Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012
Tom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there will be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Britain in Europe, Conservative Party, EU, European Movement, European Movement in London, Norway, Switzerland, The Economist, The Observer, Tom Spencer | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th June, 2012
The next few years will be decisive for the future of Europe, according to veteran EU journalist and pundit John Palmer. The eurozone will either have to forge a closer union or else the EU as a whole will start gradually to disintegrate, he said. John was speaking at the AGM of the European Movement in London at Europe House in Westminster and stressed that the eurozone crisis is part of a much wider global crisis triggered by the US real estate crisis and the consequent banking crisis. He pointed out that the total deficits of the eurozone countries are proportionately lower than those of the US and the UK; the problem lies with several countries on the periphery. But we would be deluding ourselves if we believed that Greece could leave the eurozone without provoking a serious knock-on effect. “You can’t build an effective wall around Greece alone,” he added. If Greece left, the integrity of the Single Market would be challenged, which would have dire consequences for all of Europe, including Britain. But John believes that the austerity timetable currently imposed on Greece is unrealistic and counter-productive. “Certainly, there need to be major structural changes, but in the context of a programme for growth.” Greek voters go to the polls again this weekend, though the outcome is predicted once more to be inconclusive. And towards the end of the month there will be a crucial EU Summit. There have been other EU Summits that were meant to come up with a solution to the crisis but frankly didn’t. This next one cannot afford not to.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Europe House, European Movement in London, eurozone, John Palmer | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th March, 2011
The London branch of the European Movement decamped to my home district of Mile End last night, for a seminar on the Lisbon Treaty 16 Months On. Valsamis Mitsilegas, Professor of European Criminal Law at Queen Mary University of London (which hosted the event) emphasized how the Treaty stresses core European values, notably a respect for fundamental rights, the rule of law, and democracy, but much of his presentation was about the specific area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA). Since Lisbon, JHA has been subject to more qualified majority voting and co-decision (in which the European Parliament has a say in decision-making, not just the Council of Ministers) than was the case in the past. He cited three areas in which there could be said to have been a particular transfer of sovereignty from the national to a European level, namely economic migration and the status of third country nationals; substantive criminal law, including the definition of criminal acts; and judicial cooperation, building on earlier experience of the European Arrest Warrant.
The other speaker at the seminiar was Richard Corbett, a former Labour Member of the European Parliament who now works for the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy. He argued that the main objective of the Lisbon Treaty was to make the workings of the European Union and its institutions more effective and more democratic. As part of the improved efficiency, the role of the Council President had been enhanced in three main ways: (1) the term of office of the person concerned was extended from six months (non-renewable) to two-and-a-half years (with the possibility of one renewal); (2) the incumbent now does the job full-time, rather than in addition to what was often a heavy national, ministerial responsiblity; (3) there is a proper secretariat in Brussels to assist him.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: European Movement in London, Herman Van Rompuy, Lisbon Treaty, Mile End, Queen Mary University of London, Richard Corbett, Valsamis Mitsilegas | 1 Comment »