Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Europe House’

AEJ-UK at 50

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th September, 2018

AEJ Brexit seminarWith Brexit looming on the horizon, there is not much for pro-Europeans to celebrate. However, yesterday afternoon the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ)  held a seminar at Europe House in Westminster to mark 50 years of its existence. The theme was UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit, which most speakers were agreed would need to remain close — both on economics and security matters — even if Brexit does go ahead on 29 March 2019. However, several contributors, such as the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Martin Donnelly and the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, minced no words about Brexit being a mistake and held out hope that somehow it could be averted. In contrast, the former Labour MP and arch-Brexiteer Gisela Stuart (soon to take up the position of Chair of the FCO’s policy forum, Wilton Park) maintained that the voters had made the right choice in the 2016 EU Referendum and that the result had to be respected.

Given the audience — which included over a dozen journalists from other AEJ sections, from Ireland to Cyprus and Bulgaria — there was quite a lot of discussion about the role of the media in Brexit. Quentin Peel, former Financial Times correspondent in Brussels, admitted hat he had been lucky in working for an employer who wanted to know the details of complex European matters which were also of interest to the paper’s readers, whereas Peter Foster, Europe Editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, outlined the difficulty of covering the European story in ways accessible to the general public. The name of the Telegraph’s “star” columnist, Boris Johnson, was unsurprisingly bandied about, as people recalled his fabrication of anti-EU stories early in his career and now his championing of his own Brexit scenario. I was based in Brussels myself for eight years, initially with Reuters news agency, and it was there that I first joined the AEJ (French-speaking Belgian section). The everyday minutiae of news from the European Commission were challenging to convey in an interesting fashion, but the longer I stayed in Brussels and began to understand the purpose of the European project, the more I believed in its aims — which is why the prospect of Brexit does sometimes keep me awake at night and why I will continue to fight for Remain, probably via a People’s Vote or new referendum on whatever terms Theresa May’s government agrees with the other 27 EU member states, always assuming agreement is possible.

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Facing Austria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd July, 2018

Logo EU-Ratsvorsitz 2018At the weekend, Austria assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union. That is quite a challenge at the best of times, but at present it is something of a poisoned chalice. The second half of 2018 is make-or-break time for the Brexit “negotiations”; even if diehard Remainers like myself now hope for “break”, so that the whole thing goes away, it is going to be a tetchy period. Not that Brexit is top of the agenda anywhere except in London (and possibly Dublin). As the Chargé d’Affaires of Austria to the Court of St James’s said in remarks at the opening of the Facing Austria exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House in London Smith’s Square this evening, “security” is the number one issue for Vienna — and with a new centre-right-far-right Coalition in power there, that means addressing the concerns of good Austrians about “illegal migrants”/refugees. We can expect Austria to take a firm stand on this, hand-in-hand with other parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, aka the Visegrad Group: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is already feeling their uncomfortable breath down her neck. It is therefore somewhat ironic that one important element of the 20 photographers’ work in the Facing Austria exhibition is celebrating diversity (which is indeed official EU policy). Lovely shots of African men against snow-capped Alpine peaks and of dazed-looking Syrian refugees in Austrian cities, for example. Britain’s wretched Tory-(DUP) government has deliberately created a “hostile environment” for unwanted, undocumented incomers, but nobody does “hostile environment” quite as efficiently as Austria, when it is in the mood. Still, the six-month presidency has only just started, so let’s see if the often cheerful pictures in the exhibition are more reflective of the Austrians at the helm than some people might fear. It would be nice to think that the United Kingdom, as a self-professed bastion of liberal democracy, would be in there fighting hard to make sure that the EU doesn’t get pushed to the right over the coming months. But alas Mrs May is far too preoccupied trying to find the handle to the EU exit door, all the time worrying if it may come off in her hand.

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10 Years of 12 Star Culture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 31st October, 2017

Straw decoration FinlandThis evening I was at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House (the offices of the Representation of the European Commission in Westminster, London, rather deliciously, as Europe House located in the building in Smith Square that used to be the Tory Party HQ — remember that picture of a triumphant Maggie Thatcher, waving from an upstairs window in 1979?). Anyway, tonight’s exhibition on the ground floor was of work by the Finnish artist, Pirjo Vaisanen: Straw Dimensions, building on the Finnish tradition of Christmas decorations (often in the form of mobiles) made of straw. Straw is an interesting medium for artists to work in; seemingly fragile, it is actually very strong, yet when wet can be shaped into interesting forms. I particularly loved one of her 3D compositions, which to me represented a Japanese Kabuki actor, seen from behind.

12 Star galleryThis year is doubly significant, as it is the 100th anniversary of Finland’s declaration of independence (from Russia) in December 1917, as well as the tenth anniversary of the 12 Star Gallery, which, under the expert and imaginative guidance of the Commission’s Cultural Attaché in London, Jeremy O’Sullivan, has put on an extraordinary range of exhibitions and other events over the past decade — initially at the Representation’s old offices, opposite the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, also in Westminster, and latterly at Europe House. Culture is an extremely important part of European cooperation; people who believe that the EU is all about economics and regulations are, frankly, missing the point. Over the years, I have been happy to write for the London representation, originally on Jeremy’s culture website and more recently contributing to two books marking the decade of  EC involvement in cultural activities throughout the UK, often in collaboration with the Cultural Institutes or Embassies of the EU member states concerned. I was pleased to be able to “top and tail” the latest book,  10 Years of 12 Star Culture, in the sense that I wrote both the Introduction and the final chapter (on Festivals). It is a handsome volume, in a royal blue cover, beautifully illustrated; a tribute to what has been, and what could still be, if Brits came to their senses and rejected Brexit.

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Finland: Identity and Independence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th October, 2017

100 Wishes from FinlandFinland is celebrating the centenary of its independence this year, so the exhibition that opens today at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House in Smith Square, Westminster — “100 Wishes from Finland” — is timely. It is also very appealing, not least for anyone who has ever been a philatelist at any stage in their lives (probably true of virtually every boy and many girls of my generation). The idea is simple but works beautifully: about 100 blow-ups of colourful Finnish postage stamps are displayed on boards with short, relevant quotes. The stamps are arranged thematically, covering everything from Finnish interior design to sport and  cartoons for children. There is even a stamp showing men in a sauna (though apparently not with a crate of cold beer, which is my usual experience of saunas in Helsinki). There are reputedly more than 2,500 different Finnish postage stamps, meaning anyone tempted to revisit their childhood stamp-collecting will find lots to choose from. More seriously, the stamps reflect the pride Finns have in their identity, for which national independence is of course a crucial component — something now being tested in various parts of the world, from Catalonia to Kurdistan. The 100 Wishes from Finland exhibition runs until 27 September and is open 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

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Brits Abroad

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th October, 2015

Brits Abroad 1Tory Eurosceptics and UKIP politicians — backed by the more scurrilous parts of Britain’s right-wing Press — love to go on about all the EU migrants who live and work in the UK, without acknowledging that an almost equal number of Brits have taken advantage of the single market’s freedom of movement to go to live on the Continent. So, given the debate that is now starting about whether Britain should remain within or leave the European Union, ahead of a referendum some time over the next couple of years, it is singularly apt of the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Westminster to organise an exhibition, which opened tonight, portraying Brits Abroad. In fact, all of the splendid photographs by Charlie Clift in this show are of British expats in Spain, which houses more than a million UK citizens who have opted for a life in the sun, not just retirees but some business people and others trying to make a freelance living away from ‘home’. Several types will be familiar with aficionados of the TV series Benidorm, but this is not a satirical exhibition as such. Rather it is gently tongue in cheek, bringing together, for example, a Scottish Nationalist supporting girl with a barrel-chested owner of a Caribbean-themed bar, a retired lawyer still maintaining a facade of elegance and the proprietor of a fish and chip bar that caters mainly for English people who miss UK fast food.

Brits Abroad 2Some of these expats (well, maybe we should call them migrants, as that is what the British call those other EU citizens who come to Blighty) do mix with the Spanish and learn the language and get involved in community activities, whether it is rescuing abandoned dogs or alerting people to the dangers of forest fires, but many are content to stay within a little British ghetto, speaking English and reading the Daily Mail and moaning about how bad things are back in the UK. To his credit, Charlie Clift does not try to make any overt political point; the captions to his photos are studiously neutral, merely identifying the person portrayed, their present or previous occupation and how long they have lived abroad. As a whole it is a rather marvelous picture of a Britain long since gone, hanging on to its traditions, all white of course, and — dare one say it — in some (but not all cases) a little smug. The sort of people who might vote UKIP were they back in England, one suspects, in some cases. But then perhaps those who do support UKIP ought to consider emigrating to Spain and leave Britan to those of who who treasure its post-modern multiculturalism.[the exhibition, open during office working hours, runs until 23 October]

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Community Voices: EU Migrants in England

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015

New Europeans seminarFreedom of movement is one of the pillars of the European single market, something that is not only good for business and the economy but good for individuals as well, as a majority of younger people in this country understand. Yet the Conservative government, egged on by the more repulsive elements of the right-wing Press, is trying to renegotiate some aspects of freedom of movement as part of a package that David Cameron wants to put before the British public in a referendum on the country’s EU membership some time over the next couple of years. On that he will fail, as there is no way that countries such as Poland will accept some of the things he has been suggesting. And why should the Poles? They — along with migrants from our other 26 partner states — have made a huge contribution to the British economic recovery. They pay in, in taxes, NIC etc, far more than they take out of our welfare state, and although UKIP and the more extreme Tory head-bangers may moan about the fact that there are over two million EU migrants in the UK they conveniently ignore the fact that there are almost as many Brits living on the continent. Yet the British public knows very little of the reality, often preferring to swallow scare stories from the Daily Express.

New EuropeansSo it is a matter for congratulation that the NGO New Europeans has been running a series of meetings in England and Wales looking at the reality of the impact of EU migration on communities. The final one of these was held at Europe House in Westminster this evening, featuring a couple of academic presentations on the evidence before break-out sessions on the themes of health, education, housing and jobs. One point that really came home to me was how the Labour government in 2004 failed to make adequate provisions for the inevitable influx of workers from Poland in particular. The Labour Party has now renounced that policy of opening up to the new EU member states (just as it is busy renouncing most of its previous progressive policies at the moment in a scramble to sell itself to middle Britain). In the event, the migrants were blamed for what were in fact the British government’s shortcomings. It was interesting to hear from young researchers from Southampton how many Poles there have set up businesses, creating jobs, not ‘stealing’ them.Although we do not know when the referendum is going to be, it is essential that the true facts be in the public domain. Too often, with organisations such as Migration Watch active in the field we are seeing policy-driven evidence rather than evidence-driven policy being propagated. And as every true academic knows, that is classic bad practice.

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Richard Howitt at the AEJ

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th July, 2015

Richard Howitt MEPRichard Howitt is one of the most long-standing Labour members of the European Parliament, representing the East of England. As he himself pointed out at a lunchtime briefing for members of the Association of European Journalists (UK Section) at Europe House in Westminster today, that region is best known for its high percentage of UKIP supporters. Some of those can apparently be pretty thuggish; Richard Howitt was literally stoned during the Clacton by-election. However, in the Parliament his main work is on the Foreign Affairs Committee and he is enthusiastic about the (still relatively new) Commissioner for External Relations, Federica Mogherini. He is less impressed by the way that Britain’s Conservative government is handling matters European. I raised the issue of refugees from Syria, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have been shouldering an unfair share of the burden of looking after them and I for one was disappointed that EU member states failed to step up to the plate when the issue of possible quotas was raised at the Riga Summit. Richard Howitt clearly understands the demographic challenges that the UK faces unless it keeps an open door to EU migrants — which is a major reason he supports Turkish membership of the Union. Domestically, he party has hardened its stance on migration and immigration, but not for the first time the Labour MEPs have proved more liberal than their national counterparts, who still nervously guard their backs.

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Europe and the UK Election

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2015

imageOne 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.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th January, 2015

Karel BaracsEvery year on Holocaust Memorial Day I go to a commemoration of some kind, usually at an embassy of one of the central or eastern European states, but this year was special — and not only because the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was being marked. Europe House, the London offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament, housed a remarkable show this evening: Why Tram 8 No Longer Runs. A monologue by the self-styled Story-teller of Amsterdam, Karel Baracs, with musical accompaniment, recounts the true story of how two young Dutch women — one Karel’s mother — managed to spirit 80 Jewish children out of a creche set up by the Nazis prior to their intended deportation and extermination, one or two at a time. In particular the narration focussed on the experience of a six-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother taken to safety to live on the farm of a gentile couple, with the active participation of a Jewish man who had been hiding in a basement in Amsterdam for months — and who after the War married Karel’s mother. As with all good storytelling, the facts only emerge gradually, amidst passages of suspense and moments of humorous relief. The tragic back-story is that most if not all of the parents of the rescued children did perish in concentration camps or under other dreadful conditions. There are bad guys among the Dutch, as well as heroes, in the story, as well as one good German soldier, who played a crucial role in ensuring the two infants and Karel’s father survived. These are the sort of stories that must never be forgotten, even as the last Holocaust survivors die out and it was a wonderful tribute, as well as a moving performance, to have a descendant keeping the flame of memory so brilliantly alive.

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Germany’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th November, 2014

BambergWhen one thinks of UNESCO World Heritage sites I suppose ancient wonders such as the Pyramids at Giza or Stonehenge come to mind, so for many people it will come as a surprise to know that Germany boasts no fewer than 39 of them, ranging from the old city of Bamberg to the broads of the Wadden Sea. Some locations, such as Trier, are home to an astonishing variety of architectural periods of styles from the Roman era onward, while others, such as the palaces and other grand buildings round Potsdam form more of a unity. The German travel board, Germany Travel, offers a good brief introduction to each of the UNESCO gems on its website, as well as suggesting itineraries off the beaten track. But people in London can get an excellent preview over the next couple of weeks at an exhibition of beautiful photographs of Germany’s UNESCO world heritage sites by Hans-Joachim Aubert, at Europe House, the European Commission and European Parliament offices in Smith Square, Westminster. This exhibition has been travelling the world and could hardly be a better showcase of what the EU’s most populous nation has to offer and is itself a fine example of location photography at its very best.

Link: http://www.historicgermany.travel

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