Posts Tagged ‘EU’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th February, 2016
This is the time of the year when Liberal Democrat local parties organise sessions to discuss the agenda for the Party’s forthcoming Spring conference, but Hackney LibDems decided instead at their Poppadoms and Politics last night to focus more directly on the burning issue of refugees, and in particular those who have been fleeing the last five years of carnage in Syria. Shas outlined the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which I have also been following on a day-by-day basis, and highlighted the fact that a quarter of Lebanon’s population is now made up of Syrian refugees, most of them housed in local peoples’ homes or out-buildings, or in makeshift accommodation. There are another million Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan and more than two million in Turkey, and tens of thousands continue to attempt a perilous crossing to Europe. The photos of the lifeless body of 3-year-old Syrian Kurd Alan Kurdi certainly brought home that reality to the British public, but David Cameron has only promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees, over a period of five years, and all from camps in the Middle East. As Shas said, the situation will only get worse, as Assad’s forces and the Russians further their advances into rebel-held districts of Aleppo. Moreover, this is a problem that is going to be with us for years not months, as happened with the refugee flows after the Second World War. That makes all the more necessary a coordinated and compassionate, long-term strategy on the part of the European Union.
Inspired by her own trip to Dunkirk, Shas encouraged others to be part of relief efforts for people stuck there or in the Calais “Jungle”. But she was rightly insistent that only the right sort of aid should be delivered. Médecins sans Frontieres is working the the camps and absolutely does not want people self-miedicating on drugs brought over by well-meaning Brits. Similarly, most types of clothes and shoes are similarly not appropriate, nor tinned soup. What is needed, and could indeed be organised by local political parties or even at next month’s York LibDem conference, are items such as batteries, wind-up torches, sleeping bags, good quality tens and a limited range of foodstuffs and beverages, including tinned tuna, chickpeas, tomatoes, lentils, beans and fruit (preferably in ring-pull tins), cooking oil, spices, tea, sugar and salt.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alan Kurdi, Calais, David Cameron, Dunkirk, EU, Hackney Liberal Democrats, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberal Democrats, refugees, Shas Sheehan, Syria, Turkey | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 10th February, 2016
Though the Liberal Democrats had a well-attended in-house launch for the LibDem European Referendum campaign at the party conference in Bournemouth last September, this afternoon a more public-facing event starring party leader Tim Farron, London mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and Catherine Bearder MEP took place in central London at Bounce — a venue whose name the party can only hope has some kinetic effect. Against a backdrop of keen young people brandishing IN diamonds of various hues, Tim declared that the Liberal Democrats have always believed in EU reform, not the status quo. But that does not mean “IN, but”, he clarified. The party will be enthusiastically campaigning for reform with Britain firmly engaged in the EU, unlike half-hearted Labour and the divided Conservatives. Caroline Pidgeon stressed that whereas most of the issues likely to be raised on the doorstep between now and May 5 are likely to be more local issues, such as housing and transport, she is a convinced European who understands the value of London as Europe’s premier city. Catherine Bearder at one moment draped herself in a chiffon Union Flag scarf to make the point that a true patriot realises that it is in Britain’s best interests to be at the heart of Europe. The party’s INtogether campaign will now roll out across the country — and, one hopes, across social media. You can follow it, and indeed join in, via @LDINtogether.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Caroline Pidgeon, Catherine Bearder, EU, EU Referendum, INtogether, Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd January, 2016
On 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.
The 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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, David Cameron, Donald Tusk, ECR, EPP, EU, Mark Rutte, The Netherlands, VVD | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd January, 2016
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long had one of the highest levels of capital punishment implementation in the world, but this year it has really excelled itself by welcoming in the New Year by executing 47 individuals today in various parts of the country. The official reason is that these people were convicted of terrorism; having not been present at the trials I cannot comment on the legitimacy of the verdicts, however there are several important points to make about the sentences. The first, of course, is about the death penalty itself. In the European Union, it is not allowed. Indeed, any country aspiring to join the EU must remove capital punishment from their statute books; Turkey, for example, has done this. But the European objection to the death penalty is global in its concern, not regional, which is why governments such as the UK’s should be taking a public stand. They do it against ISIS/Daesh, correctly, and they should do it against that key Western “ally”, Saudi Arabia. David Cameron please note.
Second, there is the question of the impact of today’s executions, both inside Saudi Arabia and in the wider Middle East. Notably, one of those executed was a prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. This will not only inflame passions among Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority, concentrated in the Eastern Province, but has already brought howls of outrage from the most significant Shia-majority country in the region, Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are already fierce rivals in the Middle East (and are supporting opposite sides in the conflict in Yemen) and this latest development will only make things worse. Moreover, it is likely to exacerbate tensions between Sunni and Shia communities across the Gulf and the Middle East. If the government in Riyadh wished to cool passions in the restless Eastern Province they have alas succeeded in doing the opposite.
Finally, there is the question: should this be our business, or something just for Saudis themselves to comment on? I believe the answer should be an unequivocal “yes, it is our business”. Apart from the objection in principle to the death penalty, discussed above, there is the fact that there are particularly strong ties between the Desert Kingdom and Great Britain, both between the governments and between the two royal families. This relationship is something that should be reviewed. Behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure has had no effect. The number of executions (many of them public beheadings) went up last year and after today’s executions (some by beheading, others byfiring squads) 2016 looks like being a record year. It is time for Britain and other Western countries to make it clear that we believe that human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, including the extraordinary number of executions, are not acceptable in the 21st century. The Saudi monarchy seems intent on bringing about its own downfall, and if/when that happens, we should not be seen to have failed to take the side of humanity and justice.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Da'esh, David Cameron, death penalty, EU, human rights, Iran, ISIS, Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th December, 2015
British Prime Minister David Cameron sat down to a dinner of venison with other EU heads of government in Brussels last night, though for him the main item on the menu was his list of four demands for reform of the European Union. He had originally hoped to have had a satisfactory response from them by the time of this European Council gathering but it was clear some time ago that that was not going to happen. Several of his counterparts, as well as senior figures in the European Commission, had made clear that his proposal that EU migrants should have to wait four years before qualifying for benefits just was not realistic. So already earlier this week the Prime Minister was preparing his MPs and the British public for a retreat on that front. However, not all was gloomy for him at dinner, as the Italian PM, Matteo Renzi, came out as a surprise ally on some issues. Certainly, the other EU member states are keen to keep Britain on board, even if successive British governments have often been a pain in the arse.
The UK Parliament went into Christmas recess last night, so Mr Cameron will not have to face his more Eurosceptic Rottweilers until the New Year. His EU partners meanwhile have said that they hope to be able to respond formally to his four demands by February. That is then likely to lead to yet more negotiation before Mr Cameron has a deal he feels he can put before the British electorate — which means that the promised EU referendum in Britain is unlikely before Autumn 2016 at the earliest.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Cameron, EU, EU Referendum, Matteo Renzi | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th December, 2015
The European Union is an ever-evolving organism and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future as it adapts to a changing world. Some challenges, such as increasing competition from emerging economies, can be planned for; others, such as the current refugee and migrant crisis, are less predictable and require some pretty nifty footwork by member states, both individually and collectively. Meanwhile, the geographical boundaries of the EU remain potentially fluid following two significant recent developments: the re-opening of talks with Turkey that have given new life to the possibility of Turkey’s accession to EU membership, on the one hand, and the troubled progress of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign for EU reform in the run-up to an IN/OUT referendum that could see Britain leave the Union, on the other. Both these developments have huge implications for the future of the EU.
Ever since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk effectively forged the Republic of Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire the country has largely looked westwards rather than eastwards for its political and economic models, including the adoption of pluralist democracy and the free market economy, despite intermittent periods of military government and aspects of democratic deficit. Ankara’s aspiration to join the EU was acknowledged decades ago but the process stalled largely because of resistance from countries including Germany, France and Austria. But in Germany’s case, notably, that resistance has weakened and there seems to be a growing sense that it is better to have a dynamic Turkey inside the EU working with other member states rather than having a resentful Turkey outside, making its mark as a Middle Eastern rather than a European power. Even though negotiations with Turkey are unlikely to come to a conclusion any time soon, nonetheless there is now the possibility that the EU will take in a country that is not only more populous than any current member state, including Germany, but also overwhelmingly Muslim. Both these facts would undoubtedly change the nature of the EU.
But so too would a British withdrawal. Although the UK stayed aloof from the nascent European Economic Community, largely out of fears that this would damage relations with the Commonwealth, it has been a member since 1973 and several continental leaders have stated that an EU without Britain is unthinkable. Alas, the unthinkable is now a real possibility. Succumbing to pressure from his own rebellious backbenchers, Prime Minister David Cameron made what now seems a rash promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain within the EU or leave, to be held before the end of 2017. Although one would not necessarily know it from statements Mr Cameron makes, he is generally understood to be in favour of staying in the EU. But he sent a letter to other EU heads of government outlining four demands for reform, one of which was self-evidently unacbievable, as presumably his civil servants would have told him. Inevitably he is now having to retreat on that fourth demand, that EU migrants in the UK should have to wait four years before qualifying for benefits. The problem is that whereas a few months ago opinion polls suggested that voters would choose to stay in the EU, recent surveys indicate the opposite, albeit by a small margin. The government will be unable to give a firm steer in the campaign as several Cabinet Ministers have indicated that they will campaign to leave and Mr Cameron has promised them the freedom to do so. So it is going to be up to all the opposition parties to put the other case, along with business leaders and civil society organisations. There is a powerful message to put across, that Britain should lead not leave when it comes to the EU. But there is no guarantee that it will win over a majority of the British public, which would mean the UK will be isolated from the future evolution of the EU for better or for worse (the latter, in my view).
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Cameron, EU, EU Referendum, Germany, Turkey | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015
Several recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, Anuja Prashar, Brexit, Britain, British Influence, Canada, Elliot Chapman-Jones, EU, Germany, Hungary, Justin Trudeau, London4Europe, migrants, Nick Clegg, Nick Hopkinson, Nigel Farage, refugees, UKIP, YEM | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th September, 2015
Spending 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”.
Despite 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.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE, David Cameron, Dirk Hazell, EPP, EU, eurozone, Graham Watson, New Europeans, PES, Sergei Stanishev, Tony Blair | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015
Many tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Cameron, EU, Germany, Liberal Democrats, London, migrants, refugees, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tim Farron, United Nations, World Food Programme | Leave a Comment »