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 ‘Europe House’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2015
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th January, 2015
Every 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th November, 2014
When 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.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th June, 2014
This week, for the first time ever, the LGBTi Pride Rainbow Flag is flying from the facade of Europe House in London’s Smith Square, headquarters of the European Parliament office and European Commission representation. Yesterday afternoon, there was a seminar there on extending LGBT rights in the EU, learning from the UK experience. For once it was good to celebrate an area in which Britain is actually a leader in the European Union. Things are not nearly so advanced in some formerly Communist states of Europe, but the point was interestingly made at the seminar that labour mobility within the EU had helped to alter attitudes in some central and eastern European states radically. Poland is a good case in point; until recently overwhelmingly conserative an often homophobic it has recently liberalised, partly thanks to migrant workers who came to Britain, for example, and for the first time engaged with LGBTi people and later returned home with a different opinion. Alas, in some eastern European states that are not part of the EU the situation is still dire. It was good (but a little depressing) to hear of work being done to help activists in Belarus who have been prevented from setting up a solidarity group. In Russia, the situation is actually regresing, as Putin has led a red-blooded heterosexual counter-offensive as what he decries as gay EU expansionism. Anyway, when Conchita Wurst will lead the London Pride celebrations in Trafalgar Square this Saturday, so those of us living in London will have much to be joyful about, which should fortify us to help defend the rights of those living in jurisdictions that are not so inclusive.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014
In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the British photographer Gerald Howson was sent to Poland to take pictures for Queen magazine, in principle to illustrate an article that would be written by a friend of mine (long since deceased), the writer Frank Tuohy, who was then working for the British Council in Warsaw. What Gerald found was a country trying to recover from being marched over, occupied, divided up for centuries and latterly dominated by Soviet Russia. He took his cameras into the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other towns and cities, photographing ordinary people and everyday scenes, deliberately not artfully constructed, almost surreptitiously, though many people realised he was snapping away and were quite unconcerned about it. Frank never wrote his article, as he worried that identifiable people might suffer because of it, and Gerald did not find it easy to place many of his pictures on his return home, as they did not fit into the then popular genres of fashion or glamour. The Polish authorities weren’t too happy, either, asking him where were the pictures of people dancing and being happy (as Gerald says openly now, “there weren’t any!”). Many years later, a former BBC World Service colleague of mine, Bogdan Frymorgen, who was searching for images for a museum of 20th century Polish history, from the layperson’s point of view, went to see Gerald and discovered the treasure trove of black and white images that he had stored in a chest of drawers. The net result is a fascinating exhibition, which has already been shown in Poland but is now in the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Smith Square, London (the HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices in London) until 13 June. There are some stunning images, several of them drawing their power from their very banality, but often with an unspoken deeper message behind, such as the almost deserted but rubble-strewn streets of the Jewish quarter in Krakow or two little boys with cows in a field, with the menacing fence of Auschwitz in the background. Gerald — now in his 90s, but scintillating in conversation, as well as in the historical writings that have occupied his later years — captivated the people present at the exhibition’s London vernissage this evening when he declared that people in Poland in 1959 were just so bored of the Soviets being there. The same cannot be said of him or his work; one can get a good flavour from the following video clip on YouTube:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th February, 2014
Slovenia is one of the smallest member states of the European Union, but also one of the most enthusiastic. It was impressive how, at the time that former Yugoslavia was falling apart, the Slovenians asserted their Central European identity (as opposed to the Western Balkans) and celebrated, rather than lamented, their historic links with Italy and Austria. As a youngster I’d passed through Slovenia several times when it was part of Tito’s Yugo-Communist realm, without stopping, but I first got to know it not all that long after independence when I was invited to attend a workshop organised by the writers’ organisation PEN, in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Bled. Bled really is as picture-postcard perfect as the tourism brochures show, and one can happily walk round the lake for hours. I particularly enjoyed a dinner reception that was offered by our hosts in the rather severe official residence of the late Marshal Tito not so far away. The fact that I worked with an Anglo-Slovenian at BBC Bush House for several years helped to cement the ties, and I remember some very convivial dinners at the residence of one early Slovenian Ambassador in a mock-Spanish villa in New Malden tat ten served as his official residence. Later the country was understandably chuffed at acquiring Embassy premises in Westminster, a very short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and literally round the corner from the then Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street. So it was good this evening to get a taste of that rather slick “I Feel Slovenia” promotion of culture, food and lifestyle once again at the Slovenia Day event at the European Commission/European Parliament’s London representation at Europe House in Smith Square. I’ve never been back to Slovenia since the Bled visit — which did also include a British Council reception for literary folk in Ljubljana — but I am sure I should: to visit Greenwich’s twin town, Maribor, for example, and in particular the jewel of an Adriatic port, Piran — just along the coast from James Joyce’s Trieste. Yes, I can feel those travel juices starting to flow.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bled, Europe House, Greenwich, James Joyce, Lake Bled, Ljubjana, Maribor, New Malden, PEN, Piran, Slovenia, Tito, Trieste, Westminster, Yugoslavia | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014
It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Big Brother, big data, China, Cyprus, Europe House, GCHQ, George Orwell, Gus Hosein, Iran, Israel, North Korea, NSA, Privacy International, Russia, sabotage, surveillance society, tailored access operations, UK, upstream collection, USA | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th January, 2014
Europe is blessed with myriad iconic historic sites, from the Parthenon in Athens to the leaning tower of Pisa, all instantly recognisable even to people who have never been there. But perhaps because they are so well known and so frequently photographed we tend to take them for granted. However, the US-born Greek artist Philip Tsiaras has deconstructed these and other landmark images by adding extraneous elements, such as stones or brightly coloured confetti, so that we are forced to review what we see with a fresh eye. His prints and photographs are on display until the end of this month at the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Westminster until the end of the month in an exhibition, “European Treasures”, opened last night in the presence of the artist and the Greek Ambassador. As Greece has just taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union it was a fitting way of kicking off the gallery’s year. Philip Tsiaras is prolific and works in a variety of media, exhibiting and travelling widely out of his bases in New York and London. He told me at the vernissage that he loves the buzz of London and surprised me by praising the UK government’s decision to impose a £50,000 annual levy on wealthy foreign residents, on the grounds that then they are left alone, whereas in the US the taxman is always digging around trying to find out how much income and wealth the person really has so as to rake in more.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th December, 2013
By happy coincidence this year is both the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 40th anniversary of the UK joining the European Economic Community, now the European Union. So it was an inspired choice of the European Commission’s London representation to merge their traditional Christmas party with a concert featuring music by that very British composer (as well as some more traditional Schubert and Rossini). “Britten in Europe” was a nice tongue-in-cheek pun, a nod in the direction of the Europhobes in UKIP and the right-wing of the Conservative Party (in whose former Central Office the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices are now housed). Some might have thought Margaret Thatcher would be turning in her grave, but they should remember that she endorsed the launch of the European Single Market (at the urging of the Tory British Commissioner, Lord Cockfield). This evening’s recital showed a side to Benjamin Britten that was maybe unfamiliar to many in the audience, for though he was the quintessential British opera composer of the 20th Century he was also, as noted by Philip Reed in his programme notes, a proud European. Thus we were treated to his French folksong arrangements as well as his Irish melodies, and a nod to his love for his home country in “On This Island”. Four young, talented singers from the European Opera Centre performed the works: Hamida Kristoffersen (Norway), Sophie Rennert (Austria), Martin Piskorski (also Austria) and Romanas Kudriasovas (Lithuania). The unobtrusive but brilliant piano accompianement was Daniela Candillari (Slovenia). It wasa pity some of the Little Englanders were not present. Benjamin Britten appreciated the rich diversity of our continent’s and this evening so did we.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Benjamin Britten, Daniela Candillari, Europe House, European Opera Centre, Hamida Kristoffersen, Lord Cockfield, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Piskorski, Philip Reed, Romanas Kudriasovas, Sophie Rennert | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd November, 2013
Until the 1990s there was no parliamentary scrutiny of Britain’s intelligent services; they reported directly to the Prime Minister and in principle were answerable to him alone. That changed with the Intelligence Agencies Act pf 1994, but as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, explained at an AEJ UK Section lunch at Europe House, until 2010 MPs could only request information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. However, the Coalition Government changed all that; these days the agencies are required to provide information to his parliamentary committee and indeed on Thursday next week, for the first time ever, evidence presented by agents will be televised. The Committee reports to Parliament and the Chairman is elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister. Moreover, the operations of the security agencies, which were previously not part of the scrutiny remit now are. Only the most sensitive information with national security implications is withheld or else shared on a strictly confidential basis. In the Q&A session after Sir Malcolm’s presentation I highlighted the anger felt in Germany by revelations that the NSA in the US has been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for the past decade and asked for an assurance that the UK’s special relationship with America in the intelligence sphere did not mean that we are in on that sort of activity with regard to our allies too. Sir Malcolm expressed surprise that the Americans would do such a thing, given the obvious likelihood of negative diplomatic fallout if, as happened, the bugging came to light, and he felt it should have been a matter for a political decision at the highest level, not an initiative of the US secret services, as seems to have been the case. He also explained the use of “selectors”, which are key words or other indicators which a computer system tracking phone calls or emails will recognise and then sound an alarm; otherwise the mas of traffic is not even read or listened to, he said. He obviously takes a dim view of the way that the Guardian newspaper has used some of the material that came to light because of the work of Edward Snowden but insisted that the intelligence work done was essential, especially in combatting terrorism. As it costs the British taxpayer £2 billion a year it had better be worthwhile.