. .
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th June, 2014
Neither hard nor soft power by NATO and the EU can be as effective as when carried out in tandem, the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell declared in his Tim Garden Memorial Lecture at Chatham House last night. He stressed that there are no plans to create a European army, despite claims to the contrary, but said there is much to be gained from European military cooperation, not least in cost effectiveness. Most of Ming Campbell’s text was about the political benefits of British membership of the EU (as one might expect from one of the grandees of the Party of IN), and included a mea culpa that he and his parliamentary colleagues had not done enough over the past four decades at promoting those benefit to the British public. If people had listened to the Liberal Party in the 1950s and enabled Britain to join what evolved into the EU at the beginning, we would have had more chance to shape it, Ming said. He was scathing about the Conservative obsession with an EU Referendum, declaring this is not the time to be scaring away foreign investment from those for whom Britain’s place in the EU is considered value added. However, Ming will have disappointed the federalists in the audience (of whom there were undoubtedly some, as the event was organised by Liberal International British Group) by stating flatly that Jean-Claude Juncker (the European People’s Party candidate for President of the European Commission) would be completely the wrong choice at the moment, as he is a man from another time, when ever closer political union was a driving force within the EU. Stephen Sacker, the presenter of BBC World’s Hard Talk, who was moderating the event, asked some probing questions of the speaker, but I for one was disappointed that Ming did not go into greater detail about what sort of reforms the Liberal Democrats would like to see happening in the EU. I am happy to be in the Party of IN, but one of the reasons we did so poorly in the recent European elections was because we did not explain that we are the Party of IN because we are “in it to reform it” — and how.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th May, 2014
Last night, at Friends House in Euston, the North East London branch of the World Development Movement (WDM) organised a Euro-election hustings focussing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which the Green Party and several NGOs involved in overseas development issues have been campaigning against. The timing was well-chosen, not just because of the elections on Thursday but also because yesterday the fifth round in bilateral negotiations began in Arlington, West Virginia. Proponents of TTIP claim that it will create millions of jobs, as well as adding significantly to the GDP of both the US and the EU, as well as third countries, though opponents see it as a means by which US corporations will be able to get easier access to wield their power in Europe. There are two issues relating to TTIP which do concern me, namely the provision that would allow companies to sue governments (at an independent tribunal) if they believed they had suffered financially by being excluded from a lucrative contract. And secondly, I believe the NHS should be ringfenced, so that it is not opened up to competitive tendering from US companies. There is currently a consultation going on in which the European Commission in Brussels is soliciting comments from the public, and it is unlikely that any TTIP agreement could be finalised before the end of 2015. I would only support it if the two points I raised above are met, and if the guarantees that the current EU Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, has made that Europe would not be forced to lower food safety standards, for example allowing in chlorine-washed US chicken or GM foods. So a lot of hard negotiation needs to happn. I hope the outcome is successful, as I believe it could lead to greater prosperity and employment, but that must not be at any price.