Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Europe Day’

On the Theme of Islands

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017

Europe Day concert 2017The annual Europe Day concert in St. John’s Smith Square is always an emotional occasion for me. Although I abandoned any ambition for a musical career in my early teens, music still has the ability to move me more than any other art form. So strong is its influence that I cannot write with music on in the background, as it distracts my mind from the task at hand. But it’s not just the music that stirs my emotions on Europe Day; my belief in the European project is unshaken, while arguing that the EU should certainly reform — as many political leaders on the continent, such as the European Commission’s Foreign Affairs supremo, Federica Mogherini, now concede. And yes, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy does sometimes bring tears to my eyes. How brave Emmanuel Macron was to use that European anthem for his victory celebration in the Louvre on Sunday, rather than the Marseillaise! Would even Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron dare to do that in the UK? I have attended several Europe Day concerts and for me tonight’s programme beat all previous offerings. The Maltese presidency chose a subject thread for the evening: Music on the Theme of Islands — underlining not only Malta’s maritime history but also the situation of the British Isles, too. There was a brilliant selection of both orchestral and choral music, from Sibelius’s The Tempest to Martinú’s Ariane. Of course, there was an added edge to this evening’s concert as everyone was aware that it might be the penultimate occasion of its kind, assuming Britain leaves the EU by the end of March 2019. In common with many people in the church this evening, I find that a matter of immense sadness. But while I would prefer to stop Brexit in its tracks it is absolutely vital that a Hard Brexit is avoided and that the UK maintains as close a connection with the EU27 as possible.

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Europe in Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th May, 2016

Europe DayThis evening the annual Europe Day concert in St John’s Smith Square — sponsored by the Netherlands EU presidency and the London office of the European Commission — featured music by Lully, Hellendaal, Handel, Vivaldi and van Wassenaer, performed by the European Union Baroque Orchestra and three singers from the European Opera Centre — two organisations that promote young musicians and singers from across the continent. It has always struck me as significant that for centuries, music united Europeans, long before the political concept of the European Union was born. Even many Brexiters acknowledge the richness of Europe’s shared cultural heritage; indeed, the Chairman of the Leave campaign, Lord Lawson, lives mainly in France and Nigel Farage has a German wife. But the mood in the church tonight was one of EU solidarity, including the now traditional rendition at the end of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy,  the unofficial EU “anthem”. I have always felt that to be a particularly stirring piece of music, redolent of the optimism that was also present among the EU’s founding fathers. Europe Day itself, always 9 May, is the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration of 1950, in which the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, proposed the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, arguing that this would make it impossible for its members — notably France and Germany — to go to war again. One can argue until the cows come home whether it was NATO or what is now called the European Union was more responsible for underpinning peace in Europe. If we are honest, it was a bit of both, but even more there was a feeling after the horrors of World War II: Never Again. But this evening there was a different edge to the Europe Day Concert. As the Head of the Commission’s London Office, Jacqueline Minor, expressed it (I paraphrase): “Well, we hope to see you here again next year!” That can only be a hope, because if the UK electorate votes to leave the EU on 23 June that will be an end to Britain’s participation in the still evolving European Project. We will have turned our back on our neighbours and walked away. There is nothing noble or wise in that course, I believe.

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Europe Day in Oslo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th May, 2015

imageimageNorway is not a member of the European Union, though as a member of the EEA, they have to obey European single market laws without having any imput into their formulation. In Oslo, they call that “fax diplomacy” — these days receiving instructions from Brussels by email, if they want (as they do) to function within the European single market of 500 million consumers. Incidentally, when they observe British conservatives flirting with the possibility of a Brexit, Norwegian politicians urge: Don’t do it! Anyway, it was interesting to be in Oslo today for Europe Day (9 May), not attending a concert in St John’s, Smith Square (London) for once, but at the City Hall in Oslo, following the Council meeting of the ALDE Party (European Liberal Democrats), which includes members from beyond the EU’s current boundaries. The (female, Conservative) Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, opened the event, demonstrating a singularly Nordic inclusiveness that is sadly still lacking in the UK. I attended a lunchtime fringe which was particularly interesting, showing how it is possible to increase wheat output in the EU, while at the same time boosting bio-diversity (including bird and bee life). This evening, we were the guests for Europe Day celebrations at Oslo City Hall, an extraordinary structure whose interior is redolent of the Socialist realist/fascist aesthetic of the 1930s. But the welcome from the Venstre deputy Mayor — young, trendy, and wearing orange Nike sneakers — could hardly have been more post-modern. As he said, in his welcome remarks, Oslo as a city would happily vote to be a member of the EU, but as for Norway, well, not yet…

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Europe Day Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th May, 2014

European Youth OrchestraEurope DayAs Greece currently holds the six-monthly rotating European Council presidency there was a Greek theme to tonight’s Europe Day concert in St John’s, Smith Square. The programme included two lively folkloric dances by the 20th century Greek composer, Nikos Skalkottas (1904-1949), but most of the other works drew their inspiration from classical Greek legends and literature. Thus we heard extracts from Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Gluck’s Alceste and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, among others. The Richard Strauss Interlude added to to Mozart’s Idomeneo in 1931 was a novelty for me; apparently in Strauss’s time the original opera was considered a bit serious and dated. The combination was certainly intriguing. As ever, the European Youth Orchestra, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, was of a phenomenally high standard and four young singers — Monica Bantos, Elsa Galasio, Sophie Rennert (who I’d heard previously performing at Europe House) and Camille Tresmontant — enchanted, not least in a comparatively frivolous Offenbach Finale. Beethoven’s ODE to Joy (the European anthem) rounded off the evening, with the entire audience rising to their feet. It was enough to give any UKIP supporters in the church an apoplexy, but I guess there were none. And I am sure I was not alone in rejoicing in the display of the flags of all the EU member states flying in Parliament Square as I made my way home.

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Celebrating Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th May, 2013

Europe HouseFernand Bertemes seascapeWhile far too many Tory MPs were obsessing in the Houses of Parliament corridors and bars about the ins-and-outs of an in-and-out referendum on the EU just over the road in Westminster Abbey friends and supporters of the Wyndham Place-Charlemagne Trust were celebrating the EU’s achievements at a Europe Day service. The volume of propaganda against “Brussels” that people are subjected to in Britain often masks the Union’s real achievements. Quite apart from the fact that the EU (along with NATO) has guaranteed peace in most of Europe for over half a century (for which it was justifiably awarded the Nobel Peace Prize) it has established a single market that is good for business and for consumer protection. Most people in the UK have, alas, absolutely no idea what the EU actually does, though occasionally snippets of positive news do get into the Press. Last night’s Evening Standard, for example, mentioned in passing that the raid on a predominantly Russian gang that had been trafficking women for prostitution and running brothels in Kensington and Chelsea was the first police operation to of its kind to get assistance (including funding) from the European Commission. Yet there are Tories (not to mention UKIPers!) who want to do away with European justice and home affairs cooperation! After the Abbey service last night many guests repaired to Europe House, headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representations in London for an exhibition of paintings by Luxembourg artist Fernand Bertemes — seascapes that were almost symbolic of the freedom of movement enjoyed by someone from a tiny and locked nation. Every fortnight during most of the year there is a fresh exhibition at Europe House, as well as meetings and events of all kinds. If the average Eurosceptic went to only a few of them they might have the blinkers removed from their eyes!

Links: http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/information/exhibitions/ and http://www.fernbertemes.lu

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Europe Day in London

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 9th May, 2013

European Union Youth OrchestraIt was good to see Parliament Square in London ablaze with the flags of the 27 EU member states today; I hope some of more Eurosceptic MPs in the House of Commons opposite took note of where this country rightly belongs. Europe House (headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament offices in London, in the old Tory HQ in Smith Square, hosted a drinks reception before the traditional Europe Day concert at St John’s. The theme of the latter was appropriately Irish, given that Ireland currently holds the six month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers and indeed the Irish Ambassador, Bobby McDonagh — who is sadly coming to the end of his London posting — gave a fine and pertinent, succinct address at the beginning, reminding us all of how peaceful cooperation has transformed Europe, despite current economic woes. The concert that followed, performed by the European Union Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Laurent Pillot, was the best such event I can ever remember, with an eclectic mix of classical and more modern works by Percy Grainger, Charles Villiers Stanford, William Wallace and Aloys Fleischmann, as well as the more predictable Richard Wagner and of course ending with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. The singing was particularly fine, performed by soloists from the European Opera Centre: Elsa Benoit, Daire Halpin, Martin Piskorski and Wolfgang Resch. It’s true the musicians were playing and singing to the converted but nonetheless it is on occasions like this that I am once again reminded of the wealth and depth of European culture and how we, as European citizens, in our wonderful diversity, can be united in celebration of values and heritage that make Europe a living entity that has so much to offer the world.

Link: http://www.euyo.org.uk

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The Castle of Love on Europe Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th May, 2011

Franz Liszt wrote only one opera, Don Sanche or the Castle of Love, while aged 13. When the work had its premiere in Paris in 1825, there was a generous reception — particularly when the pint-sized composer was virtually carried on stage. But the libretto is preposterous even by 19th century opera standards and the music not that innovatory so the work was rarely performed afterwards before disappearing from view for a long period. As this is the bicentenary of Liszt’s birth, however, and Hungary currently presides over the EU, he was a fitting choice for tonight’s Europe Day concert at St John’s Smith Square. The European Opera Centre backed by the European Youth Orchestra under the baton of Laurent Pillot gave us some of the highlights of this often rather Mozartian curiosity. The concert was closed with the European Anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, which brought the audeince to its feet and many a tear to the eye. Meanwhile, David Cameron may have small-mindedly refused to fly the European 12-star blue flag outside 10 Downing Street today, but Westminster Council, in contrast, used the flagpoles left over from the Royal Wedding to fly not only the European flag but those of all 27 member states.

Link: http://www.euyo.org.uk

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Europe Day 2010

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 9th May, 2010

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, which really laid the groundwork for what is now the European Union, by initiating the concept of shared sovereignty. Hence 9 May being celebrated as Europe Day (though it is sometimes referred to by Eurocrats in Brussels in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner as St Schuman’s Day). It is the time when those people who are firm believers in the European project can reaffirm their support and mark the EU’s achievements. Not surprisingly, given the high level of Euro-scepticism in Britain, Europe Day makes less of a splash here than in many of our fellow member states. But on Friday evening (Sunday not really being feasible), there was a Europe Day Flamenco music concert by Paco Pena and his ensemble in St John’s Smith Square, co-sponsored by the London offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament and the Embassy of Spain (which currently holds the rotating EU presidency). A native of Cordoba, Paco Pena is a composer and dramatist, as well as a guitarist and has been responsible for creating a fusion of traditional and modern styles in flamenco, which is itself a genre drawing on several traditions, notably gypsy and Arab. It was highly appropriate that the concert was held in Smith Square, as later this year number 32 Smith Square will become London’s new Europe House, housing both the Commission and Parliament offices, as well as the 12 Star Gallery for European cultural events. If the address sounds familiar that’s because it used to be the Conservative Party headquarters — an irony that is enough to make some departed Tory Eurosceptics turn in their graves.

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Why Sensible Conservatives should vote LibDem on 4 June

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th May, 2009

Christopher BeazleyToday, 9 May, is Europe Day, but one person who will certainly not be celebrating is David Cameron, who has received a very public slap in the face from one of his outgoing MEPs, Christopher Beazley. Mr Beazley got a standing ovation in the European Parliament this week by declaring that the Conservative leader ‘thinks that by becoming anti-European in the House of Commons this will secure him the premiership of my country. I, as a British Conservative, reserve the right to object. If my party leadser seeks to rip up thirty years of work by Tory pro-Europeans, he is wrong.’ Another outgoing Tory MEP, Caroline Jackson, had earlier been equally scathing, denouncing Mr Cameron’s plan to pull Tory MEPs out of the EPP (Christian Democrat-dominated group) in the European Parliament as a ‘stupid, stupid policy’.

It is clear from the all-part hustings that I have already done in this election campaign that the Cameroon Conservatives are going to run on a Brussels-bashing ticket, vying with UKIP and the five (sic) other anti-EU parties on the ballot paper in London. No wonder a growing number of sensible Conservatives have been telling me that they have only one choice on 4 June: to vote Liberal Democrat.

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Europe Day in Leyton

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th May, 2008

Across Britain, school children (and some grown-ups) have been taking part in a Euro-quiz, to mark Europe Day, which is an annual event held on 9 May. Britain has rarely taken this seriously (and indeed Mrs Thatcher even went so far as to tell people not to fly the European flag!), but that situation is improving. Other relevant events were also organised. I spent the morning at George Mitchell School in Leyton (London Borough of Waltham Forest), talking to 120 Year 8 pupils about the history and potential of the EU, the importance of learning languages and some of the opportunities available for young people now to study or work in other member states.

I was interested to see just how many questions there were about the euro and Britain’s relationship to it. As more and more EU member states adopt the euro, travellers — including young teenagers — are increasingly appreciating that Britain is out on a limb with its currency. There were strong reasons why the UK did not sign up for the euro when it was launched nearly a decade ago. But will we still be outside the Eurozone in ten years from now? 

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